1 surefire way to improve your relationship

Awhile back, I began coaching an entrepreneur named Heidi – a successful, confident interior designer who just couldn’t figure out why her marriage was a mess.

“I don’t get it!” she said, pacing around my office. For someone who sounded so baffled, she looked incredibly put together – stylish heels, tailored suit, waves upon waves of blonde hair. “My partner and I just can’t seem to make it work. We’re going to therapy, and I’m trying everything our therapist says – we’re communicating more, I’m visualizing, I’m even meditating. But we still can’t seem to stop fighting. I’m at the end of my rope.” She stopped pacing at looked at me imploringly. “Can you help?”

“Tell me about the relationship you want.” I said, and she reeled off a list of things.

“Good communication. Love. Intimacy. Trust,” she said breezily, like she knew the right answer and had given it a dozen times before. “Fun, laughter, lightness.”

“What does that look like?”

We kept digging deeper down the road of visualization – until we struck gold.

Well, coaching gold. That is, I understood why the work she was doing wasn’t working.

I stopped her in the middle of a long description about a vacation she envisioned taking with her hubby.

“Who are you in that?” I asked.

She looked at me, confused. “What do you mean?”

“On this vacation that you’re describing,” I said. “You’re describing what you want the two of you to be doing, what you want him to say and do – but what about you?”

I could tell I had her attention, so I went on, “How do you act, in this ideal version of your marriage? What do you believe? How do you carry yourself?”

Heidi thought for a minute, and then said quietly, “I’m not sure. I’ve never thought about that before.”

Our time was up, so I sent Heidi off with some homework – to go for a run the next morning (her favorite ritual, she told me) and ask herself those questions.

The following week, she came back.

“I’m having trouble answering those questions, Sonia,” she said. “I don’t know how I act in my ideal marriage, because I’ve tried – or at least, I thought I have. I try to be more, you know, patient and attentive or whatever. And that helps, a little. But maybe…maybe the reason it hasn’t stuck is because I haven’t done it as Heidi – or, as the Heidi I want to be.”

“Tell me about the Heidi you want to be,” I said.

“She’s fun and sexy and confident – but she’s also kind and loving and affectionate and sweet. You know what?” she said, and finally she stopped pacing and looked at me, her eyes blazing with a new discovery. “I just realized something. I haven’t really allowed myself to be that person – the kind, loving one – with Sean. I put on such a strong façade at work – and it’s worked, and I like that version of me – that I’ve started bringing that person home with me. I think that’s impacted my marriage.”

She went on, “No wonder our relationship is struggling. I’m not showing up as a wife – I’m acting like I’m its CEO!”

There was so much energy and truth in what she was saying that I couldn’t help but smile. “So what would it look like if you were to show up as a wife, not CEO?” I said. 

“Well,” she said, resuming her pacing. “I think it’s still important that I’m me. I’m a loud, self-assured, fiery kind of person. That’s just who I am. But…I need to be vulnerable. To let Sean see my, well, my more feminine side, in the sense of being tender and affectionate and, well softer. Sweeter.”

“What would that look like?” I said.

“Oh boy,” said Heidi. “My patterns are so ingrained…it’s hard to even imagine. But I want to…I want to do things for him, rather than boss him around. Tell him what I’m feeling without trying to solve it right away…Ask him how he’s feeling without trying to solve it right away.” She gave me a wry smile. “This might take some practice,” she said.

We spent some time exploring what this new, softer Heidi looked like, how she acted, what she believed and how she carried herself. Over the next few weeks, she brought that version of herself home, and she intentionally stepped into that version whenever she and Sean spent time together. It was hard at first, for exactly the reasons she said – their patterns were so ingrained – but with practice, and after visualizing who she was in her marriage every morning on her run, it began to feel more natural.

And over time, their marriage improved. Within a couple months, she reported back to me and said that not only was their relationship better – but also, she felt better.

“I can relax more,” she said, and I could hear it in her voice – a softer, sweeter side. “My stress levels have gone down, and I’ve felt my relationship with Sean has really deepened. I feel like I’m exploring a side of myself that had gone dormant. But she needed to come back, not only for Sean, but for me.”

When you look at your ideal relationship – whether it’s with your longtime partner, or someone you haven’t met yet – who are you in that?

So often, we visualize the perfect marriage by imagining what we want the other person to do. And that can be beneficial in helping us find or connect with our ideal partner, so that’s not a bad thing. But it’s equally important to visualize ourselves. Who we are. How we act. How we feel.

Those things are key, because when we visualize them – when we understand our role in the relationship – we can more fully step into that version of ourselves. Sometimes, that entails a dramatic shift; other times, it’s subtle. Either way, it will influence our actions as well as the energy that we bring to the table – and that’s hugely important.

Who are you in our ideal relationship?

Are you confident, bold, sexy?

Are you affectionate, sweet, tender?

Are you all those things?

How do you want to feel around the person you’re with? How do you carry yourself around them?

The more you can step into that person now, the more that will come alive for you – and the relationship you’re meant for will follow.


There’s one more aspect of this concept that’s extremely powerful.

Heidi discovered, a few weeks into her new visualization tactic, that she’d been expecting Sean to bring all the affection and romance to the table. Sure, she wanted to feel relaxed and loved and cared for – but she wasn’t doing any of that herself. Instead, she’d put it all on him to initiate conversation and intimacy. As a result, she was overly dependent on him for a huge part of their relationship, yet she’d all but given up trying to get it.

When we realized this, I led her through an exercise that both illustrated and began to change that.

“I want you to imagine what you’re wanting from Sean,” I said. She was standing with her eyes closed, and I saw her shoulders tense up, her face take on a slight frown, as she imagined this. “What do you expect or want from him, that would make you feel the way you want to feel?”

She thought, then nodded, which I knew meant she had the answer in her mind.

“Imagine Sean standing here in the room with you. You’ve given him that responsibility, and that’s not serving you. So I want you to take it back. Open up your hands and physically take it into your hands.”

As she mimed taking back that responsibility from Sean, I saw her shoulders relax and her face soften.

“There. It’s yours now,” I said, and she smiled.

So many of us expect our partner to make us feel whole. We give them the responsibility of making us feel better, feel complete, feel loved and cared for. And in doing so, we tend to give away our own power.

I saw this recently with another friend and client who told me she’d put the expectation of exercise on her partner, Jake. “He and I agreed that we’d get into running together,” she told me, “which was great! I was all excited both to get in better shape, and to do it with him. But what happened was, I basically gave him the responsibility of me doing it. When I didn’t go for a run, it’s like it was his fault. I had to take that back.”

This kind of thing happens all the time, and it undermines both our relationships and our own self-worth. Yet it can be subtle – so it’s important to recognize it when it happens.

Where might that be showing up in your life?

Is there a way that you’ve given away your own power by putting expectations on someone else?

Sure, other people can help us feel loved and whole and nourished. But ultimately, those are interior needs – not exterior ones – that can only be met when we take responsibility for them. When we put unfair or unrealistic expectations on another person, we set that relationship up for problems. When we take our responsibility for ourselves back, both people involved are more free to be and care for themselves – which makes them more capable of giving themselves fully in the relationship.

Go out, see yourself as you want to be, and shine.

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