“When you change the way you see things, the things you see change.” —Anonymous

One of the most common sources of miscommunication and tension in relationships is a transactional mindset.

This can look like “I do more than you,” “I earn more than you,” “My work is more stressful than yours,” “I spent more of my money than you did,” or “I put more effort into the relationship than you.”

This mindset always leads to the “you owe me one” judgment. One person in the couple is always “less than,” and in transactional relationships the pendulum can keep swinging back and forth depending on the issue.

This is a constricting mindset of lack. We can never win in the long run when we argue about the way things should be. Our own internal narrative is only half of the relationship equation.

What will bring you ease and connection, conversely, is the mindset of abundance. This can sound like compassion: “I can give to you,” “I can comfort you,” “I can do my part to create more tranquility peace and happiness by helping you feel safe and secure.”

This involves empathy, too: “Sounds like you had a stressful day.” “That must be hard.” “I really hear you.” “I see you’re hurting right now.”

What we want to practice is stepping out of our own bubble and leaning into our partner’s heart and mind. Here, even silence can be a powerful, compassionate response. Loving touch, steady eye contact, and gentle tone of voice are other important ways to show compassion.

Appreciation is another key component of an abundance mindset: “I appreciate how hard you worked.” “I appreciate how you helped me with the kids.”

It’s crucial to appreciate each other’s intentions. Often our delivery is sloppy; we arrive late; we slip and say something wrong; we forget all over the place. But appreciating our partner’s good intentions (where we can!) cuts through our own critical mindset. Everything is not lost, and we create a climate of trust and acceptance where our partner is more open to modifying a behavior and learning a better response. When we give appreciation, we look through a wider, more generous lens, rather than a narrow, reductionist fine-toothed comb.

Want to strengthen your abundance mindset? Try this practice: spend 10 minutes a day with your partner and take turns sharing things you appreciate about each other. This is an even higher level of appreciation, as it is a heartfelt “I appreciate you as a person.”

The abundance mindset is an invitation to give, and give, and give even more to one another. By doing so, we create a new spaciousness for our partner to grow and our relationship to flourish.

Jan Yaffe, couples therapist in San Francisco, CA
Jan Yaffe, MFT

Jan has been seeing couples for over 25 years and continues to find couples therapy challenging, dynamic, and deeply fulfilling. She is a warm, engaging therapist who helps couples feel valued and safe while encouraging them to expand their comfort zone, challenge habitual ways of thinking and reacting, and find new ways to relate to one another. When two partners can truly empathize with each other, they pave the way for authentic communication.