If you’re in an unhappy relationship (or you’re just unhappy with aspects of your relationship), one way to virtually guarantee that you’ll remain unhappy is to think that what’s needed for your relationship to change is for your partner to change.
Instead you need to think about what YOU (not you not your partner) could do to –
1. Feel happier about the things you’re unhappy about. I advise that you start with this! (tips and help about how to do this behaviourally are below)
2. Make changes to your own behaviour that will help address the things your partner is unhappy about. (tips for this below too)
Here’s some examples of what I mean.
– If you want your partner to stop nagging you and let you relax, what could you do to feel more relaxed in your relationship and in your life generally? (that isn’t contingent on your partner changing anything)
– If you feel controlled in your relationship, what could you do to feel less controlled?
– If your sex drive has drizzled away to nothing, what could you do to feel more interested in sex? This is one area where I think many men have got it right. If you’re out of the habit of having sex, then rather than waiting for your feelings to change, try experimenting with something you’re curious about.
For example, experiment with playing out a tame fantasy even if you think you’d feel embarrassed. Behaviour influences thoughts and feelings, so you can change your thoughts and feelings by changing your behaviour. If you keep behaving the same way, your thoughts and feelings are likely to stay the same.
– If you feel unsupported, what could you do to feel more supported? For example, rather than waiting for permission make an executive decision to book a regular babysitter so you can spend some time recharging and taking care of yourself.
– If you don’t feel as respected as you’d like, why not try being more confident in your decisions?
– If you have a “personal defectiveness/not good enough/sense of failure button” and your partner is an expert at pushing it, why not try reacting differently when your button is activated?
– If you want to feel more secure in your relationship, try behaving secure in your relationship.
– If you want your partner to be more romantic, expand your definition of romantic so that your definition includes more of the things your partner does.
– If your relationship feels stagnant, try a new activity together. Suggest something your partner is likely to jump at the chance to try.
Subtle but sustained changes in your behaviour will have butterfly/ripple effects
You and your partner both influence each other’s behaviour so when you change, you’re likely to see changes in your partner.
Use observer perspective: Try gently watching for and observing how your partner responds when you experiment with different types of behaviour. Be curious about what results you might get, rather than trying to force specific changes in your partner’s behaviour.
Note: Of course there are some exceptions when your partner really does need to change for your relationship to have a chance of health and happiness e.g. when you’re being abused or when your partner is having an affair and refuses to stop.
Want to stop making relationship mistakes? Here are my top 3 book recommendations for simple, practical ideas and tools for “getting it right” in your relationship.
Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert
ACT with Love: Stop Struggling, Reconcile Differences, and Strengthen Your Relationship with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy