Articles by Alex Ryder, Couple's counselling

How to prioritise your relationship

When I am in relationship counselling with a couple and one or both partners say they feel they’re last on their partner’s list, I know it’s time to talk about priorities.


Sometimes there is emotional hurt involved and reasons the couple are distancing from each other. But often, it is simply a matter of bad habits.

Either way, when you constantly feel second, third or dead last to your partner’s other commitments, the longevity of the relationship might be in question.

Sometimes our priorities are in the wrong order; and sometimes they’re in the right order but life gets the better of us. That’s why I work with couples to build habits that strengthen relationship capital and make their partner feel important and valued.

A common scenario for couples in relationship counselling is that their day-to-day functioning reflects a different order of priorities than what they actually value.

Here is an example of a typical value pyramid, with partner and children as top priorities.

However, on a day to day basis we often behave as if we value things in a different order as demonstrated here in this unbalanced pyramid.

Here, work is often the top priority – we need to work or we won’t get paid. We are often good at giving children what they need and we book in weekly team or sports sessions we won’t miss. Social media provides a distraction from stress and a dopamine reward (like all addiction) whilst unwinding with friends is a nice way to recharge. Unfortunately, often our partner is left with whatever time we have left at the end of all that.

This scenario is often an unintended consequence of living with the demands of modern life. However, the result is that people are often getting the least-best version of their partner by the time they get to see them.

Okay, so the least best version of you might still be quite good! But that’s not how humans measure things. We measure by comparison. So if your partner consistently sees you putting more effort, more attention, more love into everything else in your life they will start to feel secondary.

At those times, you will be drawing down on relationship capital. The goodwill that was present in the relationship will be used up. And you are now in strife for two reasons:
  1. Very few relationships last when your partner consistently feels second to anyone or anything
  2. Living a life that is incongruent with your values is exhausting, and will leave you feeling unfulfilled. When you are suffering, your relationship will suffer.

It is therefore important to build up relationship capital in advance.

Here are some tips to do that.
  • Schedule time for you and your partner at the start of the week. Book this in your diary like an appointment so you don’t schedule something else in.
  • Organise a baby-sitter for one night a week so you can spend a night alone together.
  • Speak to your partner and acknowledge when you have been busy and your priorities have slipped.
  • Life has endless demands. If you don’t plan ahead to ensure you are spending time on what matters to you, you will miss out on what matters to you.
  • Ask yourself: Do I need to make some changes in terms of where I spend my time and energy?

If your partner is not ranking in your top one or two priorities in life they may be missing a feeling of being valued. By comparison, they may feel more valued at work, or as a parent, and so they might start focusing their time there, instead of on your relationship. At this point your relationship may start to suffer.

  • Think about what would happen if you got very ill. What would you value as most important at that time?
  • Ensure your partner knows you value them. Tell them this AND show them this by prioritising their needs. People feel valued when you take on their needs and help them meet them.
  • Ask your partner how they know that you love them. For example, some people feel loved if their partner buys them things. Others feel loved if dinner is cooked for them. Others it’s about affection, or the words themselves – ‘I love you’. Focus your efforts on the things that are meaningful for your partner.
  • Think about what is going on for them at the moment. Can you help them achieve one of their goals, or take on some of their load for the week so they can focus on something that they have wanted to do for a while?

The key here is to step back so you can see the forest for the trees.

Living by your values is not only important for your relationship, but also for your own fulfillment in life. The only way to ensure this happens is to plan for it in advance and schedule it.

Couples counselling is a good way to get perspective, and get your relationship back on track. It will help you recognise the patterns that have become habits in your relationship and to help you rebuild relationship capital and feel valued in your relationship.

If you feel you could benefit from counselling and gain clarity over your relationship priorities, contact Sydney Couples and Family Specialists on 02 8968 9397.

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