8 Ways To Be a Better Partner, According to an Expert

Raising kids and maintaining relationships doesn't come with an instruction booklet. But these tips from clinical psychologist Alexandra Solomon, Ph.D., on how to be a better partner come pretty close.

husband and wife having wine on the patio
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Have you ever known a couple who have been together for a very long time (think decades) and wondered how they made their relationship work for so long? After all, many of us in committed relationships have experienced ups and downs, and sometimes those downturns can feel impossible.

To learn more about what makes a healthy relationship, we turned to an expert, Alexandra Solomon, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Loving Bravely. During her work with couples, she found that the most important aspect of being in a healthy relationship starts with yourself and your willingness to view your relationship as a classroom.

"We must accept that change is inevitable, and the best we can do is meet the changes with curiosity instead of resistance," says Dr. Solomon. "Part of viewing marriage as a classroom is knowing that we bring our past with us. It's important to be willing to look at how our old wounds, patterns, and triggers get activated with our partners."

Read on for some expert tips from Dr. Solomon to help foster a healthy relationship with your partner.

Take Care Of Your Basic Needs

Being a great partner is based on making sure your basic needs—such as eating healthy food, exercising, managing your stress, and getting good sleep—are being met.

"I know that I am a better wife when I take care of myself. When I am not getting enough sleep, exercise, and laughter, I feel bitter and irritable," says Dr. Solomon. "The more stressed out I am, the more I see my responsibilities to provide care to my husband and teens as a burden rather than a blessing. When I am burned out, I start to feel like a victim, and that makes me less able to ask for what I need—help, praise, a break."

Another aspect of self-care is to do things that make you happy such as going out to lunch with your friends or participating in activities that make you feel good like reading or dancing, for example.

"We cannot pour from an empty cup, so we need to make sure we are engaged in activities that provide meaning, connection, and joy. It is demanding to provide care for others and doing things that feel restorative, and that inspired passion prevents caregiver burnout," says Dr. Solomon.

And if you are feeling overwhelmed, it is important to step back and take a break instead of making a comment you may regret later.

Connect Through Touch

Dr. Solomon explained that touching your partner communicates, that you and your partner are on the same team.

"Touch helps couples maintain connection and cushions the blow of the inevitable daily irritations of family life. It's important for couples to have all kinds of touch in their relationship, not just a sexual touch," says Dr. Solomon.

In working with couples, Dr. Solomon found that often, touch is an ask, "Do you want to make love?" which can feel like another demand on an already-overwhelmed partner. She recommends touching outside the bedroom to reduce stress and help couples feel connected.

Holding hands, sitting close enough to touch one another, snuggling, and even a quick embrace, hello or goodbye are all wonderful ways to connect through touch.

Alexandra Solomon, Ph.D.

Happy couples accept that they are two different people and approach misunderstandings with curiosity rather than accusation.

— Alexandra Solomon, Ph.D.

Make Time For Dates

Dr. Solomon stresses the importance of spending time alone with your partner, especially when you are a parent or have a demanding career.

"It's so important to remember that you are partners/lovers/friends and not just two people running the small business that is your household. If evenings are hard because of kids and jobs, then you could also meet up during the day," says Dr. Solomon.

Although a night on the town with a fancy dinner might sound fantastic, that doesn't mean you must make a date expensive or complicated. Scheduling regular date nights can be as uncomplicated and relaxing as you want them to be.

Here are a few ideas to carve out some couple time that doesn't require hiring a babysitter or making reservations:

  • Take an evening walk around the neighborhood together.
  • Snuggle up and watch a movie on the couch.
  • Meet for lunch in a park.
  • Play a couple's game like 20 Questions or Never Have I Ever.
  • Create a date night jar, fill it with ideas you love, like hiking or cooking, and pull out an option on your designated date night.

Check In

It is important to check in with each other and to think about your partner throughout the day. Dr. Solomon recommends that you should be aware of what your partner is nervous or excited about and then ask questions about those feelings.

"Having windows into each other's worlds builds connection," says Dr. Solomon.

Checking in with one another doesn't have to feel like a chore. Sometimes a simple, "hey, how was your day?" is a great way to let your partner know you care about them and want to know how they're doing. And some couples will stay connected throughout the day by texting—even silly memes—to keep communication open.

Give Them The Benefit of the Doubt

Dr. Solomon suggests that if you feel upset about something your partner did, approach them in a descriptive rather than accusatory way. She recommends thinking about it like, "this is what happened, and this is the story I'm telling myself about what happened."

"Your efforts to separate the facts from your interpretation of the facts will go a long way toward getting you more of what you want and need—validation, recognition, accountability, empathy—and less of what you don't want—defensiveness, counter-complaint," she said.

If you are the one that did something wrong, then take responsibility for it and apologize.

Your Partner Isn't You

When you feel upset about an issue, Dr. Solomon recommends saying, "I'm feeling upset by this thing you did. Can you help me understand what's going on for you?"

By approaching the situation with curiosity instead of judgment, you understand that your partner perceives the world differently. This will reduce conflicts and lead to a better relationship.

"Happy couples accept that they are two different people and approach misunderstandings with curiosity rather than accusation," says Dr. Solomon.

A Disagreement Is an Opportunity

In working with couples, Dr. Solomon found that couples in healthy relationships view disagreements as an opportunity to understand their partner's internal world instead of a fight that needs to be "won."

That doesn't mean that arguments won't still happen, but if you have the willingness to approach a disagreement as an opportunity to learn and grow, your communication together will evolve through mutual respect and compassion.

Ask, Don't Assume

If something is important, ask for it. Some of Dr. Solomon's clients will push back on this idea saying, "If I have to ask for it, it's meaningless." But she says that is a mistake since people aren't mind-readers. She further explains that when we don't ask for what we want, our need comes out sideways, usually in the form of a complaint.

When you ask for what you want, you can help smooth future interactions. For example, if you don't like it when your partner throws their dirty socks on the floor next to the hamper, then saying so can help your partner understand how you feel and, hopefully, they will change their behavior.

Asking for what you want can also help keep communication open and thriving. When you make assumptions about what your partner thinks and feels, that can create misunderstandings that lead to arguments and hurt feelings.

Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and is the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Parents magazine, AARP, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessing and Your Teen Magazine. You can find her at Twitter @CherylMaguire05

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