~ AUGUST 2022 ~
When you say you’d do anything for your partner, does that include finding ways to better yourself and contribute more wholesomely to your relationship?
Because it probably should. “If you truly love someone, then I think it’s natural and vital to want to become a better partner,” Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles, tells Elite Daily. “The growth of both individuals within a couple should be a goal for each of you. You can devote time to expanding your love for each other, even when there are no obvious or current problems.”
Perhaps the most surprising thing about how you can be a better lover is that the small things matter most. Sure, grand gestures are great, but they can’t beat the steady, everyday improvements that are sustainable and ultimately the most effective in making your partner feel valued, appreciated, and understood. And honestly, what feels better than that? If that’s the kind of relationship you want, here are some ways you can work on being a better partner, according to the experts.
Don’t Take Your Partner for Granted
The first step to being a better lover is to not take them or their love for granted, which Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple’s Guide to Lasting Love, says is an all-too-common occurrence. “I’ve heard from clients, ‘I just thought the love would always be there,’ not realizing how it can easily erode due to not giving our partner and the relationship enough attention,” she tells Elite Daily.
The best way to combat this, Dr. Brown says, is to regularly let your partner know just how much you value them. “The happiest couples I know are [in] better partnerships because both partners feel and express gratitude to their partner. Expressing gratitude helps to make your partner feel loved and appreciated,” he explains.
Validate Your Partner’s Feelings
If you’ve ever opened up to someone about how you’re feeling only to have them brush it aside, you know firsthand how hurtful that kind of dismissal can be. This is why Chlipala says it’s essential to validate your partner’s emotions. If you don’t initially understand why they feel the way they do, then work on coming from an empathetic place. “Learn to understand and empathize with your partner’s experience. You don’t even have to agree!” says Chlipala. Her advice is to begin by asking questions like, “What is most important for me to know? What do you need? What are you concerned about? Is there anything else?” These questions all should help give you insight into where they’re coming from. If they don’t, she suggests simply asking them to help you understand. This communicates that, at the very least, you’re trying — and that can have a real positive impact.
Learn To Fight Fairly
While having empathy and not dismissing your partner’s feelings can help to prevent a lot of disagreements, chances are they’ll still occur from time to time. This is another opportunity for you to become a better partner by learning to fight fairly, and not argue while in flight-or-flight mode. “This is where a lot of damage gets done, especially with one or both partners saying mean, hurtful things,” explains Chlipala.
If this is something you’ve struggled with, her advice is to start paying closer attention to your internal cues so you can avoid getting to a place where you might say things you don’t mean.
“Focus on your thoughts (‘here we go again’), your feelings and where you feel them in your body (like anxiety in the pit of your stomach or anger pressed against your chest), and your behaviors (pacing, clenching your fists, gritting your teeth) as you start to escalate or shut down,” she says. Once you recognize the signs, you can know when it’s time to take a break before continuing the conversation.
Check In With Your Partner Regularly
Knowing how to improve as a partner can depend on your specific relationship dynamic, so the only way to get better is to know what your partner needs by asking them, “Am I there for you?” Hopefully the answer is yes, but if it’s not, Chlipala says this is a chance to have a conversation about what “being there” looks like to your partner. ”Knowing that you can depend on your partner is essential for attachment and trust,” she explains.
The key is to focus on meeting your partner’s top needs, as it’s not realistic to meet all their needs all the time. You don’t have to do so to be a good partner — you just need to be reliable. “It’s not realistic to meet your partner’s needs all of the time, but strive to try to meet them somewhat consistently,” Chlipala says.
Dr. Brown agrees, saying that a quick daily check-in is an effective way of keeping you on the same page, as well as making your partner feel valued. “Ask your partner every day, ‘Is there something I can do to make your day a little better?’ Just asking this question demonstrates to your loved one that you care about them, their needs, and their well-being,” he explains.
Spend Time Connecting Daily
It’s easy to get busied up, carried away, and comfortable in your routine, but reserving small moments just for you and your partner to connect is vital. “Little rituals and experiences can really bond two people together,” Aimee Hartstein, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Elite Daily. “It’s great to try and integrate them into your routine. It doesn’t matter what the actual activity is, it just matters that the two of you enjoy it together and are happy to participate. It can be something such as brewing and drinking coffee together, walking the dog, [or] planning and cooking dinner together every Sunday night.”
“[Affirmations] feel so incredible to receive, and often even better to give. This intentional practice often becomes a lifeline of relationships where partners feel validated, important to each other, and in a relationship that truly matters,” she says.
Be Honest About What You Need
Though it may seem counterintuitive at first, Higgins says you shouldn’t be afraid to “rock the boat” in your relationship. “The reality is that in life and relationships, you need to be willing to go after what you want in an intentional, respectful, and assertive way,” Higgins says. “Sometimes, that may mean you have to show your partner how important something is to you, especially if it feels like a significant emotional or relational need you know you have.”
It’s a vulnerable process to learn each other and to be brutally honest about the weak spots in your relationship, but communicating openly with your partner about what you need, and accepting their feedback on where you fall short, is important to building trust in your relationship. “When you can hold yourself up as a part of the process, as someone who is actually trying to help their partner succeed at being there for them, your partner feels supported, clued in to what matters to you, and incentivized to continue putting deposits in the relationship bucket,” Higgins says.
Nurture Your Individual Life
Pouring into your relationship from a full cup means nurturing your own space — your individual relationships, passions, and interests outside of your partner. “The most important thing one can do for their relationship is to make sure to be a fully functioning individual first,” Hartstein says. “This means keeping up with friendships, having your own hobbies, continuing to see family, and keeping your own beliefs and values. If you depend on your partner to help carve out an identity for you, you’re going to be very disappointed. You can quickly lose sense of who you are and what you want out of life. A partner can help make your life more full but can never complete you as an individual.”
Take the Initiative To Make Needed Changes
Most of these suggestions for improving as a partner are proactive in nature, and they’re about getting ahead of problems. But there are likely going to be times when the reason you want to be a better lover is based on issues developing in your relationship. In that case, the best thing you can do, Chlipala says, is to take initiative. “If something’s not working in your relationship or something’s lacking, take the initiative to change it,” she advises. According to her, when you’re the one to take action to improve your connection, it can be very meaningful to your SO. “This could be anything from initiating date night and taking care of the plans to tackling an extra chore that needs to be done,” Chlipala adds. The point is that you’re present and willing to put forth a real effort to keep your love alive and healthy.
Ultimately, the most important way you can be a better lover is to be open to the fact that there’s always room for improvement — which can sometimes mean putting your ego aside. For instance, if your partner approaches you about a change they need, Chlipala’s advice is not to get defensive or take it as criticism. “Instead, view these as opportunities for intimacy and to make your relationship stronger,” she says. It’s also important to recognize that both of your needs will change over time, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a sign of growth, so it’s something you’ll want to stay on the same page about as your relationship evolves.
“I encourage my clients to have a weekly talk where they discuss their relationship. The goal is for the talk to be positive and [about] how they can both improve to make their relationship better,” says Chlipala.
At the end of the day, the very best source for learning how to meet your loved one’s needs is your partner themself.
Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles
Aimee Hartstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist