When your intimate relationship goes south, it’s easy to blame the other person and insist they need to change. But you can’t force anyone to change…except yourself.
I’m no stranger to failing intimate relationships. My marriage struggled for a decade or more. I felt confident the only solution was for my husband to change or for me to leave.
As a last-ditch effort to do what I could to save the marriage, I joined a personal growth program. I focused my attention on changing myself. After all, sometimes, when you change, the people around you change, too.
Additionally, I knew that if the marriage ended, I had to figure out what I had done wrong…and fix my behavior. If I didn’t, I’d also see the same patterns in my subsequent relationships.
It’s been almost three years since I made that decision, and I’m still married. I continue to work on myself, and my husband has begun doing the same. We both do our best to improve our relationship by improving ourselves. As a result, the marriage is stronger than it has been in at least two decades.
How’d I create that shift? I can think of 10 ways. And you can use the same strategies to improve your intimate relationship, too—without ever asking your partner to change.
1. Take responsibility.
First and foremost, take responsibility for your part in the relationship not working. A relationship, by its very nature, includes two people.
I remember repeatedly complaining that my husband refused to change. Then I looked at myself and realized I was doing the same things over and over—like complaining and thinking negative thoughts about him—and expecting a different outcome. (That’s the definition of insanity.) I needed to change, too.
Be honest with yourself…brutally honest. What are you doing that creates issues in the relationship? Stop doing those things. And stop expecting the other person to be different if you are still the same.
2. Stop complaining.
I mentioned that I did a lot of complaining in my marriage. That’s a recipe for a partner who feels inadequate, unappreciated, and unloved. And when your partner feels like that, don’t expect them to do anything but respond in kind.
Plus, complaining focuses on the negative in your relationship or your partner. The more you focus on what you don’t like, the more you will see what you don’t like.
Instead, start looking for what you like and appreciate…and share that information with your partner often.
3. Don’t criticize.
Criticism is a lot like complaining. However, criticism is complaining directed personally at your partner. For example, you might complain that your partner never takes out the trash. And then you might criticize your partner for being thoughtless, unhelpful, and lazy. The latter is directed at the person—your words speak of things you do not like about him or her. A complaint can be interpreted as about the person but is less explicitly directed at their character.
When you tell someone you don’t like who they are, that hurts. And it leaves them feeling unaccepted and unloved. There’s no way criticism helps a relationship.
4. Love yourself.
If you don’t love yourself, how can anyone love you? You have to up your level of self-love to improve your intimate relationships.
When you don’t love yourself, you’ll allow your partner to treat you poorly, criticize you, or tell you who they think you should be. You’ll allow yourself to become small, lose authenticity, and cater only to your partner’s wishes rather than your own.
Love yourself enough to stand up for yourself…to be yourself…in your relationship.
5. Set boundaries.
When you genuinely love yourself, you set boundaries. These protect you from the behavior you find hurtful, abusive, or disrespectful.
I had to set boundaries around how my husband spoke to me, especially if he had too much to drink. I told him, “I love myself too much to allow you to speak to me that way. So, if you do it again, I will leave the marriage.”
He saw this as an ultimatum. It was not. It was me loving myself enough to care for and protect myself.
6. Close the back door.
Your relationship will flounder as long as you have the back door open as an escape route. You have to be 100% committed to making it work. You have to be all in.
If you aren’t, you will constantly be planning your great escape (out that open back door). And that’s no way to be in a relationship. Believe me…I know. I spent more time figuring out what I would do if I left my husband than I did figuring out how to stay and make the marriage work.
In 1519, upon arrival in the New World, Hernán Cortés ordered his men: “Burn the boats.” This sent a clear message to his 600 men that there was no turning back. Two years later, he succeeded in his conquest of the Aztec empire. If you want your marriage to work, burn the boats.
That doesn’t mean you can’t find a boat and sail away if it doesn’t work out. You can. But, for the time being, you are staying put.
7. Let go of anger.
Anger is scary. Women, in particular, find it extremely difficult to be around anger.
But our relationships are mirrors. If your partner is angry, you likely feel angry, too. And that anger will eat away at you and the relationship.
My husband had “anger issues.” And I hated when he was angry and felt afraid for various reasons. Then I realized that I would get angry about him being angry. Not only that, I was super pissed off at him. Once I admitted that—and took responsibility for my anger—I could stop feeling that way. I could look in the mirror at his anger and recognize and resolve my own.
8. Focus on what’s working.
What you focus on expands. So, stop focusing on what isn’t working in your relationship and focus on what is. Then you will have a lot fewer things to complain about and criticize.
It’s really that simple.
9. Communicate courageously.
If you are anything like me, you avoid conflict. And often, trying to talk to your partner about the relationship ends up feeling like a lot of conflict.
So, reframe conflict as communication. For a relationship to work, you must communicate courageously and often.
Tell the truth. Say what needs to be said, and let the chips fall where they may.
10. Be yourself.
Too often, we change to please our partners or, like me, to get along and make the relationship work. But that’s not a long-term (or short-term) strategy for happiness or a good relationship.
Be yourself…always. Don’t change only to make your partner happy or get along. Change if you want to…truly want to…and think it is best for you.
Otherwise, be yourself. Be authentic. Be you.
If your partner doesn’t love and accept you as you are, there is no foundation for love and respect anyway. You want to be in a relationship with someone who really sees who you are and loves that person, don’t you?
Change Yourself, Change Your Relationship
Plain and simple, when you change yourself, you change your relationships. I could probably come up with another 10 things I did to change myself that resulted in an improved intimate relationship. Still, the ones I’ve mentioned will give you a great start.
Remember: It’s never just about the other person and what they are doing wrong or how they need to change. It’s also about you.
So focus on yourself…change yourself. Then watch your relationships change.
And if they don’t, you can always choose to alter who you are in a relationship with. If you then have the same challenges as you did in previous relationships, you’ll know the truth; you are the one who needs to change. Only when you change will your relationships improve.
What one thing has helped you improve your intimate relationships? Tell me in a comment below. And please share this post with a friend or on social media.
And f you want to increase your ability to create inspired results, let’s chat. Get on my calendar here. Or join the Inspired Creator Community for group personal and spiritual growth coaching every month. It’s in this community that real transformation happens…and you learn to live a life that feeds your soul.
Photo courtesy of Zelma Brezinska .