Did you ever think you were Mr. or Miss Smarty Pants about relationships? That you knew everything you needed to know about how to be the best partner ever? Guilty! But then I started to blog about them and realized that even after decades of marriage I had so much more to learn!
So what have I learned?
There are five small questions that I ask myself regularly now that have made a big difference to the health of my relationship. Here they are.
1. Am I challenging my assumptions?
We all make assumptions about how things should be in a relationship because of our own upbringing and life experiences but if our partner is operating under a different set of operating principles that can be a problem.
I only figured out after 25 years of marriage that I was making assumptions based on gender stereotypes. I was expecting my husband to have the “bigger” career so I assumed more housework to free up his time. But it turns out, he wanted me to pursue a career with as much passion as him, and had no expectations of getting off light on the domestic front. Now I am pursuing a career in writing and my renewed ambition has been healthy for our relationship.
2. Do I ask myself what he expects of me?
It’s easy to feel resentment when our partner falls short of our expectations, or we think we are doing more than our fair share of work. But, how often do we consider, “What does my partner expect of me?” Expectations run two ways!
When my kids were small, I remember thinking grumpily, “Why am I always the one organizing birthday parties It’s not fair.” But was it really unfair? After all, I liked birthday parties better, was better at organizing, and more connected to other parents—plus he did many other things like helping them with piano lessons which he didn’t expect me to do.
3. Am I holding him to unfair standards?
We all have our strengths, and sometimes it’s difficult to understand why other people find things so difficult when we find them to be so easy. Who doesn’t get impatient when our partner is taking so long to do something we can do in a flash?
There are many things I used to get impatient about like how slow my husband was in the kitchen until I realized he doesn’t criticize me for my shortcomings like my hopeless sense of direction. We are a good team because we have complimentary and not competing strengths. As a team we cover more bases. I cook because I’m a whiz in the kitchen. He plans road trips.
4. Am I testing him?
Sometimes we expect our partner to read our minds. So rather than telling them what we really want we “test” them to see if they are smart enough to figure it out on their own. That’s not a good game to play.
I’ve certainly laid many traps and then felt vindicated but resentful when my husband fell into them. Will he make a fuss on my birthday after I told him not to? Well no because he takes me at my word. Isn’t it a more mature strategy to set our partner up for success rather than failure?
5. Am I giving him enough space?
How many ways are there to suffocate our partners? I’m sure we can all name many! Spending too much time together; constantly asking them who they are texting; calling them too often to check up; “processing” every petty grievance.
While I don’t do the things above very often, I do tend to micro-manage which can be equally suffocating. When my husband tells me about a problem, my instinct is to rush into “solution” mode rather than listening intently. But often our partners just want us to listen, and not be the problem-solver—as they are more than capable with the right support.
Whether you are just starting to date or celebrating years of life as a married couple it can be a good idea to take a step back, ask a few good questions of ourselves. Who knows what new insights might bubble up to make you a better partner!