How You Can Be a Better Partner – And Bring Out a Better Partner In Return

How You Can Be a Better Partner - And Bring Out a Better Partner In Return

Here’s what I tell all of the women who enroll in Love U:

There’s knowledge and there’s the application of knowledge.

Everyone knows how to lose weight: smaller portions, fewer starches, less sugar and red meat, more vegetables, etc. Yet 40% of the US is obese and 31% more are overweight. Thus, losing weight isn’t just about knowing how to lead a healthy lifestyle; it’s about DOING it consistently. Same goes with dating.

You can scour 1000 blog posts that I’ve written to basically figure out how to become more confident, communicate effectively and make healthier long-term relationship choices, but if you’re not actually in a happy, long-term relationship right now, you can see the massive difference between knowing and doing.

Which is why I responded to this New York Times article called “How to Actually Follow Through on the Relationship Advice You Get.”

It was written by a sex therapist, Vanessa Marin, who starts with this: “The reality is that having a great relationship doesn’t need to be as hard as it often feels. There is so much smart — and actionable — relationship advice out there. We know the things that make our partner happy and keep our relationship solid. So why do we struggle to follow through?”

Great question.

From my vantage point, we’re all highly attuned to the flaws of our partner.

From my vantage point, we’re all highly attuned to the flaws of our partner, the things we’re not receiving, and the myriad ways in which give and compromise; we are FAR less attuned to our own flaws, the ways in which we’re failing to give and the myriad ways our partners have to compromise to be with us. This is a central tenet of Love U that goes unacknowledged by most surface dating advice, in which the goal is to prove our partners wrong, rather than looking in the mirror at our own blind spots.

Here’s what Marin suggests:

Be Intentional:

“You just have to be intentional about maintaining a healthy relationship. It’s crucial to work on your relationship, instead of relying on your relationship to work. Eli Finkel, a professor at Northwestern University, said, “It’s tragic for an otherwise-good relationship to deteriorate badly because the partners never made the effort to address negative trends early on. This also requires viewing ourselves as works in progress. Be honest: What have you done in the last month to actively work on being the best version of yourself for your partner?”

Identify Your Values:

This is like speaking Dr. Gary Chapman’s “5 Love Languages” and knowing how to make your partner happy on his/her terms rather than your own.

“To identify the values in your relationship, try having a conversation with your partner about the following questions:

“What do you think defines a great relationship?”

“What qualities in a relationship are most important to you?”

“What would you like more of in our relationship?”

Reappraise Conflict

The basic idea behind this is to “think about conflict from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for everybody.” In other words, if a therapist was in the room with you, what might they say when you and your partner are arguing?”

This is pretty much all I do when I coach women from around the world. Instead of reflexively taking their side and providing validation, I try to offer a more objective point of view, like a mediator, so that the client can better understand the art of conflict resolution, as opposed to blame and misunderstanding.

There’s more but Marin gives some sound advice on being a better partner.

The question, as always, is whether you’re going to follow it.

What’s the one thing you learned most from this article and what are you going to implement moving forward?

Join our conversation (15 Comments).
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  1. 1

    I like the idea that by being a better partner, your partner will treat you better in return (after all, talking to men about what you want is inneffective!), but I have never found this to work in any of my relationships over many years,including 3 marriages.Upping your efforts to treat a man well simply leads him to conclude that you’re already really happy with him (otherwise why would you be so nice to him?) so he feels no need to improve. I don’t actually think there IS a way of getting a man to give you more of what you want in a relationship – you get what you get, so pick someone you can put up with from the outset.

  2. 2

    My man is amazing. Whenever we have a “moment” he always asks how he could have supported me better and/or handle the situation differently. We TALK constantly about improving our relationship, have attended workshops on relationships, and talked with my therapist. These men are RARE, but are out there. In return, I attend a women’s group and see a therapist monthly (to work on being a better partner). I’m 58 and my guy is 62 and we are committed to having an amazing partnership.

  3. 3
    Mrs Happy

    I agree with Helen at #1. People are who they are. Each person will naturally contribute a certain amount of effort, and once a plateau is reached a few years into a relationship, it’s rare for that to change long term. This can be observed in ALL relationships – family, friends, romantic, community. Sure in the short term patterns can change, but sustained, effortful change is rarely long-lasting. Hence all the overweight people. All the slackers on the couch on a screen instead of learning another language. All the repeated ‘no-shows’ at gatherings. All the extended family fights and difficulties on endless repeat.

    By far the most important step is choosing who to have any relationship with. Being with someone and continually pouring forth more effort and “work” into the relationship does not EVER make the partner, or friend, or family member, change their effort in any sustained way. In everything, people revert to the least effortful position. We evolved that way because it conserves resources. It’s hard to fight evolution.

    I really believe it is pie-in-the-sky thinking to believe everyone everywhere will, for every friendship and spouse and family connection, consider “what could I have done to be a better spouse/daughter/father/friend/colleague in the last month”, and then alter some long-established pattern. People just cannot be bothered doing that much work. Why do relationship coaches keep suggesting it? NOBODY does that! Even the people who briefly do, don’t for every one of the 1,000-odd months of their lives. Surely I can’t be the only pragmatist in the world. Though I suspect all the other pragmatists read this sort of advice and just roll their eyes and continue on.

    1. 3.1

      I agree with you here that most people don’t naturally want to constantly strive to do more for others in any organic way. They will revert to the least effortfull position…. unless motivated otherwise.

      My biggest beef with the article was in the assumption that one’s values should motivate one to strive to be better partners. This is only true of people motivated by such values. The more generalizable advice is to find what motivates yourself and use it. And similarly, to find what motivates your partner and use that. If you find the motivation and use it well, then you can achieve sustained behavioral change. As long as the motivation remains, and is stronger than the force of inertia.

      With this in mind, the reason to put on the work in relationships is not to motivate your partner to do the same. Doesn’t work. In fact, if you put in effort while they don’t, it motivates them to NOT put in more effort, because why should they? No, the reason to put in the effort while discovering your partner’s motivations is because seeking your partner’s efforts while not providing your own is asshole behavior.

      But settling into a situation where we do only what we want and our partner does the same? Where no one does more than they internally wants to, goes beyond their own motivations? Is why the divorce rate is so high. Can’t be the best we can do.

        1. Mrs Happy

          Not much.

        2. Jeremy

          Agree with Mrs H here, Scott. Didn’t think much of it. Idealists with lots of shoulds. Dat stuff don’t work.

          I recently saw a publication advertising for a religious match-making service. The ad said, “We’ve set up over ten thousand singles and have had over twenty marriages result! So try us!” Hmmm, twenty marriages from ten thousand set up? Not a great success rate at 0.4%. Not exactly a glowing endorsement. Wonder what the success rate of these people is? Success beyond the first few duty-sex sessions that ensure from all the, you know, non-judgmental sharing and comfort building.

      1. 3.1.2
        Mrs Happy

        “Is why the divorce rate is so high. Can’t be the best we can do.” – J

        I’m coming around to the viewpoint sometimes expressed by various people on this blog, that divorce is not necessarily a failure. As previously mentioned by many, all relationships have their lifespan, and an end point. Things are not worth less just because they end when the time is right.

        1. Jeremy

          Rather than disagreeing with this as a blanket statement, I’ll take Kahneman’s approach and ask what it might be true *of*. I think that divorce is not a failure when the marriage was undertaken with discrete goals in mind which are irrevocably attainable. Once the goals have been achieved – the kids had and raised, for example, the individual no longer has much impetus to remain coupled – and certainly not much impetus to give more than she/he feels like. Conversely, I think that divorce is indeed a failure when the relationship itself is the goal, or when the goals sought after in the marriage are not discretely attainable, but rather attainable only as a continuous stream.

          I’ve always thought the moon was beautiful as it cycles in the sky from dark to crescent to full, Mrs H. But while I admire it, I feel no kinship toward it. Because I tend not to fluctuate, tend to remain constant – far more like the sun than the moon. It’s not that I think YAG is so out-to-lunch when he writes that men should only choose women who are aroused by them from the get-go. I’ve written similar things. My beef with him is the narrowness of his vision, the notion that physical arousal is necessarily the main thing that matters. I prefer to think of it in the terms I wrote above – that whatever a woman’s goals with me are, they must not be discretely attainable, must be attainable only as a continuous stream. Because if they are, once she gets them she’ll lose motivation to remain in the relationship, and will start to create excuses for why she can leave without being a bad person or partner. “All relationships have their lifespan…things are not worth less just because they end when the time is right [for me].” Cycling from dark to crescent to full….and back again. Like it was the most natural thing in the world. As if that cycling should be expected….no matter that at every stage of the game she insisted that the present was her final, mature state.

          Funny thing about the moon – it never really changes. It only appears to change based on position, circumstance, and lighting. If one could understand its nature, one could predict its changes.

          I smiled when you wrote that you met your husband while cycling. But then…you know I love a triple entendre.

        2. Mrs Happy

          Many years ago a then regular on this blog wrote about gradually dolling out resources to his women, (and I believe he used a dog eating/dog food simile) to ensure they stayed compliant and powerless compared with him.

          When I read your comment “… whatever a woman’s goals with me are, they must not be discretely attainable, must be attainable only as a continuous stream. Because if they are, once she gets them she’ll lose motivation to remain in the relationship,… ”
          I tried not to think of his viewpoint (but failed).

          This sort of attitude and behaviour seems so manipulative and controlling. I prefer to just enjoy a relationship with generosity of spirit and resources, and let the relationship last or not, as it will, as each person’s preferences dictate. But then I’m not desperate to be in a relationship.

    2. 3.2

      Responding to the post by Mrs Happy – I definitely agree that there are a lot of people who would not choose to put the effort in to consistently improve their relationships.

      However, I also think that many people choose to stay in fundamentally unhealthy and un-stimulating relationships for that very reason too.

      That being said, in my friendship group there seems to be a mix. There are some who don’t want to prioritise relationships that highly (or simply don’t know how to). Others really do put in the work and reap the rewards of consistent growth too.

      Personally, I’m single, but I put a lot of effort into making my relationships positive, stimulating and a great experience. I’m pretty sure if you’d ask any of my exes they‘d all say they had a wonderful time being my partner too, but for one reason or the other we weren’t compatible in the end (I wasn’t ready to settle down, they weren‘t ready to settle down or we both wanted to change each other in unacceptable ways)

      So for that reason, I don’t think it’s impossible to find people who will put their relationship first and put in the work. They just aren’t quite as frequent as the ones who have a slightly less rosy image and/or don’t understand the value of continued effort.

      I do thoroughly believe positive and conscientious efforts in a relationship are always worth it though. Even if things don’t work out, at least you know you did your best and you don’t leave/get left on bad terms, because you genuinely worked together to create something beautiful throughout the relationship you did have.

      At least that’s my two cents.

  4. 4
    Mrs. Zell

    Certain healrh issues can limit you on how much u can do as far as exercise. Eating healthier anyone can choose to do and follow through. But when you have several health issues that can limit your activity you will put weight on. Getting ride of stress and things or people that bother you also helps with belly fat. To each his own journey in life to live. It dont matter if ur fat skinny brown white or purple we all bleed the same. My personal opinion is when people judge others because they are different in how they live look speak or behave that whomever should reaavaulate there life judhlgment only matters when your face to face with God all others is irrelevant. Be blessed in who u are

  5. 5
    Malika With an L

    ‘It’s crucial to work on your relationship, instead of relying on your relationship to work.’

    This is something i have been thinking about throughout the week. I am very satisfied with my relationship, I could not have wished for a better one. That contentment does come with a drawback, namely that you can become complacent within it. As much as I think we are great together, I came to realise even very good relationships need effort, to be aware of the currents within the relationship and the needs of the partner, as well of those of yourself. This sounds so obvious, but i only recently realised how for most of my younger life I was focused on my own short-term needs. I would run around in mental circles, ruminating on my own foibles and desires. This is the first relationship wherein i have been able to stop my stream of thoughts and to let the messages my partner is sending me really sink in. It helps that he is a great communicator, but this skill has also come with age. It feels great to finally be truly present within a relationship, and that the lessons of past mistakes make this current one so satisfying for both of us.

  6. 6

    Just thinking out loud here . . .

    There are 2 sides to being a better partner I suppose, one is too look inwardly, find areas of weakness (faults) and try to eradicate them. The other is to accept that no one is perfect, and to accept your partners weaknesses. So which is it ? Do both partners look inwardly and try to improve themselves to perfection, do both partners ask the other, what changes their partner would like to see,and then proceed to change themselves to please the other, or do both partners just accept each other’s humanity and over look the others human flaws and weaknesses. (OK I am not talking about major stuff like physical violence, infidelity, extreme narccisim)

    Don’t both partners have to be on board with this “trying to be a better partner” to begin with. How many people would try to be a better partner through deep introspection, if their partner was willing to do the same ? Suppose someone had the ulterior motive of “improving their partner” and started by asking “Honey, is there anything I can change about myself, that would improve our relationship ?” and they answer “Nah, I love you JUST the way your are and I wouldn’t change a thing”. Would that completely take the wind out of your sails ? What if the question was only asked to sequay into “Well, I would like it if you would do X, Y or Z”.

    A few years back I posted this . . . See comment 10.

    The jist was a woman who had a severe aversion to noises while eating was asking advice (it sounds as if she had a disorder that made her very adverse to sounds). I thought the advice to “train” her husband to eat noiselessly was terrible. Another poster disagreed because the woman had a “disability”. So my question is, who needed to be the better partner here ? The husband having to go through training to eat without making a sound, to appease his wife’s incurable sensitivity to noise while eating, or was it up to HER, to wear noise cancelling ear phones during meals ? IMHO, it should have been on her to wear noise cancelling ear phones, much easier to do, than her husband having to walk on egg shells at every meal. But the marriage counselor and another poster thought her disability should trump his right to eat his meal in a normal manner.

    I am a believer in assessing compatibility prior to marriage, and deciding BEFORE getting married, if you can live with each other’s faults. (again, not talking about major issues, such as abuse, infidelity etc) If you decide that you want your partner to change a minor fault to be a better partner, than you better be prepared to be make changes in yourself. If you decide you want to change yourself into being a better partner, ask yourself, are you really doing this as self improvement, or are you just using this as a bartering chip, to convince your partner to change.

    Just thinking out loud here, YMMV.

    1. 6.1

      correction “if their partner was willing to do the same ? ” s/b “if their partner was UNwilling to do the same ? “

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