When Your Partner No Longer Views You as Their Best Friend
10 ways to revitalize what may have deteriorated in your relationship.
Posted Mar 11, 2020
It’s almost guaranteed that during the hazy glow of courtship each enamored partner assumes they’ve just made a friend for life. But once married, virtually all couples enter the almost inevitable power-struggle phase of their relationship. This is the period where, though unspoken, the unruly competition as to whose wants and needs are to be considered more important or justified rears its ugly matrimonial head.
The couple’s previously optimistic forecast about their undying friendship now comes into doubt. And it’s how their power struggle plays out that determines whether their companionability—or, indeed, the marriage itself—will thrive (or even survive). The reason there are so many self-help books to assist couples in developing the mind-set, knowledge, and skills to resolve their conflicts is that if the two remain polarized it can eventually lead to separation and divorce.
When people fall in love it’s mainly because they’re focused on everything about each other they find attractive. At the same time they take pains to edit out of consciousness whatever in their prospective mate isn’t particularly desirable. So they both enter marriage harboring overly optimistic ideas about their compatibility.
But no matter whom you marry, you can pretty much expect some disillusionment to occur once the honeymoon period has ended. Moreover, if you become preoccupied with the newly-observed disharmonies between you, this discord can spell the demise of your friendship.
So here’s a list of suggestions you and your partner can follow when the viability of your long-term relationship begins to seem questionable. Note that these items all re-focus attention on what brought the two of you together in the first place:
1. Stop taking your partner for granted. Although it’s comforting to feel that your partner’s commitment to you is such that you can rely on them in good times or bad, taking them for granted can be perilous. As I elaborated in an earlier post, such an attitude can lead to showing less gratitude, or thankfulness, for what they contribute to your welfare and well-being. You’re also less likely to be sensitive to their particular wants and needs or to make these needs as important as your own, or to reciprocate their acts of caring. So if your partner seems to be drifting away from you, ask yourself whether your TLC toward them has waned.
2. Speak—and listen—to your partner with caring and concern. The adage: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” is germane here. The tone of your words, more than the words themselves, determine how your spouse feels about your overall mental outlook toward them. So, even when what they did upset you, can you respond diplomatically, with tact and restraint? Even more imperative, can you hear them out with an open mind, endeavoring to see their viewpoint as making personal sense to them, despite it’s differing from your own?
3. Be more ready to apologize and say you’re sorry. Frankly, it doesn’t feel very good to see ourselves as in the wrong. It can reactivate old feelings of vulnerability and self-doubt, which (however unconsciously) we generally keep hidden, both from ourselves and others. Still, whenever you can overcome this (ego) reluctance and take responsibility for an errant behavior, you’ll safeguard the integrity of your marital friendship.
And note to your partner: Be gracious; don’t exploit your mate’s admission to insist they also apologize for other wrongdoings. That may be asking for more than their already heightened sense of vulnerability can tolerate.
4. Be kind—or kinder. Odds are that your acts of kindness were more frequent during courtship than at present. After all, if your future partner had endeared themselves to you, then in order to secure and solidify the relationship, you were driven to prompt them to return your so-enamored feelings. Ask yourself: what are you doing now to help them out or lessen stressors they might be dealing with? It’s one thing to focus on what you may not be getting from them. It’s something quite different, and far more productive, to re-focus on what you’re not giving them—and, with some effort, might well be able to.
5. Be more generous with your compliments. And make sure they’re not “backhanded” (as in, “I appreciate your washing your hands before dinner, but I just can’t understand why you don’t do this regularly”). If you’ve always liked your spouse’s sense of humor, don’t pass up an opportunity to remind them of this. And the same is true of their physical appearance, intelligence, special skills, style, sexiness, etc.
During courtship, you may have taken delight in praising them for their admirable qualities. So get back to doing what probably endeared you to them initially, despite your post-marriage perception of their deficiencies—which, regrettably, you’ve become overly focused on.
6. Show more willingness to compromise. And, for that matter, to make certain sacrifices for them. If, for instance, you like romantic comedies but your spouse prefers action/adventure movies, see whether, periodically, you can get yourself to accommodate their preferences, so they’ll recognize your willingness to occasionally defer to their choices.
Finding ways to be, and share, with your partner what most pleases them will strengthen your relationship because it enables them to feel more cared about and important to you. Moreover, such adaptations increase the chances that, in gratitude, they’ll respond in kind.
7. Try to be more accepting of your partner’s friends and family. This is an area that’s frequently fraught with conflict, for it’s quite possible that your spouse’s friends aren’t individuals you’d ever want to get close to. But remember that your taste in friends isn’t always going to coincide with theirs, and you want them to respect your preferences as much as they want you to respect their own.
Dealing with in-laws can represent even more of a challenge, especially if your spouse’s parents haven’t been particularly warm or welcoming toward you. Although not reacting negatively to these irksome relationships can be difficult, it’s nonetheless necessary to try to accommodate yourself to what, realistically, you’re unlikely to change.
8. Be more physically affectionate. Independent of your sexual relationship, which almost always requires more attention when a relationship is trending southwards, affectionate touch is fundamental to a couple’s sense of intimacy. So when you and your partner are feeling disunited, might that have anything to do with substantially reduced gestures of affection—like hand-holding, love pats, hugs and kisses?
If so, you definitely want to renew these physical demonstrations of caring. And even if you don’t feel quite ready to extend yourself this way, consider doing so anyway. For sometimes it’s only after you exhibit more willingness to touch or hold your partner that former loving feelings toward them begin to return (and theirs for you as well).
9. Make your spouse feel special...as, doubtless, you did during courtship. You can best accomplish this by regularly inquiring about their interests, concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams. As a result, they’ll probably feel closer to you and more comfortable sharing whatever is most relevant, or meaningful, to them. Obviously, we all want to believe that what matters to us will also matter to our mate. Just as in childhood it was crucial for us to feel “primary” to our caretakers, it remains similarly important in adulthood to experience our spouse as regarding us in the same favorable light.
10. Give your partner the message that you accept them unconditionally—as they are, and as they are not. If you’ve been too judgmental, criticizing your spouse whenever they did something that made you uncomfortable, no wonder they’ve distanced themselves. Being criticized can feel almost indistinguishable from being attacked. If, however unconsciously, they’ve come to feel threatened by you, that you’re always finding fault with them or trying to change them, they may no longer feel you’re still their friend—and almost certainly not their best friend.
Consider that during courtship you were probably far more willing to accept—maybe even embrace—their quirks and limitations. That’s why they came to feel safe with you. If you want them to trust that they can again feel at ease in the relationship, it’s essential to convey that you’re actively working on accepting them unreservedly, that you see dissimilar facets of their personality as being just as legitimate, or as worthy, as your own.
And that may be the only way you can expect them to “warm back up” to you. For if the relationship has turned cold, it’s because your judgmental tendencies have compelled them to withdraw from the intimate union you once had—and would now so much like to restore.
© 2020 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.
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