5 Ways to Help Your Partner Be Their Best Self
How to use your knowledge of your partner's strengths to help them grow.
Posted November 14, 2019 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
Good relationships help us be the best versions of ourselves. When you know your partner very well, you can use that knowledge to help them grow.
1. Bridge the gap—help them with a step in one of their goals that's difficult for them.
Years ago, my spouse, who is a medical doctor, expressed the desire to do medical volunteer work overseas. However, many options required too long of a volunteering commitment, involved working in very remote areas, or gave no choice about the country of work.
In that scenario, I helped my partner find a very small NGO to work for, which was more flexible than the larger, more well-known options. I'm not likely to do that type of volunteer work myself, but I am good at thinking outside-the-box. Together, we were able to combine our strengths to make that goal a reality.
There are many situations in which your partner may have expressed a desire to achieve a goal, but is stuck with one of the steps. Ask yourself if you have the skills to help them with that step.
This tip takes advantage of the fact that different individuals have different strengths and skillsets, which is a major benefit of being in a long-term relationship. And when you help your partner achieve one of their goals, it shows you're paying attention to and value their happiness, even when your goals aren't shared.
2. Help your partner see their goals in terms of their strengths.
Sometimes we're blind to our own strengths. One way to support your partner is to help them see how their strengths apply to their goals. For instance, if they are struggling with a task, you can remind them of times in the past when they've felt overwhelmed, but worked through it. If your partner feels sensitive about a skill they require (e.g., they need to network, but they don't feel socially confident), you can remind them of the colleagues and contacts they've successfully built good relationships with already.
It helps to be very clear on what your partner's strengths are. For instance, are they diligent and conscientious? Are they willing to take calculated risks? Are they good at engaging with people? Are they good at communicating well with diverse people? When you point out their strengths, it's much more powerful if you can cite specific examples of related instances in which they've used that strength to solve a problem or accomplish a task.
Help your partner see that there is more than one way to accomplish a hard task, and they can approach it using their unique strengths.
3. Pursue a goal together.
Relationships can thrive when you find a challenge you're both interested in and pursue it together. It could be landscaping your backyard, building wealth, converting an old RV for road trips, learning to sail, starting spartan races together, or visiting every state in the country.
Taking on challenging goals creates emotional vulnerability. By pursuing a goal together, you get to support each other through that vulnerability, which deepens trust and closeness and creates share memories.
4. Help your partner see their self-sabotaging thinking habits.
We all have some self-sabotaging thinking habits. For example, a perfectionist might find it hard to make decisions, a pessimist might be dismissive of good opportunities, because they always think of the worst-case scenario, or someone who is impulsive may rush into decisions. When you have a high degree of trust in relationships, it can become OK for one partner to point out when the other person is falling into their particular habitual thinking traps. I wrote about how you get this level of trust in The Healthy Mind Toolkit.
If your partner has depression or anxiety, their thinking tendencies are probably quite characteristic of those conditions: e.g., someone who has anxiety probably avoids situations involving uncertainty and spends so much time thinking about the potential for negative outcomes that they forget to think about the potential for positive ones.
You can also help your partner be more aware of when they might be falling into general thinking biases, like spending too much ongoing money on an item that was a poor purchase, to begin with (the sunk-costs bias). See this huge list of 50 thinking biases.
This potential benefit of being in a long-term, trusting, and very close relationship only works if you're both willing to have your thinking biases pointed out.
5. Be a stable base to help them survive the ups and downs of life.
According to attachment theory, people are more able to explore when they have an attachment figure who is a secure base. If you can be an emotionally balanced and responsive person, your partner will feel more secure about pursuing their goals. Having a secure base can be as simple as knowing that you can come home to someone who is pleased to see you at the end of a rough day, or knowing you have someone to share your successes with who will be excited for you.
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