Your Relationship with Your Partner
A baby fundamentally changes existing relationships and can test even the best ones. Working out problems before pregnancy, or at least soon into it can make a big difference later on. Closer bonds will help you accept help, talk freely about birth and baby expectations, and help you feel more secure in your relationship, lowering stress. The key to achieving all this: learn to communicate. Many couples talk but few really know how to communicate in a way both feel listened to and valued. If you can communicate but still have trouble accepting the intimacy it gives you, try a mindfulness approach. Gratefulness is an easy way to start. Each day you take a moment to think what you appreciate about your partner or your life at the moment, you can share it with them before bed, you can write it down, or you can simply think it. Keeping positivity in mind will help it slowly seep in as second nature to you. It is very hard to be happy with someone else if you cannot be happy yourself yet changing your own mindset is one of the hardest things to do.
Drawing on multiple relationship guide sources, I have found that these 7 principles show up again and again as being the essential ingredients to a good relationship. Some books word them differently but they still fall roughly in the same categories.
1- Listen to each other
3- Don't hold grudges or resentment
4- Don't take things personally
5- Empathize - see things from the other side
7- Show each other you care in ways that are meaningful to each other
1- When you feel like there's miscommunication or a circular argument getting nowhere try to think why he said what he did, what did he mean by it? Ex: You excitedly said you're the treasurer of your club now. He answered: “Cool. Did you do a budget sheet, write down expenses, etc.?” You: Get annoyed because obviously you did! You think what kind of treasurer would you be if you didn't? And doesn't he even care which club this is for or how it happened? Before you get upset at him - think about why he asked what he did? Could be he was happy you got the job and wants to help make sure you're good at it. Where it is was irrelevant to him. You may still be annoyed that his response wasn’t what you wanted but instead of blaming him for not caring about club think about what he meant, not what he said. Divert the conversation towards what you wanted to focus on instead. For ex: “You can help me with all that later. Want to hear what club this is?” (Hopefully he says yes.)
A good listening exercise: when one person is talking, the other says not a peep. Then, the listener repeats back what they heard and what they think the person talking was saying. Person talking will say yes or no if what listener heard/interpreted was correct. Then the listener has a chance to talk. This is not meant for normal daily conversation obviously but may be a good tool to initially make sure you're being heard when you talk. Instead of already coming up with a retort and their own argument, whoever is listening is forced to just listen and really understand the other person. It eliminates frustrating interruptions and shouting over one another. Do this when you're discussing something and notice it's becoming a constant interrupting shouting match - step back, be quiet, and do the listening exercise. Also it helps to look at least in the general direction to who you're talking to. Try not to look too annoyed, bored, or distracted. That kills the conversation before it even begins, setting the tone that whoever's supposed to be listening can't even be bothered with you right now. Another thing is be mindful of the tone of your voice – don’t say it in a very condescending, forceful way, like you're talking down to them, or like you know you're obviously right and you're humoring them by talking to them. No one wants to be at the other end of that having to listen to whatever it is that's being said.
2- Respecting each other. This is a big one. Snide remarks, eye rolling chortles, put down comments (even said jokingly) can be really hurtful, especially if it happens a lot and not by accident. You're supposed to support and trust each other. Would you feel secure and cared about with someone who constantly reminds you you're not good enough or keeps picking at mistakes you made? Ex: Your partner made a delicious soup and is very proud of it. You try some, really enjoy it, then say yea it's good - but mine is still better. Not acknowledging their happiness/ accomplishment even if it's small but instead turning it on yourself is a fast and easy way to make someone feel like they're just being dismissed and you don't care how good they feel about themselves - you're sure you're better than them. There is no trust, no support, or even respect for feelings in that scenario. Another example: your partner comes up with terrible idea but honestly thinks it's one worth considering. Bad response: “Thats horrible! How could you even think of something so terrible/stupid!” In this case, whoever came up with the idea again feels like why bother trying? I'll just be shot down & then trampled. Better response: “Ehh, I don't know if it'll work. Why do you think it’s good?” Give the horrible idea a chance to be defended. Maybe there is good logic or some good idea within it and it’s not pitched right. Don't say "I told you so" as that also adds insult to injury. If you told him to do something, he didn't listen, then it bit him in the butt, I'm sure a small "she told you so" voice is already chirping in his head. No need to harp on it out loud. If he still doesn't listen the next time, well then he'll fail again on his own doing. Hopefully eventually he'll realize listening to you is helpful and these "told you so" moments won't be as frequent. He's probably already beating himself up knowing there was a better solution and he willingly chose not to do it. No need to rub it in.
3- Holding grudges hurts you more than anyone else. By holding a grudge you daily harbor hate in your heart and keep reminding yourself of it. Depending on how old that grudge is or how difficult it is to dissolve you might need to do some forgiveness work as well. If you keep bringing up past mistakes or things said in poor judgment that were later apologized for or whoever did/said it was clearly sorry for hurting you (but too stubborn to apologize because of some personal principle) then you're never going to be able to have a happy trusting relationship. The person on the receiving end of the grudge will be worrying they’re being judged or that they’ve failed in your eyes no matter what they do. Ex: (If you don’t live together) He says you're a lazy slob and is totally unapologetic because you've had lots of free time in past few days yet there is garbage all over your room and unwashed dishes with a funky smell. He said it like he really meant it and is not taking it back though he sees that comment really hurt because you know there is a mess at your place and you have been so busy and not feeling well you just didn’t get to it. You obviously respond defensively, kick him out since clearly he's against you, and then go on cleaning spree making sure it's spotless from then on when he comes over.
Chances to clear the air from that: Scene 1: He comes over a week later and does the dishes after dinner - golden opportunity to make things right – wrong comment: "I'll help you out with these to make sure we have clean plates for tomorrow." You feel that snippy comment stinging again especially since over the past 6 days he came over and your place was spotless. Right comment: "sorry for last week, it was a long week of dealing with messes for me and seeing one more mess just tipped me over edge." You feel better that the terrible comment wasn't directed at you personally but it was at his frustrations of the week/ the mess. From now on you try to make your place more presentable knowing messes bother him and he catches himself before making such comments. Yes, both of you have to change a bad habit for each other but you can work together mindful of each other’s feelings as you do so. For the grudge holder this also means get over it - it happened, you got upset, he noticed and felt bad, things changed – you’re cleaner and he’s more considerate so don’t keep bringing it up. A key characteristic of a grudge is that it’s always there, always reminding you of how you were wronged.
Scene 2: He comes over a week later and you quickly get up to do dishes after dinner to avoid more comments like before and to show him you do clean. Wrong comment, said with sarcasm: "You can start the post-dinner movie without me - I don't want you to deal with a slob tonight so I'll do dishes right now". He now has the option of the same two responses as in scene 1. A good comment from you can be no comment or, "I'll be right there, I want to get these out of the way. The longer I look at them piling up, the less willing I am to do them - it's happened before”. Again, he has the option of two responses from scene 1. In scene 1 you leave it totally up to offender to make things right. In scene 2 you either continue the rift between you or you try to brush it off by ignoring the hurt though eventually all these brushed off comments gather up into more resentment. By having the offender just start the movie without you while you do dishes for example, he is continuing the rift.
You should both acknowledge your mistakes/ poor judgment even if you think it was too minor be a problem or it wasn't all that hurtful. Doesn’t matter if you think the other person was being too sensitive or that you have nothing to apologize for because you only spoke the truth. If either one of you, in any way, brings up that interaction again then clearly it was a problem even if you didn't think so. Fix it then leave it behind. You can't undo the past so as long as you keep harping on old issues you'll be indefinitely stuck on them.
4- Don’t take things personally. Assuming you know that the other person loves and cares about you and doesn't enjoy seeing you hurt, you should be able to take constructive criticism and non hurtful jokes/jabs at yourself without getting defensive and worked up over it. Know they might get mad at you for asking a stupid question while they're busy, yelling go away when you're interrupting something important to them and they're stressed over it. These responses may vary with personality but unfortunately, until everyone speaks mindfully and never slips up, they are common occurrences you’ll have to deal with at some point. Another scenario is you might be looking for company and they just dismiss you saying something like "I can't deal with you right now". Understand you're not something they have to "deal with" but it was just poor word choice when they just want to be left alone to brood over whatever is bothering them. If you just let it be and be open to them coming to you when they're ready to talk without getting all worked up and thinking "oh now you want to talk - or you just came to 'deal with me' now?" you won't have a constant battle over being dismissive of each other, not being heard, no support, etc. People do get stressed, angry, upset at things and have different ways of dealing with it. Some need an ear - with or without advice, some need time alone first. Don't take it to heart if they direct the anger at you. 99% of the time there is a reason for the anger. Yes, you may have contributed to the cause of it, but then it's even more important to remain approachable and supportive rather than cold and combative so you two can talk it, out whatever "it" is.
5- Empathy is somewhat of an extension of not taking things personally. Not everything is about you and many times it helps to see things from the other perspective. Empathy makes the other person feel like they have an understanding non-judgmental supporter. Not all problems or things that make you upset require solutions. Sometimes you just want to feel like you're not alone with whatever is bothering you. That doesn't necessarily mean just nodding along saying "I get it" when you don't and you both know it. Be there as a sounding board, advice giver, problem solver, or just friend/distraction depending on what's needed. Ex: One of you is having a hard time at school while other one sailing along - or maybe also trudging along but unbothered by it seeing it as just another "oh well it's life" issue that can be taken in stride. Bad response: "Suck it up. I am. Why can't you?" Maybe other person can't just "suck it up" and for whatever reason what is a minor problem for you is major for them. You can't study for them but maybe give study hints (if asked... unsolicited solutions in this case can lead to resentment "you just don't get it? I know how to study, I know what I need to do, it's just hard & frustrating for me"), help focus on the end - big annoying research paper finished = go out to new cafe together, or help make life easier while they trudge through the difficult school year alone.
6- Pick your battles. You don't always need to emphasize the point that you're right (even if you are). Depending on the situation and how relatively frivolous the argument is, just let them be wrong. You tried, you made your point, they understood (see #1 - listening) and they still disagree that extra adobo in the sauce is a bad idea. You accept differences, take some sauce from the bowl for yourself, and say "here you go - do what you want with the rest". They make some truly horrible spaghetti sauce and at that point there is no need for "I told you so". Their disgusted expressions as they swallow their own concoction are satisfying enough for you. Now if you're driving and know for sure that your route is faster/better and you know their way leads to traffic and lots of tolls - see #1 - listening – ask why they don’t want to go that way. If you have a solid argument and proof to back it up, hopefully they listen to reason. Continued resistance is not good - just give in once in a while to a solid argument. It works best if logic wins and not "well we listened to you last time, my turn now". You should never keep score in a relationship since then no one ever wins and it breeds resentment and unhealthy competition. You should be working together and not against each other. Try to be objective or if you both just cannot come to an agreement - just drop it. Come up with a plan C if it's A vs B.
There is a time & place for arguments. Be mindful of that. Ex: They had a long work day while you were busy at home all day and are dying for some help. Soon as they walk through the door you say, “Can you do dishes tonight?”. They say: “Tomorrow, I just want to sit down and play a video game now. Had a very rough day at work today.”. Now, you can start an argument saying that they have one task and can't even be bothered to do it, they don't care that you need help and only want 10min of their time, etc. Or you can take their word and trust that they will indeed do them in the morning. Maybe there is something going on at work just that week that they need to deal with and they only way to deal with it is to unwind mentally. But, if this is an ongoing problem and you get the same excuse over and over then pick a neutral time to discuss solutions. Not when they're feeling tired or annoyed at you for asking but try later in the day after the moment passes or on a weekend/day when that excuse is invalid (there is no work to be tired from and no dishes to do right now would potentially be a good time). This example also goes both ways. If you catch yourself always being the one starting the argument – either always nagging to do something of refusing to do something, you must remember you’re not alone anymore. If you're with someone you need to acknowledge them too. A very common argument is "can't help because I'm too tired from .... ". If the thing tiring you out is affecting your relationship you need to look at your priorities. Either stop doing the tiring thing, find a better way to cope with it, or change it. If you’re always too busy or too tired from your own life to have one together then you’re not making room for your relationship.
7- This one is last because it's like the cherry on top of a good relationship. It is still essential since it keeps love in good relationships but pretty irrelevant if you can't get 1-6 down first. The premise is that there are essentially 5 "love languages" which are 5 different ways you can show someone you love them or care about them. Different people respond to different things and if there's a mismatch it can lead to arguments, feeling lonely/ignored, unloved, angry at the other person (and they honestly don't know why and think you're crazy). Ex: your way of showing someone you love them is doing things for them - packing lunch while they shower in the mornings, taking out the garbage when they're too busy to do it themselves, etc. They respond to quality time and see your actions as simply you helping out at home and being too busy to spend time with them because of it. Cue argument - you never show you care about me, how come you never do things without being asked, just help me out once in a while? The first person shows their caring through actions and by not receiving actions in return they feel that their efforts go unnoticed. The other person completely disregards how much the first one does for them and why they do it (not because they enjoy packing lunches) and mistakenly thinks they don't care. The other person is annoyed person 1 is always running around doing things for them but can never sit down to watch a movie together or go out to the park and instead dismisses their show of caring as annoying distractions that keep them from spending time together. The problem is each person has a different way to show they care and if you're not aware of what each others’ preferred way is then this sample scenario is very likely to happen. The 5 ways are: acts of service, quality time, giving gifts, physical touch, and words of affirmation. You might know the other person loves you but you won't really feel it unless they show you in a way that resonates with you personally. Giving gifts might be a tricky one if you think you'll go broke being with someone who resonates with that but it really is just a gesture that's needed. On your way to see them, buy them a single chocolate if you know they like that and secretly tuck it into their jacket pocket when you leave them so they find it later (or just hand it to them). When you go out for lunch with friends then meet them afterwards - just bring along an extra coffee for them because you think they'd want one too. Check out this link for a free downloadable pdf of a quiz that helps you figure out yours - and take it for them too - compare results. Maybe you thought their top pick is touch but they picked gifts - and you rarely gave them gifts because you never knew. You can have more than 1 top choice – it gives the other person more ways to make you feel loved. In summary, a good relationship should make you both feel like you can totally trust each other to be there when needed, without judgment, added stress, conflict, defensiveness, etc. You can be fine each doing your own thing because you know that as soon as you need something – the other person is there and you can count on them 100%.
For more information on love languages click here
For more information on the benefits of gratefulness click here
Center of Nonviolent Communication workshop – Nov 4, 2014
Dahn Yoga – Shim Sung training
Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love by Edward Sri