Whenever I tell someone that they don't have to wait for their partner to commit to saving their relationship, I always get a quizzical look: “Doesn't it take two people to make a relationship work?” In over twenty-five years, working as a marital therapist, I've yet to meet a couple where the responsibility for getting into a mess is not pretty evenly spread. So, I have a lot of sympathy for people who're worried that this involves taking all the blame. It doesn't – just taking responsibility for your half.
Instead of sitting around waiting or begging your partner to get with the programme, you can take control and break the deadlock. By changing your behaviour, you will be changing the whole dynamic in your relationship. Instead of the current downward spiral – where one nasty action sparks another – you can set up a positive circle where one kind one sparks another. Soon, your partner might notice the difference, soften and become more open to change.
Here are five ways to move forward:
It’s much easier to complain about your partner's failings than look at your own. But step back and take a long look at what's been going on. When you cut away all the justifications, what do you regret doing?
I expect you've said ‘sorry’ many times before. Unfortunately, ’sorry’ can become a knee-jerk reaction or a way of buying peace (even if you don't really mean it). A full apology is different. It acknowledges both the unhelpful behaviour and the impact on the other person. For example: ‘I want to apologise that I haven't done more about around the house. It must have been exhausting for you and made you feel taken for granted’. Don't add an explanation (’I've had a lot of work on’) as this sounds like justification and lessens the power of the apology.
Hopefully your apology will have drawn a line in the sand and maybe even sparked a matching one from your partner. Don't worry if your partner remains sceptical. Imagine for a second, your partner has said: ‘Let's try again’, or, ‘Let's work on our relationship’. What would you do differently this time around? Instead of waiting for your partner, make those changes today. For example, listen more, help more with the children or approach problems more calmly.
We imagine there is a straightforward link between events and feelings. Your partner does not text and you feel unloved. However, it is more complex than that. Your reaction depends on our interpretation. For example, ‘he didn't text because he doesn't care’. No wonder you get upset.
However, if the interpretation is, ‘he didn't text because his battery is flat’, the feelings might be irritation that he forgot to charge it. Equally, if your partner does not seem to have noticed your added efforts, challenge your interpretation. If it is ‘she truly doesn't really love me’, the response will be despair. If it ‘she is worried that I might slip back into the old ways, then the reaction might be to redouble your efforts. If you're not certain why partner behaved in a particular way, ask them rather than making assumptions.
In my experience, more relationships fail after a declaration of ‘I love you but I'm not in love with you’ or infidelity because of the panic of the partner on the receiving end rather than the person who has fallen out of love. So, when you're feeling anxious, don't push for reassurance (as this only pushes your partner away) but go for a run, phone a friend or do some deep breathing exercises.