Working with an Uncooperative Partner: 6 Tips for Success

View of the feet in outdoor shoes of two people on ground with leaves. The feet are facing but standing apartImagine you are in a long-term relationship that, like all relationships, has its rough patches, its areas that need improvement. You are motivated to address these difficulties in order to elicit change, grow, and bring your relationship to another level. Your partner, on the other hand, is unmotivated and unwilling to put forth the same effort.

There may be any number of reasons behind their lack of motivation: They may be facing personal struggles or mental health or emotional challenges. This may simply be who they are.

Whatever the case, you may face extreme disappointment when confronted with this reality. You may beg, plead, try any number of methods to encourage your partner to cooperate, all to no avail. Some people may take this as a sign that the relationship will not work out and end it there. Others may prefer to stay in the relationship, for any number of reasons, and decide to do their best with what they have.

If you are in this situation and are among those who have decided to stay, you may wish to seek support from friends, family, and even a trained therapist or counselor. You might also consider the six strategies below as possible ways to constructively address the situation in order to create optimal dynamics in your relationship.

1. Take Care of Your Own Wants

Even the most ideal partner may not be able to provide everything you want. With an uncooperative partner, you may feel even less fulfilled. You might experience frustration and anger or develop the urge to try and change your partner, to push them to do what you want. However, these strategies usually are not helpful. Ultimately, it’s generally best to empower yourself to take care of your own needs and wants rather than relying on your partner to do so. Yes, it may be disappointing to engage with an inconsiderate partner, but by becoming proactive in doing whatever is in your power to fulfill your wants, you are taking control over your life. Rather than expecting or waiting for your partner to do things with you and becoming upset when they don’t, you become better able to proactively find your own solutions.

2. Create Fulfilling Venues

Many individuals enter into a long-term relationship expecting their partners to fulfill all of their needs. They may expect a partner to be a companion, a protector, a lover, an intellectual peer, and/or to share the same hobbies and interests. But what if your partner cannot fulfill all of these wants? My suggestion is to find new channels to satisfy yourself and create a more meaningful and fulfilling life, with or without the other person. You can go to the gym, join a book or a movie club, participate in a philosophy group, take a class, build friendships, an so on. By diversifying your interests and social circles, you may find multiple ways to be fulfilled. Indirectly, you are likely to feel less frustrated with your partner as you reduce your reliance on them.

3. Build a Support System

It is always a good idea to surround yourself with an environment that is conducive to your well-being and happiness. Your ideal environment might include family, friends, and/or social and professional networks, for example. Anyone can benefit from social and emotional support, and you can turn to these people in times of need in order to gain a better perspective, seek encouragement, and increase self-esteem. It is usually helpful to talk, reflect, analyze and brainstorm with others about challenges and issues. In addition, social support is considered a form of psychological support, and you may find it improves your quality of life while also creating a buffer against the shock of unpleasant situations. There may come a point in the relationship when you find that to continue in it requires giving up on certain goals, expectations, or visions you have cherished, and you may then face a difficult choice: Leave it, or live with it.

4. Set Boundaries

One key element of creating healthy and happy relationships is setting boundaries. It can be even more crucial to establish clear boundaries when engaging with partners who may try to manipulate, use, and take advantage of situations. Defining what you are willing to tolerate and communicating this to your partner is an effective strategy. By acting assertively, you can not only protect yourself but also empower your partner to take responsibility for their actions and needs. Be consistent and stick to your boundaries. Often, the discipline of boundaries will generate positive results in your lives. Yes, it can be challenging to set boundaries in relationships with partners who do not support limits. But it is absolutely possible and is necessary to your well-being.

5. Reinforce and Influence Your Partner

When you are the best partner you can be, you may be better able to influence your partner, who might eventually follow and provide you with the same attitude and support. When you offer support—perhaps by listening actively, asking clarifying questions, and otherwise behaving in a way that demonstrates positive and constructive intention—you send a clear message to your partner: “I am here to support you. We are facing this challenge together. You are welcome to participate.”  Make an effort to find ways to reinforce your partner and reward them.

6. Accept and Let Go

There may come a point in the relationship when you find that to continue in it requires giving up on certain goals, expectations, or visions you have cherished, and you may then face a difficult choice: Leave it, or live with it. Many people find their situations too painful and/or unrewarding and leave the relationship, choosing not to further compromise themselves. Others accept that the situation is unlikely to change but decide to stay nonetheless, continuing to pursue happiness and fulfillment by letting go of some of their desires and expectations or changing their perspective regarding them. Whether you let go of the relationship or let go of some of what you had hoped for, it is necessary to come to the realization that the other person is beyond your power. Trying to control what cannot be controlled requires large amounts of energy and resources that could possibly be used to achieve something better and more fulfilling in your life. Whether you choose to “leave it” or “live with it,” you regain the power of control and can focus on fulfilling your life rather than hoping for an uncooperative partner to do it for you.

It is generally believed that humans are meant for connection and relationships. Most of us desire to live a life that is not isolated but diverse and interconnected, shared with a variety of people who all contribute meaning in a variety of ways. You may wish to share everything, or at least most things, with a partner, but this may not always be feasible. Yes, it is normal to expect a partner to change and be more cooperative toward shared goals or the relationship itself. But you might wish to consider whether it is better to focus on making fulfilling changes for yourself rather than pushing your partner to change. Then, if you don’t get the outcome you want from your partner, you won’t have wasted your energy but will instead have experienced personal growth, perhaps creating a more fulfilling and meaningful life for yourself in the process.

Your personal growth provides the freedom to exist with other people, even uncooperative ones, in a new manner, one in which your happiness no longer depends on another person.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Moshe Ratson, MBA, MS, LMFT, therapist in New York City, New York

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.

  • 8 comments
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  • abbie

    abbie

    December 20th, 2016 at 8:25 AM

    But my husband makes me feel so guilty when I take care of what I want. But I mean if he is being grouchy then what else am I supposed to do?
    I have decided to take this little bit of time for me when I need it because I have waited too long for him to take care of it and honestly he just doesn’t seem all that into it anymore.

  • Mills

    Mills

    December 21st, 2016 at 10:03 AM

    So I guess my concern is about why would you ever want to settle for someone in your life who is not cooperative in any way with you? Do you think so little of yourself that you feel like this is the best that you can do? Because believe me, I don’t even know you but I know that that’s not true. Everyone deserves to have someone in their life who loves them more than that.

  • tinsley

    tinsley

    December 21st, 2016 at 1:54 PM

    The bad thing is that the one who is being unresponsive and ambivalent is actually thinking that you are behaving the exact same way.

  • Shane

    Shane

    February 1st, 2019 at 6:46 AM

    They may have Borderline Personality Disorder. I’m suffering the same with my spouse. Look into the disorder, you will be amazed.

  • Thomas

    Thomas

    December 22nd, 2016 at 6:21 AM

    I think that it is ok to have disagreements with your partner but they should also know that there are always going to be limits to what you will or will not accept, just as they have to be willing to establish the same boundaries with you.
    I think that couples who have all of this mapped out are going to know when to push back and when to maybe not cross the line, and I think that if that understanding is built from the very beginning then you will have a more successful relationship with each other.
    It is those couples who have a constant push pull with one another, with each of them always trying to gain the upper hand in some ways, those are the ones that can be the biggest challenge to succeed.

  • mel g

    mel g

    December 23rd, 2016 at 8:30 AM

    I always find myself to be disappointed but I know that a lot of that stems from having unrealistic expectations of what I should expect from him.

  • Sheila

    Sheila

    December 24th, 2016 at 6:20 AM

    In many instances I think that you actually have to give yourself permission to move on. Don’t continue to hold onto something that obviously doesn’t care as much abut you as you care about them. This is not being selfish. This is actually the first move that you can take to take care of yourself.

  • Laurel

    Laurel

    December 26th, 2016 at 10:50 AM

    I have known people before who use this as a passive aggressive way to get back at people, to just choose to be non responsive and uncooperative and that is their way of getting back at them. People who are like that just are not worth the time and energy that they cause you to use up. It can be a serious drain on the mind and a big waste of your time, especially when you are the one continually doing all of the heavy lifting.

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