As an experienced couple therapist, I often hear complaints from clients that their partner does not put them first. Hurt partners say things like, “I feel like I come after his friends, the children, and his family. He even puts the dog before me!” At times this can feel like your married life or relationship is unbearable, especially if you are putting your partner first.
It’s hard to be happy in a relationship where you don’t feel like a priority. Maybe you are spending quality time together, or other people’s needs (family, friends, kids) come before your own. Maybe think you’ve tried everything and whatever you do is of no use. Now what? Here are 8 ways to get your loved one to put you first!
1. Talk to them
I know this sounds obvious to some, but if you don’t feel like a priority with your spouse then the first step is to communicate with them about it. And I do mean talk, not yell, not nag, not manipulate. Partners never react well when approached in a negative manner. Whatever you do, be positive and kind when you start the conversation.
Having a calm, respectful conversation is the first step in getting any of your needs met, whether it be from your family or from your partner. You cannot expect to get respect if you don’t show it. If you want to be at the top of their priorities, here’s how to have the conversation.
First, do not pick a time when one of you is stressed out or upset. Next, start with a positive ask, using an I statement. For example, “I would like it if you would prioritize my feelings and needs when you make decisions.”
Once you’ve stated your positive ask, communicate about your feelings. This can look like; “When you tell me that your mother is your top priority I feel unlovable. If you talked with me before you make decisions then I would feel like I’m important to you and that would make me feel safe.”
You can also ask your partner about their priorities. This especially helps to know if they’ve changed over the course of the relationship or since you got married.
For other conversational tips, please see the article on communication exercises for couples.
2. Set expectations
You may have to tell your spouse or partner what it means to you to be a priority to them. I know, I know, it seems obvious. But, your partner may think you already are a priority for them. They’re just not showing it, or not showing it in the way you would like.
Expectation setting is something that she happen in all relationships. When I do premarital counseling with couple we work to have them set expectations with each other before the marriage takes place.
Communication of expectations needs to be clear. For instance, instead of saying, “I want you to make me feel like I’m a priority over your family.” You can say, “When you go out with your family without talking to me about it first, I feel like your family comes first. I want you to spend time with them, but I want communication from you about when you would like to go out before you make plans.”
Expectations should also be realistic. You can expect your spouse to communicate to you before taking a promotion that requires a shift change. You can’t expect them to stay home from work because you’re in a bad mood and want them to cheer you up. The first is treating you like a priority. The second is control and can be considered abusive.
3. Take care of yourself
Are you one of those people who takes care of everyone? Do you put everyone else’s needs above your own? If you don’t treat yourself like a priority, then how can you expect to be treated that way by your relationship partner?
Make sure you spend time doing things you enjoy. Spend time with friends and family. Work on your own happiness and sense of self. It’s definitely worth spending the time on your own happiness.
If you don’t take care of yourself, stress will overwhelm you. If you don’t take care of yourself then you are also opening yourself up for emotional issues and upset. It really is true that you need to treat yourself with love in order to receive love from others. Putting your needs in the appropriate priority helps you have a stronger marriage or relationship.
If you do take care of yourself, your marriage or romantic relationship will be stronger. Your physical and mental health will be better. Your relationship with your friends and family will be healthier. And if you have kids, you will teach them by example how to take care of themselves in a relationship, and not just others.
4. Set healthy boundaries
Boundaries language is all the rage these days. There are books about it, articles about it, and people use the term in casual conversation. But do you really set them? And if you do, are they enforced?
A boundary is meant to protect your emotional and physical safety and your own personal space. It is not meant as a way to control someone else.
A good boundary looks like, “I don’t accept cheating in my relationships.” It is meant to protect your emotional space. Notice you aren’t telling someone they can’t sleep with another person. You are saying you won’t have a relationship with someone who does.
Finally, if you set a boundary and don’t enforce it, it’s pointless. In the above example, if your partner cheats and you do nothing, your boundary is useless.
Just a note, if you set boundaries in the relationship early, then it helps you screen out people you should not be in a relationship with. It also helps nip bad behaviors in the bud before they become bad habits.
5. Stop taking care of them
Earlier I talked about taking care of yourself. But are you taking care of your partner?
Now caring for someone and helping or supporting them is not a bad thing. But there’s a difference between that and taking care of them.
If you are treating your partner like a child, like they are inept, or unable to care for themself, then this is a problem. At times, you can even train them to act helpless if you continue to treat them that way!
It’s also a big red flag if you are doing more for them than they do for you. It’s ok, for instance if one partner likes to do the in the house work, and the other likes to do all the outdoor work. It’s cool if one does the budgeting and another does the grocery shopping.
Where you get into problems is when you find yourself cooking for them as if they are unable, writing and rewriting their resume, being the person to wake them up in the morning, or otherwise doing things because they can’t (read won’t).
If you are taking care of your partner like they are a child, they cannot make you a priority. You will also never feel like a priority if you are doing all the work in the relationship. Start treating them like they’re a capable adult, and let them make mistakes. Eventually, they will get it together, or you’ll realize that you’re in an uneven relationship.
6. Give what you get
In the discussion of boundaries we mentioned uneven relationships. These are relationships where one person contributes much more to a relationship than the other partner does. If this sounds like you, it could be possible that your giving too much is keeping your partner from making you a priority.
Some people give to the ones they love in a way that is too much, too soon, or inappropriate for the type of relationship. Knowing when not to give shows more love than giving without thought.
Giving when your relationship partner does not reciprocate can stunt the growth of love and even enable bad behavior. This is often not a sign of love, but a codependent relationship.
If you are experiencing this imbalance in your relationships, then it is time to think things through. Give to your partner like they give to you. Back off a bit and allow them to catch up.
7. Get rid of your negative patterns
Every relationship has patterns. Some relationships get stuck in negative patterns and don’t seem to be able to get out of them. The first thing to do here is examine your marriage or relationship and determine what your negative patterns are.
Once you’ve determined what the negative patterns are in your marriage or relationship, then you can work on ending them. The quickest way to remove a negative pattern is to do something, anything different.
Interrupting your negative cycles can lead to more happiness and help the relationship head in a positive direction. A big reason that people don’t change this negative spiral is that they wait for their partner to change first, to show more respect or spend more time with them. This does not help. Someone has to be the first one to change. And no positive change is ever wasted.
8. Go to couples therapy
Sometimes, no matter what you do, it seems like nothing changes. You value the relationship and want to create one that is healthy, happy and stands the test of time. You want to feel less alone, and like you and your partner respect each other. You also want to put each other first.
When you’ve tried your best, and your partner still isn’t putting you first, then it’s time to get the help of a therapist. A therapist can help you understand exactly what is going wrong in your relationship. Whether it he a lack of quality time, missing date nights, how you spend your free time, or even family, friends and kids brought into the middle of the relationship.
Couples counseling can help you get connected with your partner again, and help them to put you first. It can also help you with sexual problems. If kids and parents are part of the issue, sometimes family therapy can be ideal.
A trained therapist can help you to reset your priorities and provide the focus and support that you need to change your relationship. If you would like to talk to a therapist, you can call us at 614-245-5119 or contact us through the website.