Dr. Paul on maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner

What does it mean to be the man or woman of your partner’s dreams? It’s a tall order.

The other day a friend who experienced several deaths in her family this last year sighed and said to me — “At least my husband is the man of my dreams 99% of the time.”

Wow, that’s a high score. Naturally, I wondered how my wife might rate me.

I had to ask her. She took a long pause (which made me nervous) and told me that I was the man of her dreams 96% of the time. I was amazed. I didn’t expect such a high mark. A few days later, I forgot to do something she asked me to do, she remarked, “Watch out buddy, you’re slipping down to 85%.” We both laughed.

What does it mean to be the man or woman of your partner’s dreams? Most of us hope for happiness. We want love, companionship and romance. We want someone who understands us. We hope to find someone who will show up when needed. We imagine a life partner who shares our values and interests. Perhaps we dream about finding our soul mate.

It’s a tall order.

So how do we keep our stock value high with the one we love?

Accept the one you love. Sometimes, opposites can attract. A messy man marries a neatnik. A spender finds a saver. A talker pairs with a listener. We fall in love with someone with a completely different personality. Then we spend the next 20 years trying to get them to be just like us. Our partner’s not a lump of clay that we fashion into the person we want them to be. It’s a package deal. Sometimes the saver learns to spend a little more and the spender learns to save a little along the way. But if they do, they do it because they choose to, not because you try to reform them.

Love the one you love. Affection, intimacy, touch, hugs and kisses are an important part of love. Affection can wax and wane over the years — but don’t go too long without physical expression of your connection.

Grow closer to the one you love. Over time, mutual interests can and do diverge. My wife likes to bike and I’m not wild about riding. Joe likes to play softball and Mary likes to sew. It’s healthy to have separate interests, but it’s important to find common ground. Find interests that you can share. Be willing to do something with your loved one that may not be at the top of your list. It’s spending time together that’s important.

Fight and make up with the one you love. I worry about couples who claim they never argue. Avoiding conflict, especially over important issues, is a recipe for resentment. Find ways of discussing difficult issues when you’re not upset. It’s natural to get frustrated, angry or feel hurt in a relationship.

Inhibit the impulse to make hurtful comments when you’re angry or feel criticized. While you can apologize for making a nasty remark, you can never take harsh words back once they’re uttered. Alcohol has a disinhibiting effect — don’t discuss important matters when you’ve had a couple of drinks.

Don’t use silence as a way of punishing your partner — it’s mean and makes for resentment. Take some time to cool down— but find a way to talk.

Pay attention to the one you love. Turn off your smartphone, your tablet and your computer. Gaze into the eyes of the one you love, giving him or her your complete attention.

Nurture realistic expectations of the one you love. Shoot for the stars but do come down to Earth. No one person can live up to all of your expectations or meet all of your needs. Be reasonable. We are all imperfect human beings, hoping to be the best partner we can be. We learn and grow together with our loved one.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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