SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim offers six suggestions for improving your relationship and talking about offenses.
First, I have to say I love reading your weekly articles. The last few weeks have really resonated with me. My girlfriend and I have been together for about four years. Lately, I find myself really wanting affection, validation, a compliment or to feel wanted by her. She used to do little things for me and tell me nice things all the time. Whenever I try to talk to her about it and ask for what I need, she gets angry and feels like I am criticizing her and she feels like she's not good enough. I don't feel like I am doing this with critical intentions. I feel myself getting passive-aggressive about it and feeling bad that she doesn't do these things. I feel like I can't even talk to her about it or she'll just get mad, so I feel like I just have to accept it as it is or give up on the relationship. Do you have any recommendations?
I am going to teach you some tricks for having hard conversations about your relationship, but I will also give you some tips for making the relationship more fulfilling and rich. It is definitely worth trying these things before you give up.
It would be a good exercise for every couple to sit together, read this article and discuss how they can do better in all six areas. Relationships take work; being willing to improve yourself and make changes is critical.
1. Learn more about your partner and how they are wired differently from you
Detailed information on how to learn more about your partner and how he or she is wired can be found in an article I wrote called "The anatomy of your relationship." Once you've done this, make sure you are loving them for who they are and giving them room to be themselves. You are never going to make a task-driven and not very emotional person into an attentive, emotional empath. You will (to some degree) have to learn to love who they really are. This doesn’t mean you can’t bring up offenses or request more loving behavior from them, you just have to do it the right way without attacking them or expecting them to be you. I will explain the right way to do so below.
2. Work on managing your own fear triggers
Your No. 1 job in the relationship is to stay in a trust and love state and be responsible for balanced behavior. When done correctly, this takes so much work and effort that you shouldn’t have much time left for trying to fix your partner.
If you have a hard time getting feedback from your partner and tend to get defensive or feel attacked, you may have a fear-of-failure problem that is hindering your ability to show up with love. You are so worried about not being good enough, you can’t access love for your partner. You may need to get some professional help to manage your fear and become more capable of receiving feedback without feeling attacked. A therapist or coach can make this process easier and faster. Likewise, if you are easily offended, overly critical, or judgmental, you may have a fear-of-loss problem you need to work on. Your partner needs you to own these issues and get to work on becoming a more balanced you.
It is also your partner's No. 1 job to stay in a trust and love state. If he or she is not willing to work on themselves, this might not be the healthy relationship you want to be in. That is something you will have to consider.
3. Have mutually validating conversations about what you both need — every week
Make it a weekly tradition that you find some quiet time (every week at the same day and time works best) and ask each other, "How you are feeling about our relationship and what is one thing I could do to show up for you better?" Then, listen and validate, honor and respect their right to be experiencing things the way they are and feeling how they do. Thank them for being open and honest with you and commit to trying to give what they requested. Then, have them do the same for you. Remember, mutually validating conversations are about listening to understand and better love the other person; they are about giving to each other, not trying to get what you need. If you both go into these conversations with a giving mindset, no one should get offended.
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4. Become the cure to your partner's core fear
As you learn more about your partner and their differences, figure out what their biggest core fear trigger is. It will likely be something around being not good enough (fear of failure) or feeling taken from or mistreated (fear of loss). Ask lots of questions and figure out what makes them feel the most unsafe in the relationship. Figure out how you can become the cure to that fear and make them feel safe every single day — as much as you are able to, anyway. Most of their fear work ultimately has to be done by them, but you can help by being a constant source of validation and reassurance. Doing your best to make them feel safe with you is guaranteed to make a difference.
5. Make sure your partner feels admired, appreciated, respected and wanted every day
These four things create really rich relationships. Real love happens best when they are all present. If you love your partner but don’t respect or admire them, it won’t be the kind of love they are really after. If your partner loves you but doesn’t appreciate what you do, you won’t feel very loved. The one thing you have control over in this relationship is what you are giving the other person. Try every single day to say and do something that makes your partner feel admired, appreciated, respected and wanted, and you will be amazed at what you get back.
6. Forgive, give the benefit of the doubt, and be slow to get offended
Below are some things that will help you be more forgiving and less easily offended:
- Know that every healthy, rich relationship is made of two good forgivers. If one or both of you struggle to forgive slights and are easily offended, this relationship is going to be a hard one. If you hold grudges and struggle to let things go, this is a problem you must work on. Expecting your partner to tick you off less, isn’t the solution. A grudge against another person is your problem to solve.
- Talk to your partner as an equal. Any two people, who spend lots of time together are going to offend, slight, disrespect and bother each other. It is going to happen. Your ability to give your partner the benefit of the doubt that they don’t intentionally desire to hurt you — and to forgive them when they do — is critical. You can still bring up slights and discuss them, but you have to do that from equal ground acknowledging that you make mistakes and aren’t perfect either. Do not talk down to them like they are the bad one. Talk to them as equals with the exact same value, with respect and appreciation for all they do right, too. You never own the high ground and you must remember that.
- Understand that when you are struggling to love something about your partner, it often means there is a part of yourself you are struggling to love too. It is our subconscious self-hate that we project onto other people, which makes us bothered with them. The more bothered and offended you get, the more self-love work you must do on and for yourself. You cannot love others except for the way you love yourself. If this concept is hard to get your head around, keep thinking about it. The better you get at forgiving and loving the faults and flaws in your partner, the better you will be at loving yourself. Forgive them because you want to feel compassion and forgiveness for yourself, too.
Discuss these areas with your partner and be willing to get some help and work on yourselves if it would make the relationship healthier.
You can do this.
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