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There’s no time like the present to work on being a better partner.

Fam Pract Manag. 2003;10(8):80

Physicians are pulled relentlessly from every side by professional commitments, which, if they’re not careful, can leave them with little left at the end of the day to put into primary relationships. In the July/August issue of FPM, I gave you some basic principles on which to build a relationship (see “Eight Principles for Stronger Relationships,” page 80). In this article, I give you eight steps for invigorating your current relationship.

1. Acknowledge the good

It is human tendency to take the significant people in our lives for granted. For example, how often have you thought something positive about your partner but somehow failed to say it out loud? Begin affirming the good you see in your partner. It will make him or her feel valued and will help you to become more positive yourself.

2. Don’t jump to conclusions

Someone once said, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” Reading something negative into mannerisms, statements or behaviors is bound to cause conflict. Instead of assuming the worst, ask for clarification.

3. Read between the lines

While asking for clarification is generally a good idea, don’t overdo it. Sometimes, all it takes is a little reading between the lines (or observational listening) to determine what your partner wants or needs. Take note of the subtle cues that tell you what is really going on in your partner’s life and listen to what is said – or not said. Does something suggest your partner has had a bad day? Read the signs and ask him or her about it. Your partner will notice that you noticed.

4. Choose your battles

Parents are often told to choose their battles when dealing with children; this advice applies equally well to adult relationships. Defensiveness can cause us to live in attack mode. When we are constantly on the defensive, we battle everything and conflict escalates. Instead, let some things slide and take on only the essential battles. (Even then, you and your partner should try to remain in a dialogue mode.) Let minor things go.

5. Disagree without being disagreeable

Disagreeing with your partner is normal and can be a healthy way to resolve differences or share feelings. However, a disagreement should not turn into an all-out attack aimed at your partner’s vulnerabilities. Instead, talk through the disagreement. Dialogue encourages openness and sharing of opinions so that disagreements can be productive.

6. Be friends

Working toward a common purpose or enjoying an activity together promotes bonding and emotional safety and provides an environment for good sexual relations. Identify some common goals and interests to pursue together.

7. Identify your own thorns

Our partners’ relationship thorns are always more glaring to us than our own. Rather than zeroing in on your partner’s flaws, focus on your own. How do you emotionally jab your partner? What do you do to contribute to your relationship problems? Honest answers to these questions can often give you a more balanced view.

8. Assess how your career affects your relationship

It is simplistic to think that a family physician can completely separate his or her personal and professional relationships. One inevitably affects the other, and both require sacrifices. To assess whether you’re sacrificing too much of your personal relationship for your work, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I need to create better boundaries between my work life and home life?

  • Do I let my significant other know about the demands of my work so he or she can understand what I’m facing?

  • Do I expect my partner to respond to my requests like my employees do?

  • How much energy am I able to bring to my relationship?

What really matters

Life has a way of distracting us from what’s really important. Don’t let it. Instead, sit down with your partner and discuss the two articles from this series to see what you can do together to bring better balance to your relationship. It might just be what the doctor’s partner ordered!

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