Written by EK Seo, Ph.D., Licensed Professional Counselor
Relationships are always difficult and challenging, but rewarding. A challenge can happen when one person cannot resolve an issue without the other’s cooperation. Likewise, a successful marriage depends on both partners’ ongoing work. Many people, including myself, wish they could fix the other person’s problems for both their benefit as well as for a better partnership. Or, they believe that if their partners change, their marriage will be easy.
Throughout the years, I have learned that changing myself saves much more time and energy than waiting for my partner to change. Also, I have found that blaming my partner has been one of the most unsuccessful attempts at conflict resolution in our marriage.
A conflict indicates that both partners have contributed to the problematic dynamics in the relationship. Although one partner may have a serious personal issue (e.g., addiction, depression, or anger), which brings tension to the relationship, how I react to my partner’s problem forms our relationship dynamic and impacts how we resolve conflict. When I make small changes in the relationship, my partner will change to adjust to the new dynamics that I had brought about. However, if we focus only on fixing our partner, this hard work will not bear fruit.
How can you bring changes to your relationship?
First, acknowledge your role in marital conflicts. When my partner hurts my feelings, do I escalate more tension by criticizing my partner, or do I help my partner to understand my feelings? When my partner complains about me, do I deny my responsibility by withdrawing or blaming my partner, or do I admit my wrongdoings and work on them? When I have a disagreement with my partner, do I push my partner to accept my values and priorities, or do I accept my partner’s differences and compromise my values and priorities?
Second, examine how you communicate with your partner. I have learned that most of my clients have good intentions in communicating with their partners. However, many people fail because they do not know how their partners will take their communication. A good intention is not enough for effective communication. Does my body language, face, tone of voice, and words show my intention to my partner? If there was a miscommunication of my intention, how can I communicate differently to help my partner understand my good intentions?
At the end of the day, we all want to respected and understood. Effective communication is a cornerstone to a supportive and fruitful partnership.