partner. They have a clear idea of what they would like to see different about
their significant other and are having a heck of a time trying to make it happen.
While there are some practical steps and communication tools to let your partner know what your needs are in the relationship (which is extremely important),
attempts to directly change one’s partner has a tendency to backfire. This often
leads to arguments. People feel criticized, triggered by their own insecurities,
angry, embarrassed, and hurt. Even if one is trying to bring up valid and
reasonable issues and requests in the relationship, it doesn’t always go smoothly.
So what do you do if you are stuck? What if the same issues are brought up over and over again, and nothing changes? What if your partner won’t agree to come
to therapy with you to discuss the issues?
Ultimately, it has to be your partner who decides to make the changes
themselves. I know its tough. It would be so much easier to have remote control
to make adjustments on your partner, especially when you feel like you have
done everything else in your power to get them to behave or respond differently. Feeling helpless is extremely discouraging. So what is it you CAN control?
You can control you. I know, it probably feels like you are doing everything you
can to change things, and that they are the bigger problem. And you may be totally right! But follow me down this road for a bit, and see if this might ultimately feel better than what you may have been trying…
See if you can answer this question. What kind of partner do you want to be?
What are your values in a relationship context? Some of the common responses I get when I ask clients these questions are:
“ I want to be a good listener.”
“I want to communicate clearly.”
“I want to be someone who strongly asserts my needs.”
“I want to be an encouraging partner.”
“I want to be dependable, and someone my partner know they can always rely
“I want to be true to myself, and not be someone who loses themselves in a
“I want to actively contribute in a relationship.”
“ I want to be compassionate.”
As you can see, it’s not about being anyone else’s idea of perfect. It's identifying
who you want to be. This is something in your control. Acting in this way, in
accordance with your deeply held values is empowering, and can have the added benefit of making the path a little smoother when it comes to addressing
challenges in a relationship.
When there is hurt, frustration, or disappointment with our significant other, it is difficult for us to be our best selves. We often wind up being the opposite of our
ideal image of a partner- becoming defensive, critical, jealous, argumentative, and turning away from our partner.
Making a concentrated effort to come back to our values feels amazing, because we know we are being true to who we want to be, and our happiness isn’t entirely dependent on our partner being the “ideal.”
You will likely be surprised at what changes this brings out in your partner, as
well. Even if you each have different ideas of what the ideal significant other
should look like, chances are that there is some overlapping of values, and that
your partner is going to respond more positively to this than to the you that is
acting from a place of frustration.
In his book ACT with Love, Russ Harris gives some good sample questions to help
you identify what this ideal partner self could look like for you:
“What sort of personal qualities do you want to bring into play in your
What character strengths do you wish to employ or develop?
How do you want to behave or act on an ongoing basis?
What do you want to stand for as a partner?
Suppose we ask your partner to describe the ten things he or she most
appreciates about you. In the ideal world, what would you most love your partner to say?”
This isn’t about being a doormat or not valuing and stating your needs. Hopefully, being your own advocate and someone that doesn’t accept disrespectful behavior is a part of your values, and something that should be of high importance.
Ideally, when both partners are approaching the relationship this way, everyone
is happier. Both are being true to themselves, and are usually taking care of and
nurturing each other. This doesn’t solve all problems, (by any means) but it gives a really positive foundation from which to begin deeper work.