Check IN before you lash OUT: 5 essential steps to changing your relationship dynamic

By: Laura MacNiven

I sat in a small rural church in Ontario about 5 years ago listening to a minister marry two of my closest friends. I had only been married myself a couple of years then, and I too was asking questions about what long term partnership is all about. She shared some advice that day that has always stuck with me. As I remember it, she looked out at our young crew and said: “A successful marriage takes two people who are both giving 80%. That it is not about each of you giving 50%. It is about both of you giving your all, all the time”

In marriage (especially when ADHD is in the picture), it can be downright exhausting to give your all, all the time. You feel like you are already giving endlessly. And you’re overwhelmed. Often, you look over to your partner and inevitably end up saying, “So what have you done for me, lately?”

And you skip the step of looking inwards, of sorting out your own wants and needs, or the complexity of your own feelings. Instead, you push back, you point your finger and you take it out on the one closest to you. And so you both start to build your cases. You can’t agree on who is the bigger problem. And the real problem is that once the score card is out? You’re in a lose-lose game.

You put the spotlight and focus on everything you are doing (and everything that he or she is not doing), and your partner inevitably does the same. It is often not long before you both feel like you are either walking on egg shells or angrily lashing out.

Now I’m not pretending that your partner is perfect (and none should assume they are, either). I’m saying that convincing yourself you are doing everything right and telling him or her that they are decidedly imperfect is likely not going to make things better either. Our partners all drive us crazy sometimes, and that’s okay. My advice is to consider looking inward before assuming that you are not at least partly responsible for the pain, and perhaps more importantly, whether you are in a position to be part of the solution.

The next time you feel resentment creeping in, and you start to keep score in your mind of all the ways you are a better partner, take a few minutes and answer these five questions. It may just give you the perspective you need:

  1. What needs or wants of mine are not being met? (What is the root of my frustration/anger/disappointment?)
  2. Are these shared or individual needs and wants? (Does my partner share in these goals or interests? Or are they solely mine?)
  3. Which of these wants or needs are in my power to change? (What can I do to make things better?)
  4. What vibe am I bringing to our dynamic? (What is the experience my partner is getting from me?)
  5. If I could do one thing to improve our day to day life together, what would it be? (What part of these issues are in my control?)

Marriage is not about fairness every day. It is not about 50%. It is about giving your all, everyday. Rain or shine. It is about waking up after a tough night and choosing to love and cherish, both yourself and those around you. It is about finding the answers in you for your happiness and choosing to give your partner the benefit of the doubt whenever you can.

If you can break out of a “You vs Me” mentality, you open yourself up to being vulnerable and building self awareness. And If you can put away the boxing gloves, perhaps your partner just might have free hands to catch you when you fall.

Laura MacNiven is a Founder and Director at Springboard Clinic in Toronto, an ADHD assessment and treatment resource

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