How can I be a better partner?
If that question were asked more often, there would probably be a lot more people in happy, fulfilling relationships.
But somehow, this simple question is often overlooked. As we form new relationships, we are more likely to put in the effort needed to really understand and take care of our significant other. But once in a long-term relationship, we often go on “autopilot,” where comfort can lead to complacency, and we neglect the basic attention required for a relationship to flourish.
So how can you be a better partner? How can you deepen love and attraction in your relationship? How can you be that better partner, and also receive the type of love you also need and deserve?
Below are 5 shifts to help you be a better partner in order to deepen fulfillment, happiness, and restore passion in your relationships.
1. Know thyself
Have you ever heard the saying, “In order to love others, you must love yourself first?”
The idea is if you don’t feel love internally, then you cannot authentically and sustainably offer love externally.
When we do not truly, unconditionally love ourselves, chances are, we also suffer from low self-esteem and lack of confidence.
While many people who struggle with worthiness or low self-esteem may think that they can keep it to themselves, the truth is, this deficiency plays out into our relationships as well.
People with low self-esteem are less likely to believe they are worthy of love, and might, consequently, settle for a less-than-ideal relationship. Also, when they are in a relationship, they may underestimate their partner’s love because they believe that they are undeserving. This can perpetuate a negative feeling and imbalance in the relationship, no matter how much of an effort the other person puts in.
By routinely putting in the effort necessary to bolster your own self-esteem, build up your self-worth, and allow yourself to continue learning, growing, and expanding into a fuller expression of yourself, the more likely you are to have healthy self-esteem, which can enhance your ability to become a better partner.
2. Learn your partner’s “love language”
In the same way that different people prefer different types of food; our preferences for acts of love are just as diverse.
If you are exhausted and hungry, and all you want is a bowl of warm, home-cooked soup, you might feel unsatisfied when your partner offers to give you a massage.
Your partner might think, “I tried to do something nice for her and she rejected it. Is that not enough?” Meanwhile, you might be thinking, “They must not really love me or understand me. It means so much when someone takes the time to cook for me.”
Although your partner went out of their way to give you something in a loving way, it is not what you needed or wanted at the time. This kind of behavior can lead to both partners feeling misunderstood and resentful. The truth is, they were just communicating in two different love languages.
In 1992, a marriage counselor by the name of Dr. Gary Chapman famously wrote a book entitled, “The 5 Love Languages.” This concept allows people to take a quiz to determine their “love language.” The five love languages outlined in the book are:
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Receiving Gifts
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
The important thing to understand is that one “language” is not better than another–– they are each a matter of preference. Whatever your personal love language is, it might be the one you’re most likely to give to your partner. However, your partner is probably operating from their own love language, which may be different from your own.
In seeking how to be a better partner, you can learn your own love language and your partner’s, while making sure they are aware of yours as well. This can help both people offer loving actions to their partners, in a way that actually is received as love, rather than being misunderstood.
3. Create space
Esther Perel, psychotherapist and bestselling author of the book Mating in Captivity, has spent the past few decades researching desire, and what makes modern relationships thrive.
One of her definitive findings is in humans’ conflicting needs for both security and surprise. In modern relationships, we’re often expected to be best friends and be together all the time, while having a thrilling sex life.
But when you are best friends, living together, and in a long-term relationship, you can end up spending a lot of time together–– even if it’s not ‘quality time.’
When we spend this much time together, there are very few aspects of the other person’s life that remain a “mystery.” Mystery, however, is one of the key ingredients for desire.
So, if you’re wondering how to be a better partner, and are currently spending a lot of time together, it might be beneficial to create a little space, and make sure you each spend some time to focus on your own interests.
The reality is, we cannot expect our partner to fulfill all of our needs, and we’re likely to grow disappointed when we expect them to. Different friends will nourish us in different ways. Activities, sports, hobbies, careers, and passions can fulfill us in a way that makes us less dependent on our partners, which can restore balance in a relationship.
The best part is that when we focus on our own passions, we can actually become more attractive to our partners. In her TED talk, Dr. Perel describes couples reporting that the times they’ve found their mate most attractive was when they were doing things that were “in their element”–– whether through sport, career, or passion project, and the other partner was able to witness them from a distance away.
4. Create time
In striving for balance, it can be equally important in partnership to create time just for one another.
Now you might think,”I’m around my partner all the time. We live together… We see each other every morning and every night. How much more time could we possibly need?”
Well, it’s not about quantity–– but quality.
If you see each other “all the time,” but it’s always in passing–– when you’re getting ready for work, or when you’re exhausted at the end of the day–– you might be “seeing” your partner, but you’re not actually connecting with them. It’s like junk food–– you might have plenty of it, but it doesn’t actually nourish you or satiate your hunger.
By building in quality time with our partners, like a weekly date, for instance, you can have the time to actually connect and rekindle your love. Plus, when you have scheduled time on the calendar, you might be more likely to have the time to prepare and actually look and feel your best, as you may have done on your first few dates.
One real evening of connection each week can work wonders to allow both partners to feel content throughout the rest of the week.
5. Commit to growth
When we first meet our partner, we can experience all of the enchantment that comes with falling in love. We only see the good in the other person, and we let that feeling carry us into a committed relationship.
However, after a few months or years, we are likely to start seeing our partner’s flaws and issues–– as they start seeing our own.
This shift in how we see each other, from a positive light to a negative one, can trigger all of our fears, anxieties, past relationships and pain to rise to the surface.
In the love stories we see in movies and on TV, they often forget to cover this part. “Happily Ever After” doesn’t usually include the challenges and arguments that will naturally arise in the years to come.
Relationships counselor and bestselling author Marianne Williamson states,
“The moment that our real “issues” are exposed is simply when two people have the opportunity to go deeper, to explore further, to heal faster, to communicate more sincerely, to be more honest, and to love more truly.”
One of the most important things we can do to be a better partner is to expect challenges to arise. When they do, it would behoove us to expect them as a part of the work required in a relationship, rather than thinking that the relationship or your partner is damaged goods.
The truth is we’re all imperfect, as are all of our relationships. But by learning how to be a better partner and by continuously asking questions such as, “How can I take better care of myself?” and “How can we grow from this?” we can commit to the path of growth, healing and discovery–– which is ultimately, a more loving and realistic path for a deeply fulfilling long-term partnership.”
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