Are You a Mediocre or an Exceptional Partner?

Couple toasting over dinnerHow many relationships do you see around you that you would actually want to be in? For most of us, we can count the number on one hand. An even better question might be, “Am I in the kind of relationship I would want my own child to be in someday?” If you want to top that and move into the area of upping your chances to have an exceptional relationship, you will ask yourself, “Am I being the kind of partner I would want my child to have someday?”

As a therapist who has worked with couples for more than a decade now, I see a disturbing trend on the rise. We are settling for mediocrity in ourselves as partners while expecting our partners to be exceptional, asking more of them than we do from ourselves. If you are thinking to yourself, “Could this be me? Am I being an exceptional or mediocre partner?,” please keep reading. because there are three simple traits that genuinely happy and fulfilled couples seem to have in common. If you are looking to take your relationship to the next level, consider raising your personal standards in any of the following ways, remembering that if you want a better relationship, it begins with looking at one’s own self first and foremost.

1. Exceptional partners have a good idea about what makes it difficult to have themselves for a partner, and they feel a sense of appreciation and respect for the challenges their own personality presents for their partner. They work hard to keep these attributes in check and not let them get out of control. Mediocre partners are rather hazy about their own shortcomings as a partner but can easily enough rattle off a long list of their partner’s flaws.

It is easy enough for most people to list off a handful of traits that make it difficult to have their significant other for a partner, but when the question is turned back on oneself—”What makes it difficult to have MYSELF for a partner?”—the exceptional partner demonstrates a rare willingness to identify his or her own shortcomings and backs this up with a steady commitment to managing and keeping his or her own difficult traits and imperfections in check so that they don’t impact the partner in unfair ways.

Whenever I work with a new couple, I always eventually get to that question because it helps me understand how to best help them. The old saying, “We can see everyone but ourselves when we enter a room,” applies to relationships, too. It’s normal to not know the answer to this question, but the willingness to be open and want to know the answer is everything. As the research from the world-renowned Gottman Institute has found in Seattle, Washington, female partners in particular need to know that their opinions and feedback truly matter to their partners. This is actively demonstrated by listening with the sincere intent to understand the other’s feelings and positions and find common ground and areas for compromise and by validating your partner’s stance without necessarily agreeing with it.

2. Exceptional partners understand that while they are not responsible for their partner’s happiness, contributing to their partner’s happiness is nonetheless a top priority. Mediocre partners, in contrast, are primarily focused on their own gratification first, and while they too can be thoughtful, thoughtfulness is not a daily habit.

Years ago, I placed a beautiful canopy bed up for sale. A couple arrived to purchase it. As they dismantled the bed piece by piece, there was an attitude of playfulness and a sense of mutual joy they took in one another that was striking in its rarity. “What’s your secret?” I asked them. They shared that the secret of their successful marriage was that every morning they ask themselves, “What might I do today to let my partner feel loved?” Exceptional partners make it a habit to be exceptionally thoughtful. They seem to recognize that life is short and seek out ways on a regular basis to express their love. For these couples, love is indeed not just a feeling but an active verb.

3. Exceptional partners ask a lot of themselves and not more nor less of their partners. Mediocre partners, on the other hand, have the balance tipped in the opposite direction. They either are asking more of their partner than they are of themselves or sacrificing their needs regularly in order to serve everyone else, leading to chronic feelings of depletion and often bitterness and not feeling appreciated.

It is often said that we should ask more from ourselves than others because this is the one thing that is in our control. However, this advice has its limits when it comes to the person we spend our lifetime beside day in and day out. Exceptional partners consider themselves a work in progress and make a habit of expressing their needs and desires in a direct yet respectful way. They insist on both treating their partner well while also being treated well in return. In other words, they invest heavily in the success of the relationship and expect their partner to bring this same level of consideration and commitment.

Mediocrity in our relationships may be our conditioned norm, but we can move into the exceptional this very moment by expanding our commitment to ask more of ourselves, appreciating our partner in ever deepening ways, and becoming voluntary stewards of one another’s joy.

Related articles:
Creating the Foundation for a Healthy Relationship
9 Secrets for a Lifetime of Like, Love, and Lust
If Only My Partner Would Change, Then Everything Would Be OK

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Alexandra Saperstein, Advanced Trained Gottman Couples Counselor, LPC, LMFT, therapist in Portland, Oregon

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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  • Jennifer

    Jennifer

    August 8th, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    I strive to be that exceptional spouse, but that’s hard to keep up all the time! Sometimes it feels like it is all give, give, give, but receive nothing in return. I suppose that’s not what its all about, that I should freely give and not expect anything in return. But don’t I deserve to be treated just as well as I treat him? It would just be nice to see some reciprocation for a change.

  • adam

    adam

    August 8th, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    excellent post! its not often that I ask myself if I’m being an exceptional partner but its just so easy to see the flaws in my partner and not look into the mirror.I think a lot of us do this and also believe that trying to be an exceptional partner and asking ourselves these questions will indeed improve our relationships.Thank you for this and I shall definitely try to keep these points in mind the next time I look at my partner’s flaws.

  • Sissy

    Sissy

    August 8th, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    For most of us the hardest thing about being exceptional to your spouse is having this failure to recognize the things that don’t exactly make us very exceptional. We tend to view ourselves through rose colored glasses- what others see and know to be our faults and shortcomings, we tend to see them as being unique and possibly even kind of cute. Unfortunately it could be those very things that are running your partner into the ground and causing him to see you as less then your exceptional self. It is hard for any of us to admit that we have our little quirks, but it is important to recognizze them, acknowledge them, and try to change them if they are things that are causing strife within your relationship.

  • JON

    JON

    August 8th, 2012 at 8:55 PM

    It’s just so hard to see things from others’ POV isn’t it?I find it difficult but at least I try.It flummoxes me to see just how people never even try to get the other’s point and act like complete hypocrites at times. I have had my fair share of relationships and many many people do this :(

  • Agatha

    Agatha

    August 9th, 2012 at 4:29 AM

    I have always wanted for my children to look at the marriage that my husband and I have, and for them to want that kind of relationship for them selves when they grow up.

    I in no way think that we have a perfect marriage, because I am wise enough to know that that sort of perfection does not exist. But what we do have is a marriage of love and respect, one in which I want to do as much to make him happy as he wants for me.

    I got very lucky to have the chance to spend my adult life with my soul mate- it has never been about money or the material things in life, but rather about what we can give each other emotionally, spiritually and physically. It has been a wonderul time in our own lives and I hope with all of my heart that one day my own children will be able to have the same.

  • ScotSmith

    ScotSmith

    August 9th, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    Many men, I think, see themselves as exceptional while to their wives they really are just mediocre. I think that a lot of men, especially those who are the primary breadwinners, feel that contributing to that aspect of the home should be enough, that they shouldn’t have to do too much more than that to be considered a good husband. But I think that most of us realize pretty quickly just how wrong and chauvenistic these sorts of beliefs are. That’s selfish, and a pretty quick route to divorce court if you ask me.

  • HONEY

    HONEY

    August 10th, 2012 at 3:21 PM

    If my man wants me to be happy then he has to know that he a whole lot to do with making that happen.
    The same thing goes for me
    I realize that to make hom happy I have to be an active partner in many different ways
    The problems begin when I start caring more about my own needs that I do his, and vice versa
    When I am exceptional I need to remember that I should put his happiness above anything else, and if I have the right man, then he will always be doing the same thing too

  • chandler

    chandler

    August 11th, 2012 at 4:44 AM

    “. . .becoming voluntary stewards of one another’s joy.”

    I think that this is one of the best quotes that I have come across in a very long time. This is what I want to be for my husband, as he is for me everyday.

  • Kelly

    Kelly

    August 12th, 2012 at 4:31 AM

    I want to use that couples mantra, the ones who came to buy the bed. What can I do today to make my partner happy? That’s a beautiful way to structure your relationship.

  • Carol Anne

    Carol Anne

    August 13th, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    I am so fortunate that my husband really gets me, inside and out, he knows all my quirks and hangups, and he accepts me just the way I am. He might get exasperated at times, like we all do, but never lets that interfere with the fact that he still loves me.

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