There’s no formula to being a good-to-great partner.
There are no guarantees in relationships at all, actually.
But because of the importance relationships hold in our lives — for better and for worse — it is worth trying to do your best in the Game of Love.
In the end, the only thing you can control (or hope to change) is your own approach, your own behaviour. So here’s a guide to helping you with your part of the deal.
I recall a young man I was working telling me how he dressed for a date with his girlfriend of six months. “I can’t do a thing with my hair (he’d lost most of it),” he grinned. “But I make an effort — put on a collared shirt and nice shoes. I think it shows her respect.” It does.
It’s easy to make an effort for your partner in the sizzle stage of a relationship when you’re out to impress. It’s not so easy when you’re a few, or a lot of, years in. Keep trying.
Show up (or call or text) when you say you will. Be where you say you’re going to be. With who you say you’ll be with. And don’t be that person who always asks for a rain check, even if you’re super-busy and super-important. And, if you are, be aware of the message you’re sending to your partner: I have better things to do than you.
Trail socks/undies/makeup all over the floor, compile “nests” of your stuff all over the house, leave dirty dishes all over the bench, if you must. But be aware it looks like you haven’t got your shit together. Because you haven’t.
“Willingly” is the key word here. If you’re grumpy, or objectionable, about doing chores or making your contribution, you’re severely undermining it. Doing things grumpily is better than nothing — but not much.
Sounds obvious, right? But you’d be surprised. Smelling good is the gold standard. But at the very least you should smell clean.
Talk about sex — and not just about wanting to have it, or have it more. Find out what your partner likes and doesn’t like. Let them know your preferences. Don’t pressure your partner for sex and never use sex as a weapon to get what you want. If you’re struggling with this one, talk. No matter what stage of your relationship you’re at.
Friends. Family. A work function (although maybe not all of them). Anyone who matters to your partner. If you don’t, it’ll be noticed.
Coming up with ideas for things the two of you can do is highly attractive. But it’s not if you want to dominate all your shared time. Make room for your partner to have a say too.
Of all the emotions, anger is arguably the one that can cause the most pain. We all get angry and frustrated at times, but when it goes into freefall it can cause damage that’s hard to come back from. Having (healthy) strategies for dealing with negative emotions and resolving conflict is critical. If anger is a problem for you personally, or in your relationship, make it your mission to upskill.
This is code for don’t be (too) negative because it’s hard to live with: it’ll drag your partner down. You don’t have to be Pollyanna-positive but don’t pour ice water on everything. If your partner has a (reasonable) idea say “yes” or “I’ll think about it”. If you truly hate the idea, just shut up for a while.
Have some fun — on your own or when you’re together. People are naturally drawn to those who can see the humorous side of life: they want to be around them. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Travel lightly through life. It’s good for you as well as the one you’re with.
When your partner has a problem, just be there for them. Listen. Often that’s all they need, just to vent and to know someone’s in their corner while they do it. Don’t rush in with a solution, even if you have a brilliant one. Sit down, turn off your phone, and hear them, first.
Don’t share every little thing that comes into your head. That’s unnecessary — and a little boring. But don’t brood. If you have a tendency to shut down when you’re stressed, work on being more open. Your partner shouldn’t have to guess that you’re struggling, then tip-toe around you until it passes.
Thoughtfulness is easier than pure kindness. Anticipate the little things that might make your partner’s life easier — and do them. Thoughtful rituals and nice surprises are always appreciated.
They need help with their resume? They have a technical issue with their laptop? They’ve got a problem at work? They’re overwhelmed with life admin? Ask if you can help. Or just help. Whatever works.
There’s a reason food comforts: it’s delicious. It’s nice to treat your partner to takeout or show up with chocolate. But to make food for someone — to cook a delicious meal from scratch or, if you can’t cook, to put one together — takes effort and conveys love.
Easy. Cheap. And, as long as it’s not underpinned with sarcasm or cynicism, smiling is a winner.
You don’t have to be full-on passionate about everything, that’s exhausting. But to be excited about things — life in general — is irresistible. Except when you’re excited about everything but your relationship. That won’t be at all helpful. Just saying.
Make joint plans — from what you’re doing at the weekend, for the holidays, or with your shared lives. It’s so affirming for your partner to know you’re “two feet in” the relationship— fully invested in building a life with them.
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