“Good relationships don’t just happen. They take time, patience, and two people who truly want to be together.” ~Unknown
We are wired to seek “the right one,” the ever-supportive partner, and the loving relationship.
If we get all three, it’s like winning the lottery of life. When we meet someone, we dream of him/her being our soul mate. When we are in a relationship, we hope they’ll love and support us unconditionally, and the relationship will be loving and everlasting.
That would be the ideal world, and, unfortunately, the ideal world isn’t the one we live in.
It took me a divorce and a few failed relationships to learn what real love is. Strong, lasting love is not being with “the right one” or being in a relationship that is effortlessly wonderful all the time. That’s a disempowering way of living, just like waiting for life to be perfect.
I came to understand that true love is a daily commitment to make the relationship great by being loving and attentive in our action and our words.
With the exception of cases whereby our partner is purposefully being physically/verbally abusive or emotionally manipulative, to love is to commit to being loving even when our partner unintentionally disappoints, frustrates, or hurt us.
On days when it’s difficult to fulfill this commitment, I apply these five steps and they help me avoid getting caught up in passive-aggressive spirals with my partner.
1. Get real and see the whole picture.
When our partner lets us down, it can hurt so bad that we become blinded from everything else that matters.
In defense of our wounded ego, we overreact by blowing the issue out of proportion and getting argumentative beyond reason. Our logic gets hijacked and we forget to see the whole picture—that in most cases, what we fight about isn’t truly important.
During times like these, I ask myself, “Is it the end of the world, or the relationship, that this problem happened because of his insensitivity/immaturity/irresponsibility? Or is it a passing storm that ravages, but we can rebuild from there and learn lessons for the future?”
2. Dig out the “I am loved” list.
Reason flies out the window of our mind whenever we’re in pain or experiencing rage. Our mind focuses on how we’re being victimized and blacks out the times when our partners acted lovingly toward us.
Whenever I find myself reacting like this, I dig deep in my “I am loved” list. It’s a list I keep of all the big and small loving things my partner regularly does and recently did for me.
For instance, I may recall that when I was feeling stressed and exhausted, despite finishing work late himself, he traveled a long way to my place, got me dinner, went grocery shopping, and stocked my fridge with my favorite nourishing food items.
I’ll also recall the regular acts of love he does, such as texting me first thing after he wakes up and last thing before he goes to bed each day, getting me coffee in bed, giving me massages when I’ve been working long hours, and cheering me up whenever I feel down.
3. Picture his/her plate and realize how full/heavy it is.
In the ideal scenario, our partner is loving, caring, attentive, and affectionate 24/7. That said, it’s easy to be so when we are not bounded by life’s stresses, problems, and burdens.
Whenever my partner is acting in an unloving way, I try to counter my feelings of anger, hurt, and disappointment by putting myself in his shoes and picturing the responsibilities, issues, and worries that are in his life at that point.
This simple exercise helps me see things from his perspective and enables me to be understanding on days when he isn’t able to act in ways a “good” partner would. Instead of focusing on how he can be loving toward me, this practice gives me the opportunity to identify how I can be loving and supportive of him.
4. Get aware of how your response perpetuates your partner’s unloving behavior.
It takes two hands to clap. When our partner isn’t being loving, the ego’s response is to think, “I don’t deserve this, so I’m going to retaliate and claim back my power.” Such a reaction only traps us in a lose-lose cycle.
We pit ourselves against each other, when deep down all we want is to feel that our partner cherishes us and is on our side as our biggest supporter.
Whenever I feel tempted to react negatively, I take a deep breath and direct my thoughts to how I can break the vicious cycle. I’ll ask myself, “How can I communicate my boundaries on unacceptable behavior without angry words of blame, judgment, and criticism?”
The challenge is to swap the unconstructive reflex of finger pointing with the constructive practice of educating our partners on the right way to treat us.
5. Be loving, but keep healthy expectations and boundaries.
While it’s important to be the right person in a relationship, rather than wait for one, it’s critical that we maintain firm boundaries. Being loving should not happen at the expense of our sense of self-worth.
It’s healthy to expect our partners to treat us with respect, to prioritize us, to communicate their feelings to us, and to show appreciation. When our partners start to take us for granted, we need to communicate in a firm but non-confrontational way that we will not accept that behavior.
How do you respond when your partner is acting in unkind and unloving ways? Do you think these tips could help?
Upset couple image via Shutterstock