In our graduate school program, It was recommended that we, “sit on the other side of the sofa” for at least a year. This was to give us the benefit of what it would feel like to be in therapy ourselves. I decided to follow through with this.
One of the things I learned during my year of therapy was that I had rights. For me, these rights were focused on what I wanted in a relationship with someone else. The first thing I wrote on a piece of paper called, “My bill of rights” was, I have the right to be picky.
I’ve became one to not settle for anything less than someone that adds to my life. My therapist had said she fully believed that if I walked down the aisle one day, I would have what I wanted--because it was pretty apparent that I would not settle. I have the right to be picky.
In this month’s Psychology Today magazine, I found an article by Rebecca Matthes about a bill of rights for couples. This is something that has been touched on in some way, shape, or form coming through my office doors. I thought this article would be valuable to convey the points it makes.
We all know what we’d like to find in another person. We have expectations. But, which expectations are essential for the longevity of a relationship? None of us are perfect, but what does it take to coexist? Can we focus on the positive in another, and work with each other for the benefit of our relationship?
Focus on the positive, and that’s what you’re likely to get. Focus on the negative, and that’s what you’re likely to get. Professor Eli Finkel, author of, The All-Or-Nothing Marriage states,
The points or, “rights” that follow, according to Eli Finkel, who has focused much on American marriages, is how the best of marriages work.
You have the right to your partner’s attention. Getting attention from your partner is likely to improve your satisfaction within your relationship. A 2017 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that on the day people’s partners supported them, or said something that made them feel loved, people reported higher relationship quality. “Happy wife, happy life”? It goes both ways. I have a friend who’s wife just started a new career venture, and is diligently working at it. He makes a point to be home after she’s had a long day so they can have dinner together. I’ve often ran into him in the grocery store rushing to get last-minute meal items home to his wife. He says he’s happy she’s found something she likes doing. I know they’re a happy couple.
If your partner is not naturally attentive, it may help to explain to them the attention you need. Be sure to give them positive feedback when you get it. If your schedule is busy, like my friend and his wife above, engineer some time together where you have time to sit down and talk with each other. Finkel also found that couples that engage in leisure activities together, such as sports, outdoor activities, card games or travel are at a reduced risk of divorce.
You have a right to a partner who will try to work out your differences. Not everything will go perfectly all of the time. Ignoring problems in your relationship will not make them go away. It’s difficult for a relationship to thrive when there are resentments being held onto. Frustrations can lead to sarcastic remarks, criticisms, and increasing inattention to each other’s needs.
Addressing problems as they arise can keep your psychological well-being intact, and ratings of marital quality—especially for women. One study of 205 married couples found that wives who felt their husbands did more emotional work were more satisfied with their relationships.
Some things are a constant for people. You might be an extrovert, and your partner an introvert, for example. But, if you have a talk with your partner, they may not mind if your extroverted self goes out to socialize without them at times.
Can you be upfront and honest with each other about your wants and needs? The best tactic is to communicate with tact, and respect your partner may not be as willing to be as vulnerable and open as you may be. Sometimes, we may need to find a way around another’s defense mechanisms. A discussion where you both end up understanding each other’s needs, and validating those needs for each other shows empathy, understanding, and minimizes conflict.
You have the right to a partner who’ll share the load. To share household tasks is to give many advantages to your relationship. This can cultivate feelings of fairness, teamwork, and overall relationship quality. These feelings of teamwork, communication, cooperation, and shared vision fosters sexual intimacy, which then fosters a partnership based on reciprocity and mutual gratification. This doesn’t mean housework has to be perfectly divided in two. It just means that both feel the division is fair.
Maybe one of you doesn’t mind doing the household chores, and loves cooking, and the other is fulfilled by work and hobbies. As long as you both feel things are fair, you can certainly be happy.
You have the right to honesty about sex. What has been found to matter here is that both partners’ expectations, whatever they are, are met. Two people who sincerely find satisfaction in a sexless relationship are just that, satisfied. If neither expects it, nor seeks it, how they feel about each other isn’t affected.
Sexual needs can change over time, so it’s important to keep lines of communication and compromise open. If things are changing for you, find a comfortable time to talk about your concerns. It could be while relaxing in bed, or maybe over a glass of wine. As long as you have privacy to talk freely with each other, you can gently start a conversation about your needs.
You have the right to affection. As alluded to above, sexual desires may wax or wane over time; but it’s important that affection carries on. Giving and receiving affection—“I love you’s”, and getting physical affection predicts higher marital satisfaction for both men and women. One then feels pleasure, acceptance, happiness or contentment, and a sense of being loved—one of our human needs. Another physiological benefit is that this helps to regulate stress hormones, enhancing well-being.
If you want more affection, ask for it. You could do this by showing more affection, arrange for more opportunities for affection by planning relaxing time together. Be clear about the affection you seek so there is no confusion or misunderstanding.
You have the right to the benefit of the doubt. Growing up, I saw things through rose-colored glasses. I’m finding this to be a positive way to see things today. When couples attribute the best of intentions to each other all the time, idealizing you, and forgiving you relatively easily, you are then more likely to overcome difficulties as they arise.
It’s been found that relationship satisfaction can start falling immediately after, “I do”, but many studies have concluded a prescription for this. Partners that continue to idealize each other experience less decline in satisfaction with their marriage over three years than people that cannot maintain this belief.
It’s in the perception of things. For example, if your partner is late to an important event, you can look at it as they don’t value you, or are being inconsiderate towards you. Or, you could remember that your partner has been overwhelmed with work, and is trying to find balance, and is still getting everything done.
I had a relationship with someone when we were both busy with college coursework. I looked at is as not meaning that they didn’t care about spending time with me. I looked at them as a sanctuary when we were able to see each other on the weekends. I saw value in the quality time we had.
There may be minor flaws like being late, or having responsibilities outside of the relationship. But, if there is a problem that festers over time, with no amends, forgiveness, or issues being discussed and resolved, your relationship will likely suffer. Apologies and amends are a shared responsibility.
You have the right to gratitude. Studies have shown that partners that are grateful for each other feel more satisfied in their relationships. Even if the gratitude just one of you have is on an existential level, or for a simple act of your partner bringing you your favorite drink—both benefit. Gratitude can increase motivation to engage in considerate behaviors.
If you have practices like a gratitude journal, or write down things you’re thankful for, your partner is not obligated to engage in the same practices. Yet, you can prime your partner’s expressions of gratitude by showing your appreciation for them. It’s like modeling the behavior you’d like to see coming from them.
If one or both of you is losing sight of the benefits you bring to each other, think about what life was like before you were with your partner. If they do something like the dishes, or something else you really don’t like doing, try saying, “Hey, you know how much I hate doing that. You’re thoughtful for doing the thing I hate.” With this, you’re thanking them for the person they are. It’s more than a thank you.
What’s important to note here is that gratitude should not be used to gloss over problems such as emotional abuse. It’s not healthy to try to find gratitude because someone did not yell at you today. Nobody should use gratitude to put a band-aid on a relationship that they should be exiting.
If this resonated with you, please feel free to share it with someone else that could benefit, or reach out here if you feel you could benefit from working on your own affirmations.
You can also find daily inspirations, or thought-provoking posts by following me on Instagram under amyenklingcounseling, or on my Facebook page, Amy Enkling Counseling, LLC.
1. You have the right to your partner’s attention.
2. You have a right to a partner who will try to work out your differences.
3. You have the right to a partner who’ll share the load.
4. You have the right to honesty about sex.
5. You have the right to affection.
6. You have the right to the benefit of the doubt.
7. You have the right to gratitude.