Wondering how to be a supportive partner? Whether you’re looking for a lifelong relationship or are already in one, here are the best ways I know to keep a relationship strong and thriving.
Imagine this: Your life is a show. You are the star. Your home is the set, and your friends are your supporting characters. And that person you come home to? Meet your co-star. I outline this concept of “Life at Performance Level” in my keynote, but today, I want to do a deep dive into the makings of a relationship at performance level.
As you cast your show, there is no one more important than your co-star, the person who plays the biggest supporting role in your show, while you do the same for their show.
For many of us, this will be our spouse, our partner or the one we promise to spend the rest of our lives with. Because our relationship with our partner is the most important relationship in our lives, it can also be the hardest to navigate. What if you’re crowding each other out on the stage? What if only one of you is performing while the other is left waiting in the wings? Here’s what I know about how the best partnerships work.
1. Share the stage.
Your co-star should be willing to share the stage in an unending passion to make your show better, and you should have that same passion for your co-star’s show. Instead of trying to upstage each other, you should be devoted to each other’s performance, relying on one another for understanding, comfort and honesty.
Putting either of your dreams on the back burner while you focus on making one person’s dreams a reality is fine (and sometimes the best thing for your relationship and your future), as long as you discuss it, both agree to it and promise that it’s for a limited amount of time. But if you don’t ever allow your mate to shine, their spotlight might burn out forever.
2. Write your script together.
A candlelit dinner is romantic, but do you know what’s more romantic? Sitting down and intentionally creating the life of your dreams.
When you enter into a life partnership with someone else, this isn’t just your life or your show anymore. You each have scripts in your heads that determine the decisions you make, but in order to make your partnership work, you need to verbalize what those scripts are and write a new one together.
This is especially important if you spend large amounts of time apart, whether one of you is deployed in the military, performing on a national tour, or just working a job with a demanding travel schedule. When this happens, you are both writing a chapter of your life on your own—not just the person who is away.
When you’re reunited, take time to share your new chapters. Listen keenly to one another, understanding the challenges and new experiences you’ve both encountered over your time apart. Only then are you able to fully understand each other so that you can effectively write your next chapter together.
I recommend using a good old fashioned pen and paper to write down your 5-year goals and then break that into smaller month-long goals. To get the most out of this process, go through my all-new free Write a New Script eBook as a couple!
3. Develop your characters.
All relationships work best when people have a strong sense of who they are individually. While a lifelong relationship necessarily means your lives will intertwine, it’s still important to have hobbies that are just yours.
Don’t shy away from meaningful trips or personal development opportunities that you do without your significant other. Ultimately, taking time to develop your own character will make you a better partner!
4. Define your roles.
First, let it be said that the roles each partner plays in a relationship will shift and change over the years. Regardless, I still believe it’s important to delegate and define so that no one person is left doing it all. Divide up housework (you mow the lawn, I’ll do the laundry), take turns driving the kids to school, or switch up who cooks each week.
But here’s the key: Once you delegate (and once your partner completes their task) you can’t criticize them if they loaded the dishwasher differently than you would.
5. Keep the romance alive.
I believe that romance in a relationship can last throughout all of your years together. Think bringing the romance back would feel phony? Consider this: Actors and actresses have to bring passion to their show every single night. Maria fell madly in love with Tony in West Side Story last night, and guess what? She’ll do it again tonight!
How did you make him or her fall in love with you? You made them the center of your universe. Why would you stop treating them like the most amazing person on the planet now?
“Acting as if” and bringing your partner flowers or giving them a kiss even when you don’t feel like it isn’t fake—it’s what can bring back those butterflies that brought you together in the first place. Keep dating (even after you’re married!), and I promise your relationship will deepen.
6. Find a champion.
If you’re facing problems in your relationship, don’t be afraid of bringing someone you trust into your conflict. This could be a therapist, a pastor, a rabbi, or an older, wiser married couple. Having someone objective who can listen to both sides of an issue and be a champion for your relationship could help you sort out difficulties that feel insurmountable to the two of you.
And what if you’re single?
If you have yet to find your co-star, you have the privilege and responsibility of choosing a partner that will make your life show better. Write a list of criteria, be it personality, beliefs, or simply how they treat others to give yourself an idea of what you’re looking for in the ideal co-star for your show.
Don’t settle for someone you can be happy with for a time. Hold out for the person you want to be with for 50+ years—that is the ultimate criteria. If he or she doesn’t pass the audition, you need to move on.
And if you’re going through the loss of a relationship, my heart goes out to you. Know that the reason you develop your own character and write your own scripts first is because you are the only person you will wake up with every day of your life. Your costar may make your show better, but the show must (and will) go on without them.
So wherever you are in your love life, single, dating, married, divorced or widowed—may this day be one that you take a step toward the person that you want to be and celebrate love in all its forms every day.
As a speaker and author, Curtis Zimmerman has impacted over one million people with his life-changing messages and award-winning programs. Curtis is an expert at transforming organizations by inspiring individuals to live their lives at performance level.
Want to be inspired? Check out his podcast The Next 24 Hours.