3 Ways to Overcome Relationship Difficulties with Doing Talk

During relationship difficulties we often blame our partner and look to change who she or he is as a person. We want to change their intentions, their feelings, and their perceptions.

Remember the famous line “I want you to want to do the dishes”?

This is a perfect example of trying to change what someone wants. It wasn’t enough for this person to do the dishes, he also had to want to do them.

During relationship difficulties we often blame our partners and complain about them in very vague, unhelpful ways.


“You’re such a jerk. You never respect me. You need to learn how to show me some respect.”

“You’re so selfish.  You never do anything I want. You always think of yourself first.”

In no way will the above examples help you get what you want from your partner. They will feel blamed and most likely still don’t know how to do what you want.

Trying to change someone else’s personality, intentions or feelings is like trying to teach a cat to bark.  You will always lose in the end.

Separate The Person from The Doing

It is crucial that you are able to separate what your partner does from who he or she is as a person and as a mistake-prone human being. When relationship difficulties arise, we often resort to blaming and judging our partners based on something their doing that we don’t like.

Does what they’re doing in this moment completely erase all their good qualities?

Do you want your partner to completely judge you based on your mistakes or undesirable actions?

Doing Don’ts = How to Talk to Your Partner about what you Don’t Like

We wouldn’t want to discourage you from telling your partner what is bothering you in the relationship. Avoiding problems only makes them worse.

The key to being able to tell your partner what you don’t like is to limit your complaints to only what he or she is doing without criticizing who they are as a person.

When you’re facing relationship difficulties, identify exactly what your partner is DOING that you don’t like. Be very specific about what actions he or she is doing, or not doing, that you would like to see change.

Limit your Doing Don’ts to actions only. Imagine your partner on a movie screen and identify only the actions you can see or hear on the movie screen that you don’t like.

Catch yourself when you’re describing your partner in very unspecific terms such as:

  • selfish
  • disrespectful
  • unloving
  • mean

Take any of your descriptions apart and turn them into specific actions. So instead of telling your partner he or she is selfish, take it apart and describe how you believe your partner “does” selfish.

Ex. I don’t like it when I come home and you ignore me, continue watching television and immediately ask what’s for dinner in a demanding tone of voice.

Keep your Doing don’ts specific, actionable and simple so your partner knows exactly what actions you don’t like.

Doing Wants = Tell Your Partner Exactly What You Want

Doing Wants are what you would specifically like to see your partner doing instead of you’re doing don’ts. Doing wants are similar to doing don’ts in that you only tell your partner what you would like to see them do or say.

Doing wants are not used to tell your partner to change their insides, how they feel, or what they desire.  Again stick to what you want them to DO that you could see or hear on a movie screen.

So, if you’re thinking I want my partner to give me more attention — Get specific. What would giving you more attention look like to you? How can your partner DO “more attention”? Then let your partner know these specific actions.

Remember our very specific doing don’t —

Ex. I don’t like it when I come home and you ignore me, continue watching television and immediately ask what’s for dinner in a demanding tone of voice.

You could follow this up with a Doing Want:

Ex. I would like it if you would put down the remote, shut off the television, give me a kiss and say something like any ideas for dinner in a non-demanding loving tone of voice.

Also, doing wants are merely requests. You are telling your partner what you like and what works for you. That doesn’t necessarily mean he or she will be able, to or even want, to do it. Doing wants are best delivered in a non-demanding and loving attitude.

Doing Praise = Catching Your Partner in the Act

It’s helpful if you not only tell your partner what you want them to change but also what you like that he or she is doing.

Doing Praise might be the most important of all these concepts.  Look for moments when you can catch your partner DOING something you appreciate. Look for mundane, taken for granted actions to praise your partner for.

Do you want to clean the cat box or cook dinner?

Tell your partner that you noticed and really liked it that he or she cleaned the cat box or made a delicious dinner instead of just expecting it.  Also, if you catch your partner in the act of one of your Doing Wants let him or her know you noticed and appreciate it even if it wasn’t perfect.

Overcome Relationship Difficulties by focusing on DOING

Remember that when you have relationship difficulties take your target off your partner’s back and put it on his or her specific actions that you’d like to see change with Doing Don’ts. Next tell your partner your Doing Wants or what you want them to do instead in very specific, action oriented terms. Finally, look for opportunities for Doing Praise or to tell your partner that you like what he or she is doing.

Say Yes to Love,

Dr. Michael Arn & Dr. Ashley Arn