You can improve your relationship immediately by understanding this one big no-no.
"What are the biggest relationship issues couples encounter?" Every radio interviewer asks me that same question. Then they go on to wanting to know what issues can be fixed easily, which ones take time, and which are likely never to be fixed. There is ONE HUGE issue that is often clear when I work with couples, and it is such a familiar pattern that the partners themselves often cannot give it a name. They may occasionally recognize it for what it is, but mostly it is discomfort, irritation and anger-producing.
As a prelude to sharing this secret (and, no, it has nothing to do with your sex life). I'm sharing this well-disguised scenario from my private clients:
A couple in their late 30s came to see me after each doing my free Relationship Checklist online. Both were very competent and successful in their respective fields: he as a real-estate developer and she a well-respected attorney. The man complained heartily that he had to tell his wife what to do, follow up to make sure she did it and then make up what she missed or did not do to his standards or timelines. He said it was like "living with a child."
The woman said that she could never please her husband with anything she did. Everything was never good enough, right, or in time. She was frustrated and admitted that often she simply stopped trying, so that he could be right! Other times, she said she made a big effort. Even then, she felt nothing was ever enough, so things only continued to deteriorate between them.
When I’m working with couples I have not been with before, I take them through a series of slides to help them understand the foundations of healthy, mutually-supportive relationships. With these folks, as we went through what I call my "Relational Climate Values," they realized they were missing a few. That was important to recognize and something we definitely had to work on. But the big news for them turned out to be the slide that simply says:
Do Not Parent Your Partner.
When couples start telling each other what to do and how to do it, troubles are lurking and dissatisfaction is sure to escalate. When your partner seems to feel that you cannot be left on your own to do something your own way, respect is sure to diminish.
Yes, of course, we're here to help each other in a relationship. Sometimes you ask each other for advice, perspective or help. Then, you receive it. That's appropriate. That's mutual. That's supportive.
Assuming the other person needs or wants your help, input or rescuing,
and acting on that assumption IS the problem.
When you are parenting your partner, all the rebelliousness, the irritation, the "how-dare-you's" of childhood and teen years get triggered in your partner. They rebel. They may say, or at least, think:
"What's up with you? Do you think I'm addled, stupid, incompetent, or been kept in a box all my life? Leave me alone. I can do this."
Not good for any relationship, work or home!
You can imagine the relief my professional couple felt when the man realized that he was treating his wife as an incompetent kid, and began to respect her for who she is: a competent professional who does things in different ways and on different timelines than he does.
One thing was certain: she DID NOT need his vigilance, supervision, or incessant judgment! She got to where she is in life without him. Did he really think she needed him to take it from there? NO!
Once we got through a few sessions of working out what NOT parenting your partner looks, feels and sounds like, they were laughing, holding hands and renewed in their commitment to each other and their child.
- Is there anything familiar to you in this couples’ journey?
- Are you parenting or being parented by your partner?
- When you reflect on the irritation, frustration, or disappointment you feel in your relationship, could it be the inequity of the "partner parenting" that is going on?
You can learn from their experience. You and your partner are different people with different backgrounds, skills, abilities and ideas. That's where your strong team potential is.
Collaboration is what is required: making the team strong by helping one another, contributing your strengths. If you think your partner is weak, thoughtless, dumb or incapable — if you REALLY think that — you need to re-think your relationship entirely.
But, if you can offer the one that you love respect, consideration, interest and the willingness to truly collaborate in life, you will give up trying to parent them. That is the one huge thing that will improve your relationship immediately!
If you need help, I'm always here to talk to. You can book time to talk from wherever you are in the world by going to THIS LINK. We'll talk through Skype, video or phone!
More marriage therapist advice on YourTango:
- 7 Signs You Might Need Marriage Counseling
- My Parents Got Divorced; Is My Marriage Doomed?
- 10 Signs Your Marriage Is In Trouble