How Taking Ownership Builds Connection in a Relationship

Mature woman reaches up to shoulder of man on sofa. Both are looking away from the cameraLet’s face it: relationships are complicated. Each person brings their own history of conscious and unconscious needs and fears to the table, and these needs and fears are often contradictory. Temperaments differ, as do communication styles, tolerances for closeness, and ideas about what constitutes love and fidelity. And yet, in my experience with couples, one thing makes the biggest difference when it comes to the long-term emotional health of a partnership: taking ownership. It’s more than a skill—it’s a relational superpower that can help even the most estranged partners in the midst of a crisis recover their connection and move forward with new resources and a deeper commitment.

You’d think taking ownership would be easy in a culture where we invest so much time, energy, money, and focus on being able to own stuff, from cars to houses to websites to bright ideas. In spite of our passionate consumerism, owning psychological stuff is bafflingly hard. It can’t be forced or demanded, faked or extorted. Just because you’re able to own something once doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it again. If attempted without self-compassion, it has a manipulative quality. If done from a purely mental position, it feels dry, a seedless hull without any generative capacity.

I’m sure you’ve heard people say “I’m sorry” or “It was my fault.” These words can be bridges that span the abyss, but they can also amplify the existing emotional confusion. Our hearts know when ownership is real and when it’s a tactical maneuver. Truly taking ownership requires a willingness to experience and acknowledge our prejudices, imperfections, and vulnerabilities. Ultimately, it means we have to give up defending ourselves, to step out from behind the shield of our victimhood and recognize our capacity to hurt another.

Truly taking ownership feels risky, a bit like showing your cards to an opponent in a winner-takes-all poker game, or maybe like exposing your throat to a potential predator. Lessons we learned early on in our families and communities have impacted how safe we feel showing up authentically with all of who we are even with those closest to us, for better or worse, flawed and fully human. When we take ownership for some aspect of ourselves we’ve previously denied, we bypass our own defenses and connect to our deepest vulnerabilities. We risk something—hurt, rejection, judgment—for the sake of connection.

Truly taking ownership requires a willingness to experience and acknowledge our prejudices, imperfections, and vulnerabilities. Ultimately, it means we have to give up defending ourselves, to step out from behind the shield of our victimhood and recognize our capacity to hurt another.

Once, at the beginning of my relationship with my husband, I remember stopping in the middle of a searing argument and realizing that what he was telling me, and what I was arguing so ferociously against, was in fact 100% true. He’d called my attention to something unpleasant about the way I interacted with him that I didn’t want to admit to. “You’re right,” I said finally, my voice cracking. For a moment, it felt like the world would end. A wave of nausea passed through me, but then my husband took my hand and I could see warmth in his eyes. I’d lost the argument, but I’d begun the process of winning his genuine trust.

If you want to increase your chances of happiness with your partner, try challenging your strongest convictions about “the right way to be” in a relationship, particularly if these convictions create distance between the two of you. Notice the things you can’t stand about your mate and write them down, then consider how these characteristics or qualities might exist, however hidden, within you.

If you’re feeling ambitious, listen carefully to your partner’s complaints: you’re overbearing, needy, jealous, irresponsible, cold. True, these observations may be exaggerated or even false, but they may also be clues to the most important things you’ll ever own—hidden truths about yourself that need to be acknowledged before your relationship can change for the better.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Alicia Munoz, LPC, therapist in Falls Church, Virginia

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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  • Racheal

    Racheal

    October 11th, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    I have not always known what it fully meant to take ownership of something until I actually got into a relationship that was worth fighting for.

    I know that I have probably made a lot of empty apologies in my life but when you care about someone and you want to continue to have them in your life if something is your fault then you have to be read and willing to take complete responsibility for what you did.

    Empty apologies are never going to be enough to really show another person how important they are to you.

  • stefan

    stefan

    October 11th, 2016 at 2:26 PM

    You know that once someone is willing to step up to the plate and accept what they have done wrong, admit to it and apologize for it then you know that it has actually made an impact on them/. No one wants to have to endure some half hearted attempt at an apology when you know all along that the person doesn’t mean it. But when they own it, take a good hard look at their contribution and truly express that they are sorry that is when you know that it means something to them and that you do too.

  • Kris

    Kris

    October 15th, 2016 at 6:25 AM

    Honestly I simply appreciate it when someone has done something wrong and they can actually say that they did it, it was wrong, and they are sorry. There are too few people who are able or even willing to do that anymore.

  • john j

    john j

    October 17th, 2016 at 10:16 AM

    I am sure that it can rebuild lost connections but if and ONLY if both partners are willing to do so.
    If one is doing all of the giving and the other does all of the taking then this is never going to resolve a thing.

  • Aaron

    Aaron

    October 18th, 2016 at 2:15 PM

    It can make you feel very vulnerable and for many of us this is not a comfortable feeling at all.

  • Alec

    Alec

    October 19th, 2016 at 10:39 AM

    It gives you the sense that you are trusted and that someone trusts you. We are often at our most vulnerable when admitting that we have made a mistake. It shows maturity to take ownership of a mistake and to try to do things to make things right.

  • Cassie

    Cassie

    April 7th, 2017 at 4:49 PM

    He admits he made a mistake and apologized for it. When I reacted emotionally to what he had done he blamed me for my strong reaction and said I need to see a therapist. His apology does not seem genuine as he now claims he is the victim of my emotional reaction and feels sorry for himself. A lack of empathy on his part seems to be the real problem here and I am having trouble dealing with that. I read a lot of relationship books and blogs now to try to help us reconnect but he is not the least bit interested in reading them also.

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