Dear Abby – How can I make my partner put more effort into our relationship…? Do you feel like you’re the one putting in the lion’s share of the effort in your relationship? How can you get your partner to own up and do their fair share? In today’s episode I’ll be answering one of your questions and giving my two cents (and more) about what you should do if you feel like you’re putting in 100% but your partner isn’t meeting you halfway.
Ask Dr. Abby is the advice segment of the Relationships Made Easy podcast. Submit questions to [email protected]. (I keep it anonymous!)
Hi Dr. Abby!
I love listening to your podcasts, I think I have listened to all of them maybe twice… Although I am staying mindful, I am still having some relationship problems and they are because of my own insecurities and frustrations. So here goes nothing … (writing it out will help too)
My boyfriend and I have been together for two and a half years(ish) and we started doing long distance about a year and a half in. He moved to X (it’s somewhere that’s a four-hour drive away)… HOWEVER when I’m home for breaks I am only 1.5 hours from him…
Since I went back to school I have made the drive to see him 99% of the time; he has only come to see me three out of the HUNDREDS of times I went to see him… (he never even drove to come see me when we were 90 minutes away) ….. so I am extremely resentful that he does not come to see me.
His mom also gaslights him into seeing her over the weekend so he has no choice but to obey her and doesn’t come to see me. I never really got upset at this situation until now …. I am disappointed that he does not come to see me, I know how hard it is to take off work but I feel sad because if I was someone he wanted to be with he would make the time to come see me. I also cannot say anything to him about his mother, we are not married… we haven’t been together for 5 years so it’s not my place to tell him to set boundaries and stand up to his mom.
From my point of view I put all the work into the relationship to make it work. I know he loves me, he tells me everyday and constantly makes me feel reassured that we have a strong relationship. Although he never made me doubt him, he still neglects to make me think he wants to put in the effort to make the drive to see me. Maybe men are just lazy but I am tired of using that as an excuse.
Oh, there’s lots to unpack here, so let’s go point by point. There’s going to be some tough love coming to Layla (and you as well, since my guess is that you’ll relate: so get ready).
How can I make my partner put more effort into our relationship?
Point 1: I’m resentful because he only came to see me three out of the hundreds of times I went to see him.
There’s no need to be resentful of him. This is on you. We all do this. We give and give and don’t keep our boundaries and then we’re resentful with the other person. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it 1000 times: “It’s not someone else’s job to keep your boundaries.” You’re not an indentured servant. If you don’t want to go to see him because you think it’s unfair, then don’t go. But you can’t go and then be annoyed and resentful. It doesn’t work that way. YOU ARE NOT A VICTIM!
Also, Layla, you’re keeping score and what do I always say about that? You’re going to lose. Healthy relationships are not transactional. There’s no tit for tat or keeping things even. You do what you do (or don’t do what you don’t want to do) and that’s it. Different people have different capacities so you can’t expect others to act like you do or put what you consider the same amount of effort into the relationship. If you don’t like it, there’s something called a door: walk out of it with all your free will.
Point 2: His mom also gaslights him into seeing her over the weekend so he has no choice but to obey her and doesn’t come to see me.
Nope. Eric isn’t a victim either. If Eric doesn’t have boundaries with his mama, that’s his thing, but don’t let him off the hook with “He has no choice.” That’s a load of bullshit and not true. When ANYONE says they “have” to do something, it’s time to take a step back. Unless you’re being held against your will, you don’t have to do anything.
I used to work with people who were in drug and alcohol treatment because they were “mandated.” They used to say, “I have no choice, I have to be here.” And I got to call bullshit on them too. They had plenty of choices: they could go to jail instead or run away to Canada or go into hiding. There are always choices. Just because you don’t want to do it doesn’t mean there’s not a choice. Eric doesn’t want to stand up to his mother. He likely doesn’t want to upset her: that’s a choice but don’t start using your victim language with him. It doesn’t apply to either of you.
Also, he is absolutely choosing his mom over you. If he’s seeing her and not you, that’s a choice. Do you want to know how you figure out what’s important to people? To figure out what their priorities are? Take a look at where they’re spending their resources like time and money. That’s their top priority. Now, his mother might be a priority because she gets more upset than you if he doesn’t see her so his priority is his peace of mind and getting people off his back. I don’t know. But the proof is in the pudding.
Point 3: I also cannot say anything to him about his mother, we are not married… we haven’t been together for five years so it’s not my place to tell him to set boundaries and stand up to his mom.
I don’t care if you’re together two weeks or married for ten years, it’s NEVER your place to tell others what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their boundaries. We like to tell others what they should do with their boundaries because we’re not holding our own! Layla wants to tell Eric to be better and have boundaries with his mom but (I say with love), who is she to talk? She’s not keeping her boundaries with Eric!!
I know I might sound heartless, but I’m the opposite. I love Layla. I love her so much that I want her to stand up for herself and her needs. I want her to stop being afraid of losing Eric and to start acting the way she really wants.
What would happen if she pulled back LOVINGLY with Eric? What would happen if she just let him know that it was feeling like too much to come visit him all the time so she was going to come less. Not as a “fuck you” but with a loving, open heart. She could say, “Eric, I love you too much to keep driving to you all the time. It’s making me resentful and I don’t want to resent you. So, I’m going to be doing my own thing more. If you want to see me, let’s brainstorm together what might work for both of us. When I want to see you, and it won’t make me upset, I’ll happily make the drive to you.”
Point 4: I know he loves me, he tells me everyday and constantly makes me feel reassured that we have a strong relationship. Although he never made me doubt him, he still neglects to make me think he wants to put in the effort to make the drive to see me. Maybe men are just lazy but I am tired of using that as an excuse.
Layla, Eric loves you. He tells you all the time. He’s telling you the truth. He’s telling you that you have a strong relationship in his eyes. This isn’t about lazy. This is about the meaning you ascribe to him driving to see you. For you, that’s love. Clearly, acts of service is one of your top love languages. It sounds like words of affirmation are his. What if you stopped judging what he’s doing as bad or wrong (or lazy)? What if you accepted that this is him? Maybe he’s not the guy for you – only you know that but what if you were to just accept him as is, without any upgrades or improvements. Maybe this is the best he’s ever going to be. Is that enough?
You’re putting in “all the work” to make it work from your angle. I bet he’d say that he’s putting in work too – it’s just different than what you deem the “right” thing. I’d love for you to have a loving, open conversation with Eric and ask some questions.
Questions to ask your partner:
- When you say we have a strong relationship, what do you mean by that? What’s a strong relationship to you? What are the things you do that make it that way? What are the things I do that make it that way? BE CURIOUS!
- If you had to give our relationship a grade right now, what would it be, and why?
- Can you ask me that same question? And when you answer, Layla, don’t tell Eric what he’s doing wrong – because he’s not doing anything wrong. Instead, tell him what you need and why and see what he says or is willing to do. When you approach him from a place of open curiosity instead of “I’m right and you’re wrong” you’ll likely find some great answers and ideas.
In the end, you need to treat this as a “we” thing, not an “Eric” problem. The two of you together are the solution.
In the beginning, Layla said, “I feel like I’m the one putting all the effort into my relationship. How do I make my partner put more effort into our relationship? How can you get my partner to do their fair share?” Hopefully you’ve found the answer. You don’t get them to do anything. You get yourself to draw boundaries around what you need and take action if those aren’t met. But, you do it all with a loving, curious and open heart. You do it without deciding that you’re right and your partner is wrong. You do it without a screw you and feeling rejected and abandoned, because you do it without ascribing meaning to what your partner is or isn’t doing.
Resources for Happy Relationships
When You Feel Angry and Don’t Know Why
Boundaries: How to Identify Them and How to Hold Them
The Secret to Creating Boundaries Not Walls
How to Practice Loving Detachment
Don’t Keep Score in Relationships
Keeping Score Stops You From Connecting
Signs That Someone is Gaslighting You and What to Do About It