“Why am I the only one working on this relationship?”
“What else am I supposed to do if my partner won’t meet me halfway?”
“I can’t do this dance on my own!”
If any of these questions resonate, you are not alone. You might feel stuck in situations where you see problems and want to work toward solutions but your partner isn’t as motivated.
Perhaps you are passionate about showing up for your partner as the best version of yourself. You know how satisfying it is to dig deep and work on self-improvement. It’s not unreasonable or controlling to want this for your partner as well. You picture the kind of relationship in which you grow and develop together like a garden that just keeps getting more vibrant and beautiful as you add to it.
At 2:00 in the morning, you might begin to wonder if you’ll grow out of your current relationship even though you are in love. You might suffer from frightening thoughts and begin to wonder if you are being untrue to yourself by staying together.
Of course, it’s always an option to split up, but deep down that might not be what you actually want.
But there is still a question begging to be answered.
Is it possible for one person to improve a relationship on their own?
The resounding answer is YES.
It is possible to improve a relationship on your own, but only if you’re willing to shift your mindset a tiny little bit. If you focus on your partner’s work, you waste energy. It’s better to start with yourself than pour your energy in a direction you cannot control.
There are three parts to your relationship:
- Your partner
- The intersection between you and your partner
No. 2 and 3 are beyond the scope of this article. You need your partner’s cooperation to team up and work on the patterns between the two of you. As much as you may want to try to change your partner, it simply won’t work. So that leaves no. 1, which is the place where you have power and influence.
Focusing on you is where your power is. You, alone, can improve your relationship by focusing on your part of the relationship. When deciding where to start, it’s useful to be super clear about what you can improve on and what requires your partner’s participation.
Let’s start with some concrete mindset changes you can make to move your relationship in a positive direction on your own.
Focus on your partner’s strengths.
It’s easy to put your magnifying glass over the negative traits that you see in front of you. The more you look at them the bigger, they will appear and the more annoying they will become. Instead, try putting your magnifying glass over some of the positive traits. You can redirect your attention to characteristics that you find attractive. Maybe it’s how cute they look on their way to work, their sense of humor, or how generous they are. You might be surprised to see how focusing on positivity instead of negativity helps you both feel happier.
Give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
Labels are for jars, not people. There will be times your partner lets you down or doesn’t follow through with something they said they’d do. Even though this is irritating, it’s also normal. Humans are imperfect beings who mess up sometimes. Remind yourself that your partner is busy with lots of things and that they might not have intended to hurt you. By giving them the benefit of the doubt, you’ll probably enjoy a little more wiggle room to be imperfect.
Brush up on your communication skills.
Dr. John Gottman notes in his research, “My research shows that if your discussion begins with a harsh startup, it will inevitably end on a negative note. Statistics tell the story: 96% of the time, you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the interaction.” Therefore, for example, if you’re upset about something, it’s worthwhile to wait to bring it up until you’re calm, so you can do it with kindness and respect.
Even if you feel like you’re already doing all these things, just gently remind yourself that your partner is also doing things that might not be on your radar.
Although it’s infuriating to have a partner who’s not willing to go to therapy, it doesn’t spell doom for your relationship. Once you focus on the things that you can do that will make a difference, you might feel more inspired. If you want to dig deeper into more specific ways you can improve a relationship on your own, take a look at my book, Love Is an Action Verb. The first section is about what to do while you’re waiting for your partner to change.
Who knows, once your partner sees all your progress, they might be inspired to follow your lead!
The Gottman Relationship Coach How to Make Your Relationship Work is our self-paced, at-home series that includes tips, exercises, and videos that will help you improve your relationship. Go to GottmanConnect and learn how the Gottman Method can get you and your partner back on solid ground.