It’s an obvious understatement: Improving relationships takes time and energy. But many of us often rush to judge our connections as “all good” or “all bad” before truly applying tools for change. At the same time, the thought of making changes at all may seem overwhelming. Imago Relationship Therapist Keith Miller has developed a top-10 list of practical actions that anyone can apply to make a positive shift in a relationship today.
Miller notes that “improvement isn’t always linear or clearly observed. Since the unconscious agenda of committed relationships is to help us finish growing up, don’t expect it all to happen overnight. It is a life-long journey. This being said, you can make a conscious choice to start on this path.”
First, Miller suggests that we (1) stop all forms of blaming, shaming, or criticizing our partner. “Criticism is the adult version of crying, our natural, built-in distress signal that we used to get our parents’ attention. As adults, our infantile shrieking comes out as words and we believe that inflicting our partners with pain will get them to meet our needs,” he says. Unfortunately, when we inflict such pain on our partners, it makes it more difficult for them to stretch and accommodate our needs at all. Next, Miller advises that we (2) not wait for our partner to guess what we need. “You won’t get what you really need from your partner unless you are willing to move into a conscious relationship; one in which you say what you need without inflicting pain,” he explains.
Then, Miller recommends that we offer (3) three-to-five caring behaviors for our partner every day with no strings attached. While most of us slow down our caring behaviors as our relationship ages, Miller notes that, “If left in a relationship devoid of caring behaviors, we find other things or people to give us pleasure, making an emotional separation that often flowers into real separation. You can change this. Start remembering what your partner likes, and start doing it. If you can’t remember, ask!”
Further, Miller advises couples to (4) close all “exits.” He defines opening an exit as withdrawing into another activity, rather than telling your partner what you need. Some common exits include affairs, work, children, and addictions. “The relationship won’t get better until you put your energy back within its bounds,” he adds. Miller also advises that each member in the couple take the time to (5) know yourself. “Your partner may be pushing your buttons, but how did your buttons get there in the first place?” he asks. “Take ownership of the way your unique experiences in life have left you hurt and reactive to certain things your partner does. Admitting that you are sensitive in some areas will necessarily induce you to become articulate about what you need rather than expecting someone else to figure it out for you.”
Rounding out Miller’s top 10 ways to improve your relationship are the suggestions that you should (6) remember that your partner is not an extension of you; (7) let the sun go down on your anger; (8) become a good listener; (9) receive attempts at repair; and (10) become the partner that you want to have. He advises that couples add a dose of patience to this process. “Change is possible in any relationship, but it requires dedication and persistence. If you have trouble implementing these principles on your own, consider investing in marriage therapy,” he says.
Keith Miller, MSW, is a couples’ therapist in Washington, DC. Read more of this article by clicking here.