The usual break-up tagline, “it’s not you, it’s me” oddly enough seems to be reversed during relationships, “it’s not me, it’s you.” Something I often hear individual clients and couples say is “if it weren’t for him/ her doing x and y, everything would be perfect” or “if he/she would only do x and y then everything would be fine.” This idea that our happiness in a relationship is contingent upon someone ELSE changing is nearly impossible to work with.
#1- Accept the fact that you cannot change your partner
While we can talk about ways that we can help our partner do more or less of something, it seems to be more fruitful to talk with couples about acceptance.
When we love someone, we must love all of them. We cannot selectively choose the things we want to keep and discard the rest. This does not mean we are overlooking certain traits or characteristics, it means truly accepting the dark, ugly and hidden parts of someone. Of course this is not easy. Most of us struggle to accept part of ourselves, let alone parts of someone else.
#2- Nurture fondness and admiration
John Gottman, PhD., is a leading marriage researcher who has written books, such as The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Through Gottman’s years of research, he has highlighted the importance of nurturing fondness and admiration. This enables couples to better accept each other’s flaws and weaknesses. Gottman’s research also indicates that these are two of the most vital elements in preserving a long and satisfying relationship.
…especially in tough times
This idea is most important and most challenging in times of conflict. Oftentimes during arguments, we can only see our partner’s flaws. Positive memories and admiration can get suffocated by negativity and we can get stuck here. In fact, many relationships LIVE here. However, overtime flaws become magnified into dislike and dislike dissolves into resentment and contempt.
It is very easy to lose site of all the positive qualities and reasons for attraction when you and your partner are in a disagreement. However, I have found that couples who are able to recall positive qualities about their partner in tough times recover faster from arguments and are less likely to dwell on their partner’s negative attributes.
#3- Replace the negative with the positive
“I Appreciate” Exercise:
Gottman created an activity called “I appreciate,” where you list three or more of your partner’s positive characteristics along with an instance in which that quality was demonstrated. Partners are then instructed to share this list with each other.
Deniz’s Abbreviated Version:
When you find yourself spiraling into dislikes and “if only he/she would’s” take a few moments and replace those thoughts with:
- One trait you like about your partner
- Something you find attractive about him/her
- Something he/she has done for you that made you happy
When we let go of our mission to alter our partner and instead practice acceptance, we create space for compassion, compromise and intimacy.
(Adapted from 7 Research-Based Principles for Making Marriage Work on PsychCentral).