How To Be Your Best Self In A Relationship
You’re a go-getter. Everyone in your world knows that about you. You aced school, championed every sport, snagged the best job from a banquet of delicious offers. You look your best, act your best, even work to perfect your best. But there’s that other part of your life that involves your heart and another person. You never thought you would have to work so hard to learn how to be your best self in a relationship.
Shouldn’t it be enough to show up to a relationship bedazzled in all your greatness? Start off on a good foot and not break stride?
Sounds easy (and wishful thinking) enough. But the same concerted effort that defines your focus and achievement in the other areas of your life is necessary in your relationship, too.
So let’s take all those high-achiever skills and apply them to love.
Here’s how to be your best self in a relationship:
Maintain your self-esteem.
Having a healthy self-esteem is anything but selfish. (Operative word healthy, of course.)
It’s not about arrogance, pride, or inflated ego.
It’s about knowing and having confidence in what you do well.
It’s also about valuing yourself enough to ask for help when you need it and trusting your partner with the vulnerability of your needs.
Having a low self-esteem is a recipe for codependency.
Because self-esteem is supplanted by other-esteem. I care more about what you think and feel than I do about what I think and feel. But I need to control what you think and feel in order for me to be OK.
It gets messy, twisted, complicated, yucky – the way relationships always do when there is no sense of separateness in the form of emotional boundaries.
Go deep on self-exploration.
One of the easiest traps of committed relationships? The unconscious expectation that your partner “just knows” and should therefore “fix” what’s broken and “fill” what’s lacking in you.
In order to bring your best self to a relationship, you have to constantly be in touch with your own feelings and needs.
If you stop short of acknowledging and exploring your anger, for example, you will give the anger expression and not the primary emotions beneath it. (And how do you imagine that’s going to work in your communication?)
If all your partner or spouse hears is your anger, you will miss out on potential responses to its underlying sadness and fear.
Your partner or spouse will miss out on the opportunity to provide something you truly need – compassion, healing, a behavioral adjustment, even an apology.
And your relationship will miss out on the opportunity to go to the next level of intimacy.
By facing your own feelings and understanding your own needs, you set a standard for honesty and openness in your relationship.
You also decrease the chance that you will end up trying to communicate with a spouse who won’t talk to you. After all, no one wants to risk communicating when there is fear of misunderstanding or repercussions.
Own your own stuff.Blame and assumption are so much easier than ownership when you don’t have time to be bothered with your own stuff. And, the longer the relationship, the easier they become.
But healthy relationships depend on emotional maturity. And emotional maturity depends on self-accountability.
It also means knowing that you don’t know everything and seeking to learn and grow from every experience.
Of course, owning your own stuff is rooted in self-awareness. And learning how to be more self-aware in a relationship is instrumental to bringing out your best self.
Work on being a better listener.Of all the tips on how to be your best self in a relationship, few are as impactful as becoming a better listener.
Everyone has a story and an inner world that can be shared only when there is emotional safety.
When you create that kind of setting for communication with your partner, you essentially say, “I want to hear your story. I want to know the details, chapters deep. And I am grateful that you are willing to share your story with me.”
Interestingly, some of the most documented benefits of being a good listener come from the workplace.
A study by The Conference Board found that employees most valued leaders who sought their ideas, were concerned for their well-being, and strived for partnerships.
By listening more effectively, leaders get more honest information and increase trust. They reduce conflict, better understand how to motivate others, and inspire commitment from those they manage.
Some of the traits of a good listener include: being present in the here-and-now, without distractions; being genuinely interested and open-minded; not prejudging; and not interrupting.
If active listening can effect such positive results in the workplace, how much more can it effect positive results in your personal relationship?
As you think about your own listening skills, ask yourself the following questions:
Do I listen to learn or listen to respond? Do I have an agenda that makes me listen for only what I want to hear?
Do I validate and ask open-ended questions?
Do I pick up on and compassionately respond to emotional cues?
Am I conscious of my body language?
Do I mirror back what I have heard to make sure I have received my partner’s intended message?
Finally, as you make the conscious effort to be a better listener, make a mental note of any changes in communication.
Is there less tension between you and your partner? Do you both have fewer reservations about discussing difficult topics? Do you notice a shift toward greater vulnerability and deeper intimacy?
Sometimes listening with your heart is as simple as remembering the early days of getting to know one another. Bring that authentic curiosity to the surface again. That’s the best way to ensure that your story has a safe place to land, too.
Remember the big impact of little things.It’s always the little things, isn’t it? The fleeting touches that pour a long bath of oxytocin. The eye contact that says, “I’m right here.” The seemingly insignificant promises that accrue to secure trust.
There is, of course, the flip side of that picture.
Just as the little efforts and remembrances can create such comfortable bliss, their cumulative omission can lead to an unhappy marriage.
Sure, there are the obvious “big” things that you expect to do (and not do).
But it’s the little things that, like sand poured into a jar of seashells, fill in all the odd-shaped spaces of a relationship. They are the rituals, promises, and surprises that not only anchor trust, but build desire, vulnerability, and intimacy.
So…that little errand you said in passing that you would run? Run it.
That day that commemorates something important to your partner or spouse? Remember it.
The kiss that sends you both into your day with the assurance of love from the person who has your back? Add a few seconds.
Relationship work is never-ending. That’s both the beauty and the challenge of it.
That’s also the basis of its great potential. Two people come to struggle and grow in the same place, hoping to find what they can’t find on their own.
And learning how to be your best self in a relationship is the first step toward finding it.
Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, contact her here.