1. Stop all forms of blaming, shaming, or criticizing your partner
Criticism is the adult version of crying. Crying is our natural, built-in distress signal that we once used to get our parents’ attention. As adults, our infantile shrieking comes out as words and we believe that causing our partners pain will get them to meet our needs. In reality, when you inflict pain on your partner, you make it more difficult for them to stretch and accommodate your needs.
2. Don’t wait for your partner to guess what you need
This worked for us as infants. Our parents responded to our cries and intuited what we needed. This is the definition of an unconscious relationship. You won’t get what you really need from your partner unless you are willing to move into a conscious relationship. That is, one in which you say what you need without inflicting pain on your partner.
3. Do 3-5 caring behaviors for your partner every day with no strings attached
When you first fell in love you were probably doing dozens of caring behaviors for each other. As our idealized image of our partner is gradually replaced with reality, we perform fewer and fewer caring behaviors. If left in a relationship devoid of caring behaviors, we find other things or people to give us pleasure, making an emotional separation that often develops into real separation. You can change this. Start remembering what your partner likes and start doing it. If you can’t remember, ask!
4. Close all exits
You open an exit in your relationship when you withdraw or put your energy somewhere else, instead of telling your partner what you need. The relationship wont get better until you put your energy back within its bounds. There are an infinite variety of exits, but common ones are affairs, friendships, work, religion, children, alcohol/drugs, and hobbies. Discuss with your partner how you can gradually commit to close your exits together.
5. Know thyself
Your partner may be pushing your buttons, but how did your buttons get there in the first place? No matter how much you may think that other people in your position would be hurt by what your partner does, this thinking only diminishes your power. Take ownership of the way your unique experiences in life have left you hurt and reactive to certain things your partner does. Admitting that you are sensitive in some areas will necessarily induce you to become articulate about what you need, rather than expecting someone else to figure it out for you.
These tips and ideas were adapted from Keith Miller, LICSW “Ten things you can do to improve your relationship.”