Making Relationships Work

Edmonton Counselling Resources

We are happiest when we have a healthy balance of working, relationships and fun in our lives. Relationships are a source of our greatest joy and sorrow. But nothing seems to sap our energy as much as unhappiness within our significant relationships. A long-term happy relationship is something that most of us long for, but all too often we are at a loss as to how to create the relationship we want

Seven guidelines for successful relationships

In “Making Intimate Connections” Ellis and Crawford (2000) outline seven guidelines that can lead to relationship success.

1. Accept Your Partner “As Is”

Accepting your partner as they are seems simple enough, but we are often taught that good communication is about persuading people to see things our way. Yet, we’ve all heard that we can’t change people. Why do we still try to? Insisting that people must do what we want them to do and that things should be a certain way, often leads to a cycle of frustration. When people don’t meet our expectations of them, the result of these demands is anger, frustration, and feelings stuck. In relationships the most effective form of communication occurs when we truly let go of this relationship-harming mentality: thinking others are wrong and should see things our way. “As is” is a nice way of saying that the only behaviour you can change is your own. How do we start re-thinking this? Remember why you are in this relationship—to change them or because you fell in love and enjoy them “as is”?

2. Express Appreciation Frequently

It feels good to be appreciated doesn’t it? When we feel appreciated we want to work harder and be kinder and do things for the person who appreciates us. Think of the response to the antithesis of appreciation: criticism. A person’s first reaction to criticism seems to be a self-protective defensiveness, where bad feelings can lead to fighting. Appreciation on the other hand usually creates an environment for positive communication—communication that is more flexible and likely to lead to understanding. Pointing out the positive may go farther than pointing out the negative. Next time your partner criticizes you please do not go and get this article and say, “See? You shouldn’t criticize,” they are allowed to make communication errors! Lead by positive example instead.

3. Communicate from Integrity

Speaking with integrity means being honest with yourself about how you feel and about your own flaws. If you are wrong, admitting it is very disarming—try it sometime. This means accepting feedback with an open mind and listening to and weighing the person’s opinion, considering another point of view. Everyone has moments of thinking their spouse is irritable and controlling, etc., etc., but you have more influence on them than might think! Is it possible that you are so busy pointing out how they have “wrongly” behaved that you overlooked the critical way you have approached them? You cannot control your partner by commanding that they must conform to your requests. If you are enraged with your partner it’s very likely that you are demanding that they change. Empower yourself and change the person you can change: yourself.

You have values, priorities and ethics that are important to verbalize. Even if you feel that your partner is trying to control you, you still have control over how you respond. To passively conform is to make yourself a victim. This does not necessarily entail that you go against the demand, but that you attempt to engage in a dialogue around the issue. It’s not helpful to suppress your feelings or to blame your feelings on your partner.

4. Share and Explore Differences with Your Partner

You are different people and naturally have different perspectives and needs. Sometimes it is hard to listen to other’s perspectives and not judge them. What an advantage in all your relationships if you possessed the ability to really listen. Just think of all the problems you could solve as a successful master negotiator. Here it is—a major reason marriages fail: acquiescing and not expressing your opinions, and just plain giving in. People suppress their feelings, give in and then become resentful. Holding onto resentments is a bit like building the Berlin Wall one brick at a time between you and your partner.

Perhaps there are already some bricks in a wall that need tearing down. Start fresh. Make a concerted effort to try and understand your partner’s point of view. This will enable people to move out of their rigid corners and may in turn make them receptive to hearing your perspective. Differences do not have to lead to disagreements. If you like oranges and I like apples, we have a difference. But it is when we insist that apples are “the better fruit” that we run into serious conflict.

You are different and that is okay!

5. Support Your Partners’ Goals

While it is important to not give up on your own views and dreams, it is also important to support your partner’s. Are you your spouse’s #1 fan and cheering section? If not, why not? People who are happy and pursuing their dreams make happier spouses. The fulfillment they get from pursing their passion will bring positive energy into the relationship.

6. Give Your Partner the Right to be Wrong

Yes, your partner has the right to be wrong. Now you may be thinking: “No problem. She is wrong all the time!” Often we are more forgiving of our own faults than others. It is easy to criticize others for mistakes while forgetting how often we make them ourselves. Have you ever thought: “I would never do that.”? It’s likely you have probably done something similar at sometime. Making a mistake does not make you or your partner bad or selfish. It just makes us human!

7. Reconsider Your Wants as Goals

We do not always get what we want. That’s just reality. But have you considered that we are not entitled to get everything we think we should have?! When you recognize that your wants are not rights, but rather privileges, you will become more accepting of your partner, less angry and demanding. I would like my drive to work to be 10 minutes, but if it’s a 20 minute drive and I’m stuck in traffic, I can swear all I want but the traffic will not move any faster. When we let go of the things out of our control, we feel more peaceful, and can focus on more long-term goals.

Try These at Home!

Why not make it a goal to work on applying these principles regardless of your partner’s behaviour?

Relationships thrive in an atmosphere of acceptance, appreciation and integrity. Looking at how you approach your partner is the first step in creating the relationship of your dreams.

Edmonton Counselling Resources

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