The Problem Isn't Your Partner, It's Your Interaction - So Change It

Love, Self

A good relationship is a lot like dancing: Sometimes a couple is in step with each other and sometimes they're stepping on each other's toes. Each relationship develops its own unique dance steps or patterns of relating to one another, and each person in a couple contributes to those patterns in their own way.

This means that when a problem occurs between us, one person alone can alter their steps in the dance and create change in the interaction or pattern.

Because we are so intimately affected by each other, any change in our steps has to affect the steps of our partners. Understanding this can open up new possibilities and new ways to take responsibility.

The goal here is to change the way we look at things and to recognize that the problem doesn't lie with our partner but in the dynamic of the relationship.

It can be so tempting to assume that if our partners would only change, our problems would be solved. But, if we wait for the other person to change, then in effect, we are giving them all the power in the relationship and leaving ourselves with none.

Not only that, but this attitude makes it easier for us to blame our partners for everything that isn’t going well, and blame is always poisonous in a relationship, and never condusive to growth.

With this perspective, it makes more sense to work at changing the interaction, rather than the person. We tend to feel better about ourselves and each other when we put our focus there, and more importantly, it's much more effective!

So, how do we go about making changes in our relationship dynamic? Here are four simple strategies to experiment with in your relationship:

1. Change Your Diagnosis

Sometimes the way we’re looking at a situation or the way that we are diagnosing it, prevents us from seeing healthy and constructive solutions. This happens because the way we perceive and diagnose something, largely determines how we respond to it.

Usually our responses make sense in the context of our diagnosis. For instance, if we assume our partner is being dismissive of us because of something we did, our response will be in line with that diagnosis. If, however, we assume their dismissiveness is due to how overwhelmed they are feeling at work, our response will likely be quite different.

When things come up, it helps to take a moment to reflect on the diagnosis we are making, and to ask ourselves whether that diagnosis is going to get us the desired results of closeness and connection. When we experiment with altering our diagnosis, we can often find new ways to approach old problems. 

A small shift in our diagnosis could result in a huge shift in the relationship.

2. Beware of Dead-End Assessments

Our diagnosis of a situation is so influential that it can prevent our partners and our relationships from growing and expanding. This often happens on a very unconscious level - hence the importance of self-reflection.

For example, we might conclude something detrimental about our partner's character that eventually becomes a label that they can't get out from under. A diagnosis of "She's shy" or "He's lazy", can turn into unfortunate dead-end assessments that block possibilities for change and improvement.

3. Assume the Best:

The flip-side of making dead-end assessments is assuming the best. There is nothing more powerful than choosing to assume the best in our partners. Why? Because what we assume we'll see is in fact, what we will see, and also what our partners will pick up from us. If we assume the worst, that's what we'll get, and if we assume the best, that's what we'll see.

(And of course, when we assume the best in our partners, they will feel understood and loved. The value of this cannot be underestimated in any relationship.)

4. Try Something Different

We are all creatures of habit and are generally very uncreative when it comes to relationships. We often feel like we've tried everything, but usually we just keep doing what we've always done, with perhaps more intensity or volume.

Doing the same thing over and over will always get us the same results. So next time something comes up, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I usually do in this situation?
  • Does what I usually do work? Do I get the results I want when I do this?
  • What can I do differently here that might interrupt our pattern and allow for positive change?

Remember: Everything our partner does and says affects us and everything we do and say affects our partner.

Most couples are so tuned into each other that they can tell how the other is feeling without any verbal exchanges at all. This means that any little change in our behavior will naturally affect our partners. This is great news, because it means that we can, single-handedly, affect change.

Think about it: Most of us would know exactly what we could do to push our partner’s button in a negative way. So, it stands to reason that we could also figure out some small but significant things that might create positive changes; an unexpected backrub, dishes washed, a favorite food, a candle lit, a more careful response. These small gestures can, and do, have big impact.

The key thing to remember is that our problems lie in the interaction between us, not in our partners.

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This perspective encourages us to pay more attention to what we're doing and saying, and gives us more confidence to take responsibility to change our dance steps.