Double-Check What Makes Your Partner Tick

Dr. John Gottman believes that couples familiar with one another’s lives have happier and more stable relationships. This familiarity can prove helpful when a couple encounters a stressful event, life transition or conflict. One way to stay familiar with your partner’s life is to stay up-to-date on their preferences, habits and dreams.

While you may feel you already know the simple things that make your partner tick, our preferences, habits and dreams can often, as time passes, change. It’s so natural to fall into assuming you know what your partner is experiencing or thinking and double-checking those assumptions can be a helpful way to build the connection in your relationship.

Try This:

With your partner, come up with a list of things you think you know or want to know about your partner (e.g., Favorite family member, saddest memory, go-to drink or cocktail). Include things you think you already know about each other and also push yourself to come up with some questions that may be difficult to answer.




Once you have a list of 20-30 items, turn to each other, pick a question, say it aloud and state what you believe your partner would answer. Then check-in with them, “Did I get it right?” Remember, this is not a game with a winner or loser; this is just a fun way to keep-up-to date with your partner.

We are all drawn to reassure.

When someone tells us something that’s hard to hear or that suggests that they’re in pain or upset, it’s natural for us to jump to wanting to fix the issue or to convey that our belief is that everything is (or will be) okay.

But often, when we jump to reassuring or solving, it can feel horrible to the person we love. In sessions, when I ask the person in pain to honestly respond to their partner with how it feels to be reassured, I often hear:

“I’m wrong for feeling this way.”

“You don’t understand.”

“You want me to stop talking about this.”

“You are judging me. (You think I’m silly, stupid, indulgent, crazy…).”

It feels alienating, disconnecting and, sometimes, it can bring up feelings of rejection and shame.


My assignment for you:

The next time someone you love tells you they are hurting, notice your response.

Are you drawn to reassure them?

Do you feel the impulse to tell them that their experience is not your experience?

Do you start problem-solving?

Just try to observe your response – without judgement – and, if you can, take a moment to let your loved one know that you hear them.

You Can’t Always Fix Conflict

According to Psychologist Dan Wile, “When choosing a long-term partner… you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems.”

Having conflict that cannot be fixed does not mean that your relationship is set up to fail. Every single couple is faced with differences that are completely unresolvable.

Your job is to figure out if you want to cope with these problems.

Your job is to figure out if your needs and wants can be met in a relationship with these particular unresolvable problems.

Your job is to acknowledge these unresolvable problems with your partner and then develop strategies to cope with conflict when it appears.

The Messages You Keep (from your family)

I believe that when we were young, we were all told, explicitly and implicitly, what was important. We gained information about highly valued characteristics from our peers, the media and our parents.

As a therapist, I listen carefully to the values my clients have gained from their families as a way of developing a deeper understanding of their identity. With couples, I find that discussions around the differences in family values often provide insight into the places where each couple feels most stuck.

Have you ever taken a look at the characteristics highly valued by your family?

Below is an exercise that may help you start this process. It’s pretty quick and easy. You can do it alone or with your partner.

Family Values Exercise

Adapted from The Emotionally Absent Mother by J. Cori

While reading through this list, note the characteristics that you remember as highly valued by your family when you were a child.

  • Intelligence

  • Mastery and achievement

  • Sweetness

  • Innocence

  • Delicacy

  • Sensitivity

  • Hardiness

  • Humor and silliness

  • Being tough

  • Being affectionate

  • Being confident

  • Multicultural Awareness

  • Needing others

  • Showing confidence

  • Being present in your body

  • Enjoying your contact with nature

  • Being attractive

  • Helping Behaviors

  • Expression of feelings

  • Imagination and creativity

  • Discussing differences between family members



Which of these qualities were disregarded, almost as if they didn’t exist?



Which of these qualities were mocked or belittled?



What can you see about this? How do you now, as an adult, value the qualities above? How has what your family valued influenced the way you currently live your life?


I’d love to hear your experience with this exercise. Feel free to comment below or email me at


Increase your ability to be heard

People hear better when they aren’t sensing that they are being judged. Your partner is more likely to hear what you are saying if you take out the blame. For example:

When you think of saying: When you leave the dishes in the sink it drives me crazy!
Try saying: When I see dishes in the sink I feel overwhelmed.

When you think of saying: I’m pissed that you didn’t call when you said you would.
Try saying: When plans that we make to communicate don’t happen, I feel hurt and annoyed.

When you think of saying: I hate when you say things like that.
Try saying: Words like that make me feel uncomfortable and attacked.

The same goes for expressing needs. Sure, it is completely valid to say to your partner, “I need you to do …,” or “I need … from you.” However, if you are feeling distant from your partner you may want to try framing your needs in a way that stays completely focused on you.

When you think of saying: I need you to stop being such a slob.
Try saying: I need there to be days where the kitchen sink is completely clean.

When you think of saying: I need you to call me when you say you will.
Try saying: I need my calls to be returned.

When you think of saying: I need you to stop insulting me.
Try saying: I need to feel safe in this relationship.

Try it next time you want to express your feelings or needs to your partner and see how it works.

Feelings? What feelings?

FeelingWordPictureMany of us develop ways of minimizing our feelings. Many of us are downright pros at tuning them out. Sometimes they seem irrational, childish or in the way. People often worry that expressing their feelings and needs will hurt their partner, make them angry or make no difference at all

But they’re there – even when we want to ignore them.

Talking honestly with your partner will become much easier if you begin to acknowledge your feelings and needs to yourself. This might be something that sounds pretty easy for you or it may sound totally impossible. Either way, I encourage you to think through the following questions:

  • How do you feel about your relationship right now? If your first response is fineokay, or good/bad, try digging for a feeling word that has more color to it.


  • What needs do you have that are satisfied in this relationship? What needs do you believe are not being met? How do you feel about that?


  • Growing up, how did people in your family and community communicate their needs? What was that like for you?


Try not to judge your answers to these questions. Just notice your thoughts and feelings.


Try this

Smith Magazine had people describe their story of love or loss by using only six words. Can you describe your love using 6 words? What would those words be?