How Do I Know I Can Count on my Partner?

Young black couple on sandy beach. Both are smiling and kneeling on the sand. She has her arms wrapped around his shoulders from behind him.When the chips are down and your back is to the wall, can you look to your spouse or relationship partner for backup? Do you have assurance that you can count on this person—no matter what?

Our romantic relationships have a high value and we want to trust our partner. Neuroscience tells us we are hardwired to want that close bond with another human.

But how do we know that we can count on our partner? The couples I have seen in my therapy practice all want to know: “Are you there for me?” As a relationship therapist for over 25 years, I have discovered three important factors that let us know, “My partner has my back.”

How does your partner treat other people?

Are they a loyal friend or dependable family member? Do they show respect and look for ways to support or encourage friends or family? Do they go back on their word in these other relationships? Do they talk badly about them when they are not around? How do they treat past relationship partners? Do they blame past relationship partners for all of the problems in old past relationships? These attitudes and behaviors towards other important people are good indicators of how you will be treated in your relationship.

What is your partner’s track record with you?

Do they have a habit of letting you down, then apologizing by saying it won’t happen again? Even if they promise to improve, if you aren’t seeing a reliable track record, then you may have doubts. People make mistakes. It is not a good idea to keep a score card for every transgression—it is better to keep track of the times your partner supported you. However, if you see a pattern, apologies tend to be less meaningful.

It is realistic to assume that our partner won’t be “there for us” 100% of the time.

Sometimes they are tired, hungry, sick, or just into their own thing. If your partner hits 80% to 90%, that’s pretty good. But here is the most important aspect to attend to:of those things you can count on with your partner, how valuable or important are they?

For example, maybe your partner never remembers to put her shoes in the closet when she gets home, even though you have thoughtfully and uncritically reminded her on numerous occasions. Maybe she leaves her shoes out three times a week.  On one level, that behavior could imply a lack of follow through, or maybe worse, that she doesn’t care about your concerns.

On the other hand, if your partner gets up with you in the middle of the night because you are sick or in pain, isn’t that really more important? The former case is an incidental, while the latter is more meaningful.  Chances are, this is a person you can count on.

Another way to think about this is to consider the breadth, depth, and value that your partner exhibits. Breadth includes other important people and your partner’s attitude towards them. Depth involves treatment of you over time. Value implies the importance or meaningfulness of your partner’s actions.

Knowing that your partner is committed to your happiness is part of a solid, loving relationship. We long for that comfort and security. As you think about whether or not you can count on your partner, turn your eyes to yourself. Can your partner count on you? How well are you living up to the test areas listed above?

© Copyright 2011 by By Pamela Lipe, MS, therapist in Saint Paul, Minnesota. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Hunter F

    Hunter F

    October 12th, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    I don’t think that I could be with someone for life that I did not feel like I could count on to always stand there by my side.

    I would feel like in the time that I needed him most that would be when I was going to be let down. I am not sure that that kind of doubt is ever going to be the basis for a strong and mature relationship.

    As a matter of fact I would be willing to be that the marriages or relationships where one partner did not feel like he could always depend on the other- those would be the ones with the highest rates of divorce.

  • Alexis Carlisle

    Alexis Carlisle

    October 12th, 2011 at 7:20 PM

    On the leaving shoes out vs. getting up in the middle of the night, surely it’s a no-brainer to see that person cares? I have a saying I like to live by that saves my sanity when little things get on my nerves: don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s nuts to get just as angry over things like shoes as you would serious issues.

  • shar kirby

    shar kirby

    October 12th, 2011 at 7:36 PM

    Thank you for saying that being there for them 80-90% of the time is pretty good! I feel suffocated if mine expects to lean on me all the time. Although it doesn’t happen constantly, when it does it’s very tiring and draining.

    I actually had to say this evening to everyone in my house to leave me completely alone for an hour to give me time to regroup. I felt like I could scream any second if one more person spoke to me today. I so need space to myself and when I don’t get it, I feel very stressed. Between him and the kids, it all gets too much sometimes.

    So the door got shut and I’m liking it so much I don’t think I’ll come out of this room until morning. :)

  • paula g. chambers

    paula g. chambers

    October 12th, 2011 at 8:28 PM

    Just because they talk about other people doesn’t mean they’ll be a bad partner to you. Mine thinks his sisters are all unpleasant to be around and doesn’t have a good word to say about any of them. His criticism is well justified, trust me.

    It’s amazing he turned out to be the good guy he is having grown up with them all. But-that’s a confidence he shares between him and I. He wouldn’t say that to them and hurt their feelings.

    You’d probably class that as talking about them behind their back, and if it is, it still doesn’t make him a bad person if he vents to me.

  • shirley

    shirley

    October 13th, 2011 at 2:19 PM

    I think that the very first point here sums it all up pretty well. You know you can count on someone when you see how others are able to count on him.

    That does not mean he has to give up everything to do for others. But look at the things like: is he kind? Does he consider the feelings of others? Is he willing to compromise?

    All of those are the things that make up the personalities of the people that we can count on. If they are consistently being slack and letting others down, chances are if you stay with him then the same fate awaits you too.

  • wilma cole

    wilma cole

    October 15th, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    Any partner that didn’t show me respect wouldn’t be my partner for long. I can’t stand men who put on one face to their bosses and their neighbors, who all naively think he’s a great guy, and then they treat their wives like crap when they think no-one’s looking.

    I’ve seen too many girl friends emotionally dragged through the mud by men like that and hang in there instead of dumping them like I would. Life’s too short!

  • Natalie C

    Natalie C

    October 15th, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    “It is realistic to assume that our partner won’t “be there for us” 100% of the time.”
    This is one thing some people really need to understand. Nobody can stand by you all the time and even if it is your partner it is very very difficult if not impossible.

    I have a friend who feels like her marriage is not working because her husband is not always “there” for her. I tried explaining this very point to her but she is convinced that its not true.

  • p.f.

    p.f.

    October 15th, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    This pains me a little to read as I can see myself reflected in it. I do let my partner down. I’m very absent-minded and forget things we agree on. And it’s not that I don’t care, far from it. I’d die if he left me. Some things simply don’t sink in permanently. I’ve tried various methods to help me remember stuff and none have worked very well. I’m kind of at a dead end in that respect now…

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