I was having a conversation with Frank about our respective relationships and the different challenges that we are facing.
He’s not been intimate with his partner for 2-years now.
Equally, I had another conversation with George, and he’s continually pushing his partner to be more productive with her time.
This got me thinking about my journey with Strawberry and the struggles we’ve had over the last decade in trying to find a balance between us.
And the failed relationships between that, and the years of therapy, self-help and despair that have encompassed my journey to become a better relationship partner.
I wanted to share some of that journey with you through this series of lessons I wish I had learnt years earlier.
Get to know your partner as a person
We’ve all got this problem of perspective.
That because of the way we see the world – we subconsciously assume that everyone else sees it in the same way too.
Obviously, that’s not the case – but trouble often arises in relationships when you think that your partner should be ‘just like you’.
Certainly, for Strawberry and I this was challenging when we were living in Italy and I would continually thrust upon her this idea that to grow her English teaching business that she should flyer and engage in outbound marketing activities.
It was my way and my pace of doing things and definitely not hers. Had I have actually sat down and really thought about it – I would have realised much sooner (it took me a couple of years) that this wasn’t for her.
It’s taken me far longer than it should have to get to know Strawberry because I never stopped to take the time to observe her properly.
What does she like to do with her time? If she had X challenge, based upon her world and sphere of comfort – what was the best way to support her with that.
Just beginning to take the time to observe her habits and all – really helped me get to know her
Accept the flaws
This is an important factor within a relationship that both sides have. Things that will annoy Strawberry will be:
- I don’t bring presents to anyone’s house no matter what the occasion (I went yesterday for my friend’s 34th birthday and took nothing)
- I’ll visit my parent’s every Wednesday and just expect my mum to cook for me
- I’ve been out several times now and I keep forgetting to buy toilet roll – she may end up buying it
- I didn’t use to use the dishwasher enough
- I’ll never dress up to go anywhere and if given the chance I’ll turn up wearing tracksuit bottoms everywhere I go
This is just the list I right now, consciously have immediately thought of that I think can annoy Strawberry, I’m sure she could triple this list.
But with that in mind – we maintain a happy existence because I assume that Strawberry accepts my idiosyncrasies (i HATE the word flaws). These quirks are annoyances that I’m sure frustrate her from time to time, but mostly it’s about accepting these idiosyncrasies.
It also is a case of potentially reframing how you think about these things and looking at them with affection more than anything else
Let your partner know you too.
So we’ve spoken about getting to know your partner – it’s also important to understand that this cuts both ways.
No one is a mindreader, as much as one of you might expect the other to be. But it saves many problems down the line if you just share your thoughts, opinions and all about how you think about stuff and perceive stuff.
And I’m not talking about your views on politics (although if you both feel strongly about it and have vastly different views it probably is worth bringing up) – I mean how you feel about certain things that are a central part of the relationship.
How you’ll respond in certain situations. What makes you sensitive to upset, prone to anger, live in quiet frustration.
All of these types of small things that can lead to big problems are really worth understanding more about.
So make sure you give it some thoughts and communicate this with your partner.
This one sounds simple, probably is simple, but simply put – isn’t worked upon enough. Working upon the power of being able to have engaged dialogue with your partner is central to the success of a relationship.
I’ve been in several situations where it’s become obvious that I’m not actively listening.
Men (like me) have a spectacular ability to listen and hear what’s being said whilst we’re doing something else.
I still slip into doing this from time to time – and it really does damage to everyone whose part of the conversation.
Strawberry would sometimes notice my eyes glazing over.
Or other times I’d take my phone with me and that was just a recipe for disaster.
So actively work upon this so you can actively communicate with your partner.
Allow your partner to be himself or herself
Giving your partner freedom to be themselves sounds obvious. But it’s surprising how easy it is to impinge upon their freedom through comments and looks that you make.
So be mindful of making throwaway comments such as ‘stop that that’s annoying’ or ‘can you not do that’ or ‘why do you do that?’.
You can inadvertently lead your partner to change their behaviour around you – which is actually the last thing you want.
So in those moments where you want something to change – take a step back to observe the behaviour and really figure out how important it is to you that it changes.
Does it need to change that much or can you allow your partner to be themselves?
Learn to compromise
And this leads to this point about compromise. Part of allowing someone to be themselves – is compromise.
This is a bending of what you would ideally want to have in order to make it work for your partner.
Compromise is a massive part of relationship success and there should be many compromises you potentially make without even needing to discuss it with your partner.
This could come down to the music listened to in your home or the movies you watch together.
Analyse the things that you can afford to bend on – and simply bend – especially if these are things that are meaningful to your partner.
Lower Your Expectations
Expectations are the bain of relationships – and can easily lead to heartache.
Lowering your expectations requires mindfulness.
To become aware of what your expectations are and then to let them fall away.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve found in a loving relationship is to love without expecting anything in return. When you don’t – then it’s a much nobler version of love.
And when you don’t expect anything in return – you are then not disappointed. Simply allowing your partner to be themselves makes all the affection they do show you then – that much more meaningful.
You Will Only Make Things Worse if You Become Impatient
Impatience has been a big problem for me. In work, it is more useful – but in your personal life – there’s no value for it.
I used to get frustrated with Strawberry that certain things weren’t done when she said she would do them.
And then whilst I would raise this point and she would deflatedly agree – it did nothing to add value to our relationship.
It only served to bring us apart.
And that’s because I was treating this particular aspect like a business agreement.
So let go of that totally – and DON’T judge your personal life anything like you do your professional…especially if your partner (as mine is) – isn’t that kind of person.
Strawberry is born and raised in Italy – she is of a different nature to me – and this deserves respect.
Remind Yourself That You Love Your Partner
This might seem like a silly one…but during the monotony of routine and life – it’s useful to remind yourself that your relationship is centred around love.
That it’s your love for your partner that should reign central to all that you do.
When you get caught up in work or caught up in ‘life’, or life’s routines – this part – the love part can get lost.
Remind yourself of this sometimes – just like I’m reminding myself of it now by writing this blog.
Learn to Accept Uncomfortable Situations
You’re not always going to get along with absolutely everything your partner says in your relationship. There will be some things that you disagree upon and do not see eye to eye.
This has the capacity to create uncomfortable situations for you.
It certainly doesn’t mean that these conversations should therefore be avoided – it’s still important that you have them.
This was certainly something that had I faced up to my own issues in the early years of my relationship with Strawberry – could have saved us years of heartache.
I didn’t want to discuss our different views of where we should live, or how one should be when with their partner.
And had I actually had those discussions we would have actually come to much stronger conclusions much quicker and not left it to be a disaster waiting to happen – which is what it would often turn into.
So if you have different views on childcare, on family values, language, on chores…please please discuss them and figure out solutions that can lead to a balance and harmony between you.
The above are often topics of unpleasant discourse and sometimes dangerous consequences. So get stuck in – and get it solved!
Practice Patience Often
This is something that is a muscle you’ll need to constantly refine over time. If you’re busy with work or otherwise – there’ll regularly be times when your partner comes over and walks to have an engaged conversation with you about something.
In those moments from time to time – you’ll feel heavily distracted by your partner as something else is occupying your attention.
At that moment – when you feel that pull – it’s EXACTLY the time to lean INTO the conversation with your partner and work that patience muscle.
This is where most men (including yours truly) fail. And yet this is the greatest grounds for getting such great returns in love and affection from your partner.
Quality of time and communication is important to most female partners (from the very little reading I’ve done and my own personal experience) – and so giving them more of this will pay massive dividends for the success of your relationship.
And interestingly – it comes from that place of ‘resistance’. At that moment when you feel you’ve run out of patience – brute force yourself to have more.
This can come from saying to yourself – ‘this is fine’, ‘I always have time for X’ or otherwise.
Of course, it’s not JUST conversation. Perhaps it’s other things as well – decisions, getting ready to leave for a dinner party and whatever else leads to conflict.
The more you can simply practise the skill and control it – the better you’ll be able to manage such situations.
Learn to Wait When Your Lover Promises You Something
This again comes back to patience.
One of the conflicts that Strawberry and I would sometimes have is that I would ask when ‘X’ would happen – and she would say by ‘Y’.
And then ‘Y’ came and no such answer/response was given – and I would get annoyed – and whilst I was technically ‘right’ – it did nothing to help our relationship.
It became more transactional and almost like an employee/employer relationship with this need to know by a certain date.
So in my experience – it’s better to just keep giving gentle reminders and not focus on a hard deadline – certainly not in the first or second instance anyway.
For me, with Strawberry, this has been the ‘better’ way – to let her decide things are hero own pace.
The truth with this also – is that actually there is almost nothing in life that is truly ‘urgent’. ‘Urgency’ is actually a matter of perception rather than any reality.
Buffer your responses
This is a challenge I struggle with.
Sometimes you get incredibly frustrated or angry.
I do this with my work – and I spout out the first things that come to mind and then often regret it because it only serves to diminish the effort the other person is making.
And then it stops being a safe environment to share and all.
This is actually an active problem of mine that I’m in the process of trying to resolve by pausing and then opening with ‘of course what happened isn’t ideal – what can we learn from this?’.
With your partner – where there are moments you see red…PAUSE. WAIT.
And also think about the kind of dialogue your partner is most receptive to. This is the style you need to implement to get the best from the situation else you’ll fail because of the manner in which you communicate.
The way the message is delivered must be adjusted to suit the situation and the receiver.
And if this is the person you love – then well – make sure you adjust with this in mind – past experiences if you meditate upon them carefully will reveal the way.
Have realistic expectations
This is a big one in your relationship.
Having realistic expectations is actually about recognising that you can’t measure your partner by how YOU respond to things.
Or how you THINK someone should respond to things.
Your partner is not YOU nor ‘someone’. She is herself – and you have an incredible body of data about her behavioural responses. More than anyone – because she is your partner so you’ve seen her in hundreds if not thousands of different situations.
You just simply need to observe and analyse that data to then build a predictive model of what her behavioural response and patterns are.
Based upon this – you can then build realistic expectations.
Using any other model other than her past self would be inappropriate.
So ponder this before you expect ‘anything’ from your partner.
Look at your partner as a whole
I think it’s easy to get fixated upon a particular annoyance, behaviour, affectation or otherwise.
And then the ‘whole’ can get lost amongst the weeds.
It’s an improper narrowing of the lens.
Like hating a particular hat, or perfume, or dress your partner wears and then making that the focus of your attention.
This is totally bogus – but I’ve seen it occasionally happen to myself.
Shake yourself out of it – your partner is a rounded human being with 100 other qualities that need to be included in your view of her.
So widen the lens and appreciate her for who she is.
Remember patience pays off
There is value in the long game – even if we’re not really wired to appreciate it much.
In the beginning – it may feel like much of these habits feel or seem pointless and you can’t correlate the value with them in the short term at all.
Well…that’s short term thinking – and the true value of it can only be judged over a matter of months and years.
So unless there’s something that is deemed to be a relationship breaker – practice patience in awaiting change (where change is needed) and you may surprise yourself over what happens even in as little as a few months.
Build new habits
You know, I think about building new habits and realise how much I still need to work upon this.
Let me give you an example.
Strawberry is out today on a training course. So if I’m able to make a habit of having the kitchen tidy whenever she’s away from the house for MORE than 2 hours…
That would be an incredible habit for me to pick up – and one that I should really work to achieve.
I’m actually going to give this a shot today.
Hopefully, that ONE singular example (I work from home) illuminates the power of building massively positive habits for your relationship.
What small things can you do that can have a big impact on the success of your relationship?
I could also clean the bathroom 1x a week (every Sunday for example).
Today…I’ll try and do both.
And if I can aim to do this EVERY weekend….I know how much of a value-adding habit it’ll be to our lives.
Simple things such as this can make a big difference.
Becoming an excellent relationship partner isn’t too difficult to work out when you write it all down.
I’ve had to learn a lot of this the hard way. Through f*cking it all up basically.
Some of my friends who’ve been in relationships longer than I have told me – all men do this…
Which is reassuring.
What’s also reassuring here as I write all of this down – is that there are some things I can do which can lead to a big difference in the quality of our lives.
And if I spend some additional time practising even 30% of the things we discussed above – it’ll lead to big positive changes in our life.
I hope it’s the same for you 🙂