Ask someone what they don’t want in their relationship, and they can usually rattle off a list of traits. This is true for some long-term couples, especially if they have been having problems lately. But ask them what they want out of their relationship, and they often draw a blank, or scramble for words. Most people will have to think about it for a while. As time passes, it is easy to see what is wrong with our partner. But their positive qualities become less obvious. Also, annoying habits become more and more apparent. We focus on the negative, and what it is we want to discard, rather than the positive things we can focus on, or want to bring into it. Couples who have been married a long time for instance often say things to each other like, “How can you forget? I’ve told you a hundred times,” “You are so insensitive sometimes,” or “You only think about yourself.” But statements like these are bound to shut down our partner or cause a fight, rather than to have them open up to what we are really saying, and have them exhibit the behavior we desire or expect.
“Can you help me with this?,” “I feel more relaxed when I get a helping hand from you,” or “I understand your need to get things done, but would you mind checking with me before you make a decision like that?” Living closely with someone, sooner or later you are bound to step on their toes, and they yours. This automatically puts us into a defensive position. We have to learn that our partner is not out to get us. They love us and have our best interest in mind. They make mistakes however, just as we do. And as with us, they don’t always go about things the right way. In this defensive posture, we start to see our partner as the adversary. We want to win the argument, but what we gain is more anger, resentment, and frustration, and a more turbulent house. We’ve increased disharmony, not lessened it. We may listen to negative thoughts or critical inner voices at this time, which ultimately can even make things worse. Then there are those partners or even couples who instead of directly saying what they want, shutdown. They turn inward and choke on what they want, and their resentment toward their partner grows and grows, as they die a little inside each day.
The first step of getting what you want is knowing what you want. Instead of concentrating on how you feel when your partner disappoints you, zero in on the words or behavior you had expected. You will be surprised. Stating what you want, though making you vulnerable, can take the fury out of a fight, sometimes immediately. Your partner is being let in and is coming to know you, and will likely want to provide for your needs and desires. If you do get caught up in the heat of battle, you can stop the fight by dropping your side of it. Simply say, “I’m quitting because I care more about our relationship than winning this argument.” That ought to put the brakes on fast. Don’t use “you statements” or passive-aggression. Don’t play the victim. Instead use “I” statements. Tell them how their behavior made you feel. Be vulnerable, communicative, and open. Some people view vulnerability as a weakness. But when used correctly it can be our greatest strength.
For more on how to operate in a better way read, The 11 Pillars of Relationship Success by Matt Bishop.