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.
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