It's a lovely thing to be in a committed, healthy relationship. It's even lovelier if you feel impassioned to learn ways to become a better partner than you already are right now. And it's the best when your partner feels the same way. In that case, you've found the holy trifecta of a relationship: having a healthy one, wanting to show up for your partner and improve the way you do so, and your partner wanting the same thing. Congratulations.
But also good luck, because relationships are constantly evolving entities, and they need frequent attention and care to thrive. They're like plants. That's why you're supposed to be able to keep a plant, and then a pet, alive and happy before you're ready for a relationship. Or so they say. Even if you're a champion gardener and have a bevy of cute puppies, everyone can learn new relationship tricks. Here are 21 ways anyone can be a better partner, because there's no reason to stop growing and evolving just because you're happy with them. And if you're not terribly happy, all the more reason to give one (or all 21) of these a shot.
1. Do One Nice Thing Every Day
Simple, right? "Do one nice thing for your partner every day," Marina Sbrochi, IPPY award-winning author of Stop Looking for a Husband: Find the Love of Your Life tells Bustle. This is not a long, complicated, involved suggestion. "It doesn’t have to be big," she says. "Make breakfast in bed. A five-minute back rub. Flowers. Saying thank you when your partner does something nice." The effort may be small, but the dividends are great. "Sit back and watch how your relationship grows," she says.
2. Be You
Be yourself, yes, but specifically be your "own person," Caitlin K. Roberts, founder of To Be a Slut and co-founder of I'd Tap That, tells Bustle. Have your own interests, and don't force your partner to come along to every basketball game or brunch that you want to go to, she says. "Be passionate about something," she says."Stop thinking of the relationship as combination of 'you and me,' but something that 'you and me work on and create together.'" That way, you're not contributing to any negativity.
3. Be Happy, Not Right
"Couples get caught up in who’s right and who’s wrong," relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. "Here’s a concept: You’re both right!" Most relationships see people taking turns being wrong or right, depending on what life throws at them. But that's looking at things in a black-and-white way, and she says that's a bad idea.
"Each partner has a subjective reality that is valid," she says. "Just because you don’t agree with your partner doesn’t mean that he or she is wrong. Their perspective is just different." Instead of jumping to conclusions and jumping all over your partner, try a little tenderness. "You can be a better partner by trying to understand your partner and then validating their point of view, feelings, behaviors, etc.," she says. "Feeling respected is an absolute necessity in order to have a healthy relationship." Truth.
4. Give Your Partner Your Undivided Attention
Not every minute of every day, of course. But for a positive relationship, you have to sit down and really go there with your partner sometimes. Emily Bouchard, a certified money coach, tells Bustle, "The simplest, fastest and most consistent way to become a better partner is often not the easiest to do, but will make the biggest difference." Quite simply, that looks like "Giving your partner your undivided attention and listening to them in a way where they have the experience that they matter, and that you heard them." That's all we really want, isn't it? To feel like we matter in relationships, and that we're being heard.
5. Don't Expect Your Partner To Be Your Parent
"You can become a better partner by not expecting your mate to be your mommy or daddy," relationship coach and psychic medium Cindi Sansone-Braff, author of Why Good People Can't Leave Bad Relationships , tells Bustle. Sure, you may assume that you're already not doing that, because who does that? "Take responsibility for your shortcomings and work on healing your own personal issues," she says. "Don't expect your partner to clean up your mess or to do for you what you're perfectly capable of doing for yourself."
Don't fall into the same behavioral patterns that you fell into with your actual parents, she says: "Your mother may have done everything for you, or daddy may have paid all your bills in the past, but those days are gone now." Don't ask your partner to pick up where your mom or dad left off. "Stop with your temper tantrums and your hissy fits," she says. "Do what you're expected to do without being told. In other words, start being be a grown-up." Everyone will be happier, including you.
6. Support Your Partner's Dreams
"One way to become a better partner is by supporting your partner's dreams," relationship counselor Crystal Bradshaw tells Bustle. If you know what they are, you're ahead of the game. "Don't know what they are? Don't have a clue if your partner has any? Then you need to ask, because this is super important stuff," she says.
"I'm constantly surprised by my couples when I ask them about their life dreams, values, goals, and hopes," Bradshaw says. She asks things like, "What are you working toward in life?" "Often, people tell me, 'I don't know what my dream is,'" she says. Or they tell her that they don't have dreams at all.
First and foremost, she advises that you get clear on your dreams. From there, if your partner doesn't know what your dreams are, it's the time to share it with them, she says. "Sharing our dreams and hopes with our partner not only gives us much-needed support, encouragement and validation, but also gives us a built-in accountability partner." Win-win. Even better? When your partner supports your dreams, which says, "You matter to me, your dreams matter to me. How can I help you achieve this?" "Who wouldn't want a partner like that?" Who wouldn't, indeed.
7. Pay Attention To Your Partner's Passions
Dreams, passions, relationships, oh my! "Take an interest in one of your partner's passions," Carlyle Jansen, author of Sex Yourself: The Woman’s Guide to Mastering Masturbation and Achieving Powerful Orgasms , tells Bustle. Whether your partner is super into Russian literature or going to tennis matches or writing sonnets, try reading some Tolstoy or putting on a visor and watching some tennis or reading their creations. "Find some aspect of the topic that you can connect with," Jansen advises. "It will help you better understand your partner, and they will likely feel appreciative of your efforts." And you'll learn something new about your partner and yourself in the process.
8. Go On Dates
Here's a fun one: "Date regularly," Cecil Carter, CEO of dating app Lov, tells Bustle. "We tend to get so familiar in our relationships," he says, but "courtship should never end." It doesn't have to be anything fancy — just be sure that you go out to dinner or a movie, or even just take a nice afternoon walk together once a week. "Even it’s just a weekly attempt, find some way to break the routine and date," he says. Otherwise, you get too caught in routine and takeout. No good.
9. Show, Don't Tell
Your partner might hear how much you appreciate them all the time, but if they don't see it, they won't feel it. "Show appreciation and respect," New-York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. "No matter how much you love someone, if you don’t show it, they don’t necessarily know." Like Sbrochi, Masini says that little things go a long way. "Small gestures make a big difference. Simply complimenting him for something he’s done (fixed your cell phone) or hasn’t done (his physique) will make him feel great about you, himself, and the relationship," she says. Or send her a small gift, or bring her cookies at the office. Whatever you do, show, don't tell, Masini says.
10. Be Empathetic
Sure, it's important to sympathize with your partner. But take it an extra step and try working on your empathy, life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. "If you can leave your perspective and enter theirs, your relationship will strengthen immensely." Even if you can't really fathom what it's like for them to go through whatever they are experiencing, if you can try for five minutes to see with their eyes, it'll help you feel closer to your partner, and vice versa.
11. Work On Yourself
"A person can become a better partner by becoming the best person they can be," Rob Alex, who created Sexy Challenges and Mission Date Night with his wife, tells Bustle. "In a relationship we can only truly change ourselves. So if you want to become a better partner, look inside yourself and become a better person overall."
This is catching, he says. "When you do this, it starts to share that energy with your partner also," he adds. Whatever you choose is valid, he says, whether it's becoming spiritual, picking up a new hobby, or anything your heart desires. The important thing is that you keep working on yourself, even though you're in a committed relationship. "To become a better partner, take a look inside yourself, and start that ball rolling there," he says.
12. Learn To Respond, Not React
"Learning to talk in a non-defensive way when you are angry and upset" is everything, Stefanie Safran, Chicago's "Introductionista" and founder of Stef and the City, tells Bustle. If you just react negatively whenever you're upset, you'll get into a fight every time. If instead you learn about using "I" statements and give them a spin when things are amiss, you and your boo will be much happier.
13. Keep An Open Mind
No one wants to date a super-judgmental person. "No snap judgments," Danielle Sepulveres, sex educator and author of Losing It: The Semi-Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin , reminds Bustle. "We’ve all been raised differently and have been exposed to different experiences that make up who we are, and many of us continue to evolve over time." So let your partner be themselves, and don't raise your eyebrows when they share things with you or change things about themselves.
14. Learn Your Partner's Love Language
"One way to become a better partner is to learn your partner's love language," founder and CEO of matchmaking service Dating Boutique Amanda Rose tells Bustle. "It's important to learn how our partner responds to love and how they feel loved." So if your partner has one love language and you have another, teach each other about what you need. "When we are in tune with our partners' needs, we develop a stronger connection," Rose says.
15. Be Considerate
"One of the best way to become a better partner is to become a more considerate person in the relationship," BetterHelp telehealth counselor and psychologist Nikki Martinez tells Bustle. "This can mean telling your partner all the things that you appreciate that they do on a regular basis," she says. But it doesn't have to be with words. "This is doing things around the house without being asked," she adds. "It could also be giving them a little time to themselves." If you have children, "offer to watch the kids so that they can have a night to themselves and recharge," she advises. "This will likely be received with a great deal of appreciation, and a stronger relationship." In other words, think about what your partner needs — not what you need all the time.
16. Be Patient
"Be more patient with your mate," Sansone-Braff says. "A partner who is tolerant, nonjudgmental, and who doesn't expect his or her partner to be perfect is a rare one indeed," she says. Rare, but important. "These kinds of partners are the ones who bring out the best in us and allow us to be ourselves, warts and all," she says. Who doesn't want to be with someone like that?
17. Learn To Say, 'Tell Me More'
"The three most important words in a relationship are 'Tell me more,'” Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences , tells Bustle. "Show interest, don’t be defensive, seek to understand," she says. From there, you'll find out more about your partner — and they'll find out more about you, if you let them.
18. Accept Your Partner For Who They Are
"Accept that people can change their minds," Sepulveres says. "Sometimes, agree to disagree on things without passing judgment," she advises. "Your partner’s views don’t magically line up with yours on every level." Acceptance is necessary in any long-term relationship, and it is deeply appreciated. "Ask questions about what you don’t understand," she adds. "You might be surprised by how you can better relate to each other if you do that, rather than make assumptions." Remain open!
Just sit down and hear what your partner has to say, dating expert Noah Van Hochman tells Bustle. "Everyone can hear the words their partner is saying, but they don’t always listen to what that person is really trying to say," he says. Pay attention to the little things. "Listening includes seeing their body movements, the look in their eyes and the actual tone of their voice," he adds. "Your verbal or nonverbal responses are the feedback that lets that person know that you are there with them, but more importantly for them." Listening doesn't just help your relationship — it's a skill worth knowing in every situation in life. "Listening … is not only how you become a better partner, but a better person as well," he says.
20. Communicate With Your Ears
"We often mistake communication as happening in the speaking, when it is always in the listening," Bouchard says, adding to Van Hochman's sentiments. "When you speak with your partner about something that matters to you, go slowly and check for understanding. Give them a chance to reflect back to you what they heard, and if they don’t get it completely (or if they miss the mark entirely), instead of making them wrong or getting frustrated, thank them first for trying," she says. "Try again to share what you’re really wanting them to hear."
The same goes for when you're hearing what your partner has to say. Bouchard, who has an online guide for navigating conflict, says not to cut them off: "You can ask if they can hold their thought so that you can make sure you’re really understanding them. This will go a long way if they feel you are respecting them, that you really care, and that you definitely do want to understand what they are communicating." And you do!
21. Remember That You Contribute To "Overall Stress In Relationships"
It takes two. "Research tells us that each person in a relationship determines the direction and strength of the relationship," Shamyra Howard-Blackburn, sex and relationship therapist and owner of Conquest Counseling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tells Bustle. "Through the process of connecting, we create bonds and memories which continue throughout the course of the relationship," she says. These bonds and memories are vital, and become important strings that continue with us through the relationship.
"There are various factors that can contribute to overall stress in relationships and can cause us to engage in unhealthy conflict, which can lead to us not being very good partners," she says. Like Alex, Howard-Blackburn says it's important to keep striving to become a better person. "In order to maintain a positive and secure relationship and to become a better partner, one should focus on becoming a better person." From there, anything is possible.
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