When I meet couples in therapy they typically expect that their partner will change to meet their needs. Those that are successful learn that they need to work on themselves as well.

The following five suggestions will help many couples improve their relationship:

1.    See life through your partner’s eyes.

You really live in different worlds.  That is why seeing things through the eyes of your partner is easier said than done. However if you work the following exercise you will make steps in understanding each other and reducing conflict. Conflict is a killer of love! 

As an exercise allow your partner to express his views on any subject for three minutes. Your job is to listen and not prepare a retort or defense.  When he is finished repeat to him what you understood. Ask you partner if you understood him. If not, after he explains a second time try to tell him what you understood.  Then reverse the process and have your partner listen and repeat to you what you said.

 2.    Avoid the need to be right.

Our need to be right makes your partner feel wrong. When we feel wrong we feel hurt, angry or belittled. That is why insisting on being right (even when you believe you are right) makes your partner defensive and argue with you to prove he is right.  Instead of saying I am right and you are wrong discuss why you believe the way you do. Everyone has different beliefs based on different life experiences. For the most part beliefs are personal opinions. Ask your partner to share his opinions. Try to understand why your partner thinks differently than you.  Agree to respect your partner’s opinions. They are as important to him as yours are to you. Agree to disagree. Don’t push away love to be right.

3.    Leave the past in the past.

When you disagree try not to bring up the past. The past opens up disagreements and emotional soft spots. Try to avoid the use of the words always and never because they automatically  bring the past into your present discussion. Stay present and focus on the discussion at hand.

Treat the discussion like a business decision. How can both of you help resolve the issue at hand? Can you find a middle ground? Can you make a compromise? If you can’t compromise then agree to let your partner take his course of action and the next time you can’t resolve an issue it’s your turn to call the shots.

4.    Avoid trigger words.

a. Words such as – Do this – Do that are trigger words because they are commands. Rather than make demands make requests.  Will you be doing the dishes tonight? Will you take out the garbage? Avoid ordering your partner to do things. This sets up a parental type of relationship where our immature parts fell small and we back away or become defensive

b. Why and How come are potentially toxic words. They are universally used speaking to children who haven’t done what they should. The words why and how come suggest to the less mature parts of ourselves that we have done something wrong. This tends to create defensiveness. We can ask questions in a softer way.  Will you be doing this? Did you plan to do this tomorrow? Shall I remind you?

5.    Don’t try to change your partner

How would you like to be changed? Even though you know you have imperfections – do you want someone to change you?

 Of course you don’t want someone to change you. You want to be yourself and work on your shortcomings in your own way. Your partner feels the same way!

Remember that love is an energy that interpenetrates the universe and the depths of your being. Do your personal work and love will flow. 

Don Mordasini, M.A., MFT, a former stockbroker turned clinical psychotherapist, has been practicing in the San Jose, California area for over 18 years.  He has helped many families by combining the best of Western and Eastern Psychology with modern medicine.  He also wrote Wild Child, How to Help Your Child With ADD and Other Behavioral Issues, in 2001.  His latest book is Princes and Ogres:  Integration of Psyche and Soul.   More information is available at www.donmordasini.com.