How to Be a Better Partner

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How to Be a Better Partner

When our relationships are struggling, it’s much easier to focus on where our partner is falling short of our expectations. But focusing on your own patterns is a much more effective way to create positive change in your relationship. As a couples counselor and relationship coach, I know this can be easier said than done. But learning how to be a better partner is the surest path to the close, loving, satisfying relationship you deserve. 

Here’s how: 

How to Be a Better Partner in a Relationship

What does it even mean to be a good partner? The foundation of a healthy relationship is built on three things: accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement. 

Being accessible means you are available to your partner when they need you. Your partner is able to get your attention easily, find connection, and feel like a priority in your life. 

Being responsive means you are able to respond to your partner’s bids for connection, you are able to meet your partner’s spoken (and sometimes unspoken) needs, and you can react with empathy to their emotions. 

Being engaged means that your partner can confide in you and find comfort in your response. You can provide undivided attention to your partner when they need you, and you are able to offer a safe space for understanding, especially in moments of distress. 

If you want to learn how to be a better partner, start by asking yourself these questions: Am I approachable? Can my partner come to me easily with requests and concerns? Does my partner struggle to get my attention, or do they complain that I’m always busy? When my partner is upset, do I respond from a reactive state, or with empathy and understanding? 

The Challenge of Becoming a Better Partner

One of the hardest parts of learning how to “be a better partner” is accepting that you can’t make your partner do the same. You can certainly ask for them to be more accessible, reliable, or engaged, but you cannot make them. 

There’s a chance that your efforts may feel one sided for a bit, but in my experience, there can be a chain reaction of positive change in relationships — if you start showing up differently, chances are your partner will also want to do the same. So try and see the bigger picture and press on even when it feels unfair. 

Another challenge can be the lingering effects of past experiences. If you weren’t shown an example of someone who is accessible, reliable, or engaged in the past, it can be much harder to provide those things yourself. Sometimes, the most impactful thing you can do for your relationship is get support to heal from your past. If you feel easily triggered, reactionary, closed off, or numb, these may be signs that there are some deeper wounds that need addressing before you can be a better partner. 
Finding a good therapist who understands relationship systems and how to heal emotional wounds can make all the difference. I’ve had the privilege of watching many clients address these wounds over the years. When they’ve done some healing, they usually find that they have so much more energy to care for their relationship.

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Practical Steps to Be a Better Partner

So how can you put these ideas into practice? Here are a few tips that will get you started. 

To be more accessible: 

  • Set a goal to check in with your partner over text or a phone call once a day. 
  • Let your partner know you’d like to help him/her with something over the weekend.
  • Check in about the state of your relationship. Ask your partner how they’re feeling and whether they’re getting what they need from you. 

To be more responsive: 

  • Practice validating your partner’s feelings before sharing your own.
  • Ask your partner how they hope for you to respond when they’re upset (some people like physical touch, others just want to feel heard). If they’ve shared this with you before, make a conscious effort to respond in this way the next time they’re upset. 

How to be more engaged: 

  • Set a time of day to put away devices and do something intentional together.
  • Practice active listening skills to show your partner that you are present and curious about their thoughts and experiences. 

It’s also worth noting that being accessible, responsive, and engaged requires you to be self regulated. This can be very difficult when you are also feeling triggered by something your partner has said. I often have my clients start with building up self-regulation skills before we even begin working on relationship skills. That way they’re able to be responsive rather than reactive, and to navigate conflict without becoming emotionally flooded. 

Try practicing some mindfulness techniques, like deep breathing, taking a five minute break, or repeating a grounding phrase such as, “I want to be a better partner.” Improving your self-regulation skills won’t happen overnight, but practicing these skills consistently will make it easier over time. 

Books that Will Help You Be a Better Partner

There are a few books I recommend to anyone who’s interested in improving their relationship. 

  • Hold Me Tight” by Dr. Sue Johnson, who developed Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. It centers on seven conversations that will strengthen your relationship and bring you closer together. 

Support for a Healthier, Happier Relationship

I hope this article gave you some helpful tips about how to be a better partner. By shifting the focus to yourself, you have the power to create real transformation in your relationship. 

It can also be very beneficial to practice these skills with help from a marriage and family therapist, either in individual counseling, or in couples counseling with your partner. If you’re interested in discussing your hopes and goals with me, I invite you to schedule a free consultation


Georgi C., M.S., LMFT

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