Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Importance Of A Supportive Partner

Welcome to Part 3 of this series:

If you've only just tuned into this blog, this post will make a lot more sense if you read part 1 & 2 of the series before going on to read this part (3).

Step 5 - ENCOURAGE (your partner)

It is interesting how most of us repeat the patterns of the families in which we were raised. Even if we were terribly unhappy in that environment, we tend to simply perpetuate that which has been done to us - for instance, to criticise! Most people I know were raised with the belief that criticism would make them more inclined to perform better. Well, I’ve discovered over time that this belief is a fallacy and, if I remember back to my own childhood, I also remember that the people I disliked the most were the ones who criticised me the most. The more I explored this issue, the more aware I became that criticism did nothing apart from cause me to be angry, rebellious, hopeless (without hope of ever changing that person’s opinion of me) and depressed. Once I understood this truth I began to ask myself: ‘Why am I doing the same that made me feel so unhappy in my own childhood years thing to the people I love? What makes me think that it will have a different effect on them?’ This was the point at which I began to explore the POWER OF ENCOURAGEMENT. It didn’t take long for me to recognise that whilst criticism kills relationships, encouragement builds them up, nurtures them and makes them wonderful.

A client’s example:
(Client’s examples are shared with their permission - no real names are used and their identity is disguised in the interest of confidentiality)

Paula explains, frowning in consternation, that her partner is definitely far too permissive with his children; inexplicably and (as far as she is concerned) absolutely maddeningly lenient with his ex-wife; ‘over the top’ considerate of his parents; even concerned for his former parents in law (for goodness sakes!!!); far too generous with everyone he knows and generally much too nice a guy.

When I ask her how he behaves towards her, she replies: “Well, he is very loving; tries pretty hard to make me happy; brings me gifts all the time; calls me when he knows that he is going to be late; he’s hardly every cranky; basically, he’s a really nice guy”. Listening to this, I am left wondering:‘ So, what’s the problem with this wonderful creature’????? …and proceed to ask Paula this question. She assures me that she is very happy to be the recipient of her partner’s generosity, but that it should only be confined to her. Because it isn’t, she feels justified in being critical of Peter and is quite sure that she needs to let him know whenever his generous nature breaks through how silly, ‘over the top’ and crazy he is for being ‘Mr. Nice Guy’.

Whilst Peter may well have some overly permissive tendencies, which would probably benefit from a little tempering, I am quite sure that continual criticising and disapproving isn’t the way towards achieving this. Paula, unfortunately, seems unable to understand that criticism rarely works in anyone’s favour and I fear that her inability or unwillingness to look to herself to make some changes before she requests changes from her partner, may lead to her being the one losing out in the end.

Paula would do well in appropriating some of the following suggestions.

You encourage your partner by:

* Telling them what a great job they are doing - even if they mess up at times. Remember, criticism is NEVER the answer!
* Reassure them when they don’t get it right that you don’t expect them to be perfect. Encouragement will give them the motivation and strength to try again.
* Show them how much you appreciate them by regularly presenting them with small tokens of your appreciation such as, perhaps, a love note, a box of chocolates, a bunch of flowers.
Bigger gifts could be a special night at the movies, an occasional surprise weekend away, a holiday just for the two of you. For more ideas how to show love to your partner go to:
* Assure your partner that your kids will in time appreciate them – if not before, then certainly by the time they reach maturity.
* Let your partner know daily how much you love them.

Step 6 - TOLERATE (things that cannot be changed)

With the best of intentions, sometimes all we can do is to tolerate some things. This is quite an art that most of us only learn with maturity. I often see couples in my practice who are totally invested in getting their partners to change certain of their behaviours. Usually these are behaviours to which they cannot relate, which they find frustrating, irritating or annoying; behaviours they swear will drive them crazy. Yes, some behaviour changes can certainly be essential. Sometimes, however, becoming more accepting of a partner’s differences may be all it takes. Remember that you are not the only one who needs to exercise tolerance. Think of how much your partner needs to tolerate! Perhaps they also struggle with …circumstances beyond their control (i.e. your difficult ‘ex’, your children…early Sunday mornings ‘a trois’ when your precious little ankle biters decide to join you both in bed and all romantic notions fly out the window… etc.) In the same way you need to tolerate some of their idiosyncrasies. Some things simply aren’t worth fighting over so, keep your fighting spirit for more important things.

For more information about Sonja’s latest booklet as well as her other publications go to The Step Shop at The Step Stop:

To find out about the importance of emotional safety in a relationship, go to Relationships Matter at

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