How to handle your partner’s imperfections

A couple is fighting on a couch and the girl is pointing her finger accusingly at him.
Since we spend the vast majority of time with our partners, it is inevitable that there will at some point be a disagreement of some sort. In fact, it is fair to say that recurrent affronts or letdowns with your partner are not only natural but a very predictable experience in the day and life of a couple.

From this realistic vantage point we are prepared then to anticipate and resolve these issues verses getting defensive and/or counterattacking. If we take the latter approach, we are personalizing and inadvertently perpetuating the upset.

Here are some strategies to help you cope with adversity in relationships, regardless if they are about chronic or newly emergent issues.

  • Trust in your partner by realizing that they are on your side and there is really no conspiracy. I think you’ll agree that your partner is not getting up in the middle of the night and trying to map out a plan to ruin your day.

Try to focus on the “intent” of your partner’s communication. I think you’ll further agree that whether your partner is on the offensive or defensive end of an argument, they are simply trying to tell you something important but in an ineffective manner.

In other words, it’s not what they’re saying but how they’re saying it.

Try to look at it from their point of view and ask yourself, “What is it that she or he is really trying to tell me?”

  • If your partner is on the offensive and accusatory about an event, use active listening and collaborative problem solving (CPS). By doing so, it will validate your partner’s emotional distress and diffuse the situation verses escalating it by denying their subject reality and acting defensive and counterattacking.

While these techniques were described in detail in helping to improve parent-child conflicts in the previous post they are also aptly suited to resolve conflicts with couples.

  • Be congruent with your partner, namely, tell her or him what you really think about their negative comments or behaviour verses continuing to internalize and resent their behaviour. To do so consistently, use I messages e.g., “When you said this ________” or “When you did that __________” … “I thought ____________ and that made me feel ______________” … “In the future I would like you instead to ____________.”

For this technique to be most effective, is important to use it when you are both in an optimal mood. Thus this will require waiting a few hours or even a day or so before you can speak to your partner about an event.

  • Accept that there is no expiration date that allows you to stop using these strategies. Trying to deal with adversity and improve communication with your partner is a process. In couples sessions, I often compare the difficulty of trying to get important messages through to their partner to being analogous to trying to download important information from the Internet. Sometimes it requires multiple downloads perhaps even on a daily basis before the message is received.





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