In my practice, it is common for people to come in and complain about their spouse or significant other. It is definitely more of a challenge to take a true inventory of your own behavior and have insight about how you might be contributing to the state of your relationship. There is always room to improve over the course of a long-term relationship. Here are some important questions to ask yourself to find out if you have areas that need improvement:
1. Are you emotionally responsive and engaged with your partner?
This means you can you empathize, listen and respond emotionally. You do not label your partner “needy” or some other negative term because he or she is reaching for you in this way. You value your partner and give the special attention this person deserves. Good partners turn toward each other (not away) when there is a “bid” for emotional connection.
2. Are you open to dialogue and negotiations?
You do your best to avoid “gridlock” on issues and use problem solving skills with your partner. Good partners realize that some issues in a relationship are not solvable. For example, personality characteristics that you find irritating in your partner are not going to simply go away. But, a good partner practices things like tolerance and negotiation when the problem arises.
3. Do you “soften your start-up,” as opposed to being harsh when raising an issue?
This is particularly noteworthy for women as they bring up such issues around 80% of the time in the relationship.
4. Are you willing to “accept influence” rather than “batting it back” or escalating arguments?
The man’s role is crucial here because they are less likely to accept influence from their female partners. The happiest marriages are those in which the husband accepts influence from his wife.
5. Do you know how to de-escalate negativity in an argument and make efforts to do just that?
This is usually accomplished from using “repair attempts” or language that brings down tension. Examples are saying “sorry,” or “I misunderstood,” using humor, etc.
6. Do you avoid the “Four Horsemen” at all costs?
These are the key predictors of divorce: criticism, contempt (or belligerence), defensiveness, stonewalling (refusal to talk). Anger is generally ok, as long as contempt/belligerence is absent. Women are more critical; men are more stonewalling. Stonewalling is often an unsuccessful attempt to calm things down. Criticism during conflict by women is frequently a reaction to unresponsive or irritable male partners.
7. Are you trustworthy?
You have each other’s backs and do not keep secrets. You also behave in ways that better your partner and the relationship (not just yourself) Good partners are also accessible and can be reached when needed and counted on.
8. Do you focus on the positives and not just the flaws of your partner?
Many things you found endearing when you first met your partner can later become sources of frustration.
9. Do you respect your partner’s autonomy and individuality?
There is no need to be merged into one when you are in love. It is nice to miss your partner sometimes! Don’t let your own insecurities sabotage this.
10. Do you strive to meet each other’s needs?
And furthermore, you do so because you like to see your partner happy? Are you concerned when your partner seems unhappy with you or just blow it off and think that “it’s his/her problem?” This is a poor attitude to take and will certainly doom your relationship.
11. Do you make efforts to avoid falling into a rut?
Successful couples make plans to try new things together, go out, have fun, laugh and play. Remember that novelty breaths positive energy into the relationship.
12. Are you physically affectionate and sexually responsive?
A good partner is able to be demonstrative of their love by giving and receiving physical affection. There is a realization that a romantic relationship is a sexual relationship and not just a platonic friendship.
13. Do you show gratitude and appreciation for your partner?
You may even think and feel you are grateful for your partner, but he/she is not a mind-reader! Be sure to express it in both actions and words too.
14. Finally, are you committed to the relationship and view it in terms of a “life-long journey” and not something to quickly bail on when things get rough?
We live in a time that makes it so easy to divorce (can you say “no-fault!”) and find someone else that relationships seem quite disposable. I assure you that there is nothing like having a long-term bonding love with a partner you can always count on. Be a good partner yourself and chances are you will attract someone into your life with the same values.