If you're in a relationship, and it feels like your partner isn't treating you right, then you might be wondering whether or not it's possible to turn things around and create a dynamic where you both feel loved, heard, respected, and appreciated. And as long as the situation isn't toxic, the answer is yes — as long as you're both willing to put in the work.
"If you have two people committed to the [relationship] and each other, then they can work anything out," marriage and family therapist Saudia L. Twine, PhD, NCC, LLMFT, LLPC tells Bustle. "It’s just a matter of educating your [partner], teaching them what you do prefer, and then exercising patience and forgiveness while they learn how to do better."
But you should be willing to work on yourself, too. "Learning about what makes relationships successful and owning your unproductive behavior is a great place to start," couples consultant and coach Lesli Doares tells Bustle. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes, that effort just isn't worth it.
"Some relationships cannot be salvaged because the other person is not capable of being a good partner," Doares says. "This is true where there is abuse, certain personality disorders, a life view that is inconsistent with yours, etc." So, don't be afraid to move on, if your partner just can't treat you right.
That said, if it does seem worth it, and you'd like to make it work, read on for a few expert tips on changing the dynamic, and creating a healthier relationship.
Ask Yourself A Few Questions
If you're being treated in a way that doesn't feel right, it's certainly not your fault. But it is important to acknowledge if there any unhealthy habits you might be bringing to the table that could contribute to an unhealthy dynamic.
"Ask yourself why have your been willing to put up with this behavior," Bianca L. Rodriguez, MA, EdM, LMFT tells Bustle. "Usually the answer goes back to childhood. Gaining this awareness is the first step to making any change."
Then, ask yourself what you'd like your relationship to look like instead. "And write down the answer," she says. "Once you have clarity about the dynamic, you can bring it up to your partner in a clear and constructive matter."
Use "I" Statements
People tend to shut down when you point a finger at them and say "you always do this" or "you're always doing that." So, for a constructive convo to happen, make sure you use "I" statements instead.
As Rodriguez says, you should say "I feel" and then insert whatever emotions you're having (angry, disrespected, alone, etc.), then state the behavior that your partner is doing that makes you feel that way. Then, quickly follow it up with a preferred new action. So you might say, "I feel alone when you stay out late at night, and I'd prefer it if you were home by 11 p.m."
Call In Reinforcements
"Oftentimes, we give more respect and pay more attention to someone outside the relationship than the person we're actually in a relationship with," Stephanie Lee, relationship expert and founder of Successfully Me, LLC, tells Bustle. "Therefore, seeking an outside source to help navigate and address the negative aspects of the relationship can be quite beneficial."
This might include going to a therapist either by yourself, or as a couple. As Lee says, "Seek the help of a relationship expert or couple's therapist to discuss unhealthy dynamics and create a plan to change them."
Once you've agreed on some new rules and boundaries in your relationship, stick to them no matter what. "Set the desired treatment as a boundary, [and] don’t 'let' it be OK sometimes but get upset about it at others," says Doares. "Also don’t threaten. If you make a threat but don’t follow through, you’ve told them that your requirement is negotiable."
Bring Your Best Self To The Table
In order to have healthy relationship dynamic, not only will you have to do your part, but it's only fair if you're expecting your partner to do the same.
"Taking ownership of your behavior and being responsible for bringing your best self to the relationship can go a long way to calming things down," Doares says. "Yes, your partner should do the same but one person doing something different can move things onto a more positive path."
Turn Your Relationship Into A Practice
Relationships aren't easy, and neither is changing an unhealthy dynamic. So understand from the get-go that it'll be a long process, full of bumps in the road. And that's OK.
"We give ourselves a lot of time and energy to learn to play a musical instrument ... We will go to driver’s ed to learn to drive a car. However, we have this basic belief that we (and certainly our partner) should be experts on love and sex right out of the box," life coach Robert Kandell tells Bustle. "Give yourself some space to make 'mistakes,' improve, and become a better partner." And your partner will do the same.
Be Clear About What You Want
Remember, your partner isn't a mindreader, so they won't be able to make healthy changes, or treat you the way you like, unless they know what that looks like. So make sure you say it out loud, in a clear way.
"Begin to tell your partner what you like, what you want, what would make the relationship better for you," clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow, host of The Web radio show, tells Bustle. "Asking someone to give you more of something you want, or less of something you don't want, is a far less threatening approach. You partner is less likely to feel defensive, and more likely to hear you."
Spend Quality Time Together
Sometimes, all it takes is rekindling that initial spark, and getting back to spending quality time together. "Quality time is essential in creating a healthy dynamic in a relationship," relationship expert Jessica Storey tells Bustle. "Whether you both like going for long walks or drives in the country, sitting in a coffee shop and having good conversation, or enjoying a glass of wine together ... then make a date once a week to do just that. Couples get lost in everyday lives, work, and children. Sometimes couples forget to be a couple. Quality time reminds you of why you got together in the first place."
Touch Each Other More Often
If you like to be touched and hugged and held, then remind your partner of that. Not only will they then know it's something you'd like them to do, but the closeness can help your bond.
"It's amazing what physical touch can do to cure a relationship," Storey says. "If you forget to touch your partner every day, the passion in the relationship dwindles to nothing, leaving each of you feeling unloved, unnoticed, unattractive, and unwanted, thus causing arguments and frustrations."
Try To Have More Sex
If you two are in the mood for sex, spicing things up in the bedroom can have a sort of ripple effect on the rest of your relationship, and bring you closer together. "Find ways to spice up your sex life and you’ll discover that other aspects of your relationship become more vibrant and dynamic," certified counselor Jonathan Bennett tells Bustle. "Try new positions ... or just try getting intimate at different times. Have an honest conversation about what you both enjoy and are willing to try, then go from there."
Learn New Ways Of Communicating
If your old ways of communicating have left you feeling like your relationship is unhealthy, then it's definitely time for a change. "Learning new communication tools is a powerful way of changing the dynamic in your relationship," relationship counselor Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center tells Bustle. "Learning new ways of doing something we have all been doing our entire lives — namely, speaking — is not necessarily quick and easy. But it's not terribly complicated. You can pick up a book on communication ... watch some videos online ... or, best yet, meet in person with a professional who can coach you in learning and practicing a new approach to communication."
Focus More On Yourself & Your Needs
In order to change an unhealthy dynamic in your relationship, you'll need to talk with your partner every day, and commit to making some changes. But you shouldn't forget about your own needs in the process.
"Take a step back and start focusing on yourself," relationship expert Jennifer Seiter tells Bustle. "Take one day per week to yourself. You will find that the time apart will bring you closer and keep the relationship fresh. You will have more to talk about when you are together if you experience new hobbies or spend time with friends."
Keep Hearing Your Partner's Needs
While asking your partner to listen more to your needs, make sure that you hear theirs, too. "Before you try to convince them of your perspective, listen to theirs," Bilek says. "Only when someone feels that they have been heard (or that they will be heard) are they prepared to listen to your side as well and consider what needs to be changed."
Change Up Your Daily Routine
Sometimes, when you're trying to make a large change in life, it can help to start making smaller ones — such as switching up your daily routine. "Go for a walk instead of watching TV in the evening," Bennett says. "Set your alarm and watch the sunrise together. Take a day trip somewhere instead of doing household chores on a Saturday. Break out of your regular ruts and you’ll find your relationship will be much healthier."
Whether you're making a big change, or just a few small ones, it can be possible to develop a healthier dynamic, and get the happy, supportive relationship you deserve.