Strategies to help both partners get what they need out of their relationship
Everyone deserves to have a healthy relationship. But healthy relationships don’t just happen on their own. Each party actively shapes a dynamic that’s either healthy or unhealthy.
Oftentimes, people disempower each other with complaining, berating, and shaming (aka ‘parenting’ our partners), and not understanding what each gender requires as a baseline to feel safe. The best strategy for making sure that both partners get what they need out of relationships is to understand as much about the other person as possible – including their triggers, wounds, sore points, and Achilles heels. In fact, this knowledge is gold and a lot less work in the long run, because we can keep our partner's love chemistry running like well-oiled machines – giving them what they need to feel loved, special, and understood.
So, exactly how can men and women empower their partners? Here are several ideas.
1. Women and Men Disempower Each Other By Accident: Gender Currency
Over the years as a counsellor, I have noticed that couples often neglect knowledge about the opposite gender and therefore don’t make use of brownie points: They wonder why their marriage jar runs on empty (See Marriage Jar Blog). Gender currency is that thing that is the baseline need of your partner:
Men need admiration and praise from their partners. Women need safety and protection first and foremost.
This is before any other good stuff, like hot sex or compatibility. Without these basic requirements from you, your partner is going to become resentful and hurt and state their disappointment often. The next important element is a person’s love language...
2. A Partner’s Love Language
There are five categories of Love Language: Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Gifts or Tokens, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. If you know your partner’s love language you can love them accordingly and score extra big bonus points with them when you give them what they want in the way of demonstrated love. It is vital that you know your own Love Language and can tell them how you want to be loved also.
5lovelanguages.com has a great quiz for free.
Unfortunately, few of us are ever taught how to practice healthy behaviors in interpersonal relationships in the same way we’re taught how to drive a car or use a mobile phone. This lack of knowledge leaves us vulnerable to getting caught in unhealthy relationships, something that can happen without us even consciously realising it.
3. Empower Yourself: Personal Empowerment
While it is great to empower our partners, most of their power doesn’t come from us. It comes from having a strong sense of self. With this in mind, decide who you want to be in your relationship. In my own relationship, I want to be considerate, affectionate, caring, supportive and honest with my partner. These are the values that ultimately empower my other half - even if he doesn’t know it.
We have to start with ourselves and consider what we bring into the relationship. We don’t have to completely overhaul our lives in order to see improvements. Just taking even the smallest step to empower yourself in a relationship can have a huge impact on creating a healthier dynamic. Here are a few simple ways you can start practicing healthy behaviors to empower yourself:
Exercise Boundaries: Say “No” Unapologetically
In a balanced relationship, both parties should feel that their needs are recognised, valued, and addressed. There should be no dominance of one over the other; where one person always gives in and feels compelled to say “yes” when they want to say “no,” especially when doing so conflicts with their needs or values.
However, it is not easy to say “no” to someone you care about. No one likes conflict. Most people want to keep the peace. But being overly agreeable to seek approval and to avoid confrontation consistently minimises our needs in favour of satisfying the needs of others. This has a detrimental effect on your personal well-being and that of your relationships.
People-pleasing causes resentment over time and can be very disempowering. You will eventually feel like a doormat. Negative feelings of resentment, powerlessness, anger, and frustration bubble under the surface of relationships, unrecognized until they boil over. Over time, people-pleasing can also prime you as a target for more dangerous manipulation tactics – such as by a narcissist.
Saying “no” doesn’t make you a bad person. What it means is that you respect yourself enough to honor your own needs, boundaries, and priorities. This display of self-respect is a powerful signal to others to treat you with the respect you know you deserve and is behaviour that helps pave the way for a healthy relationship.
How to Say “No” Examples:
“I’ll get back to you.” “Let me check.” “Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for me.” “I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I’m not going to be able to.” “No, I’m unavailable.”
4. Take Turns Making Decisions
Taking turns at decision making is normal and takes the pressure off one person always making decisions. Being overly agreeable with decision-making, however, can also set the stage for unhealthy relationships to flourish. Constantly delegating minor decisions (like deciding which movie to watch) may also seem inconsequential, but it becomes a habit. For if you habitually delegate decisions, it sets a precedence for potential manipulation and abuse. For example, let’s say you always end up letting your friend pick the movie for your weekly movie night. Eventually, she stops asking and makes the decision on her own. Then one day her boyfriend shows up to your movie night and she explains that she thought it wouldn’t be a big deal since you’re so chill—you don’t even care which movie you watch. And even though you’re annoyed he’s crashing your BFF time, you let it slide because you are so easygoing. Haven’t we all had that happen at some point?
In healthy relationships, one person shouldn’t make all the decisions; even if it’s been that way in the past, you always have the ability and the right to change it. Some healthy challenges may occur, particularly if you’re stepping out of a very passive role and becoming newly assertive. However, a supportive friend, partner, or family member will listen to and respect your opinion.
So the next time a small decision comes up, don’t pass it off, make the decision. Even if it doesn’t turn out great—for example, the movie you choose is a dud, you’ll begin to develop a new sense of empowerment that you can carry over to bigger and more important decisions when they arise.
5. Be Honest With Each Other: Speak Up When Something Upsets You
In relationships, don’t let the “small” stuff slide when it upsets you. Doing so poses the same potential danger as deferring small decisions to someone else, for it is a slippery slope that can move undetected into unhealthy territory when not speaking up becomes a habit that another person can take advantage of.
A big reason people don’t speak up when the small stuff upsets them is because they question their right to be upset at a situation that seems trivial. You have the right to feel whatever feelings come up. Whatever negative emotion you feel is valid and a signal to you that you need something that you’re not getting.
When these negative emotions arise in a relationship, it’s an opportunity to discuss needs and boundaries with the other person. Try broaching the subject in a non-blaming way so the other person doesn’t feel attacked or get defensive. For example, “I felt [insert negative emotion] when you [insert their action that the caused emotion].” The formula is to speak from the “I” perspective and to include feelings and state the issue. This is called Reflective or Active Listening. This is a Gottman exercise and workshop that I do with couples who have problems communicating.
6. Laugh at Your Partner’s Imperfections as Well as Your Own
The nature of being human means that we all have imperfections, flaws, make mistakes, etc. And anyone close to us, whether in the shape of a partner, friend or family member, can use our greatest fears and weaknesses to manipulate us. Therefore, it is natural that we might try to hide these imperfections from the world. But the best thing you can do is own them proudly. Openly making light of your flaws takes away powerful ammo from anyone who tries to use them to hurt, manipulate, or control you.
Laughing at your personal imperfections also communicates to others that you accept yourself as you are and you expect them to do the same. It’s like saying, “Here I am, take it or leave it!”
All relationships, even ones that are already healthy, require active work to get and stay that way. With practice, you’ll become more empowered and better equipped to lead healthy relationships with others.
Blog: Ghita Andersen Counsellor