Building a 'Good Relationship' story

Hilary Smith

Hilary Smith is a writer with Relationships Aotearoa and an experienced counsellor.

Hearing about an event from a really good storyteller can feel more exciting than being there yourself. And if you were there you start to wonder how come the storyteller had so much more fun than you did?


It's about what you choose to notice and how much weight you give to things. The good storyteller has got into the habit of noticing the aspects of a situation that make for humour or excitement. The act of noticing helps the storyteller to feel the excitement more, and to remember it.

We tell stories about our relationships through the things we notice enough to mention to others or to focus on ourselves. Say your relationship story is about how your partner never does any housework and leaves it all up to you. Every time you do the dishes you tell yourself this story you might have conversations in your head about it being 17 days since they washed a dish.

When that story becomes very familiar, it attracts similar stories. So you start to really notice that your partner hasn't shopped for two weeks or cooked a decent meal in ages, let alone turned on that vacuum or cleaned the bath. These become the things you notice, the things you look for in your relationship.

In the very same relationship it could be that your partner consistently backs you up when the kids challenge you. It might be that they encourage you about your work, or that they notice when you're tired and bring you a cup of tea. Chances are, if this isn't part of your story, these things will pass you by before you really register them.

You'll know they happened, but they won't be what you dwell on, or what you think about when your relationship comes to mind.

The thing is, you can choose what your story about your relationship will be. In fact you already do. And you can decide to change your story if you think the current one isn't working that well for you. You can decide to build a story about what you enjoy in your relationship.

Pick a period of time you spend together and make yourself a list of all the possible good relationship stories that your interactions suggest. Look for examples of behaviour that support the stories you like.

One way to help yourself notice examples about your good relationship story is to draw them to your partner's attention. "Thanks for backing me up with the kids, it really helps me when you do that, I like it."

You could tell your partner what you're doing and invite them to join you. Make it a game that you share. The more you notice examples of your good relationship story the stronger it becomes and the more good things you will notice.

Building a good relationship story might not get your partner to do the dishes, though it might make that an easier issue to sort out. What a good relationship story will do is help you both to enjoy the things that are enjoyable about being together.

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  • Wice says

    This is sound advice which I know, from personal experience, works.

    The first point is whether it is your partner, children or work colleagues, praising them for what they do is so much more effective than nagging them to change their negative behaviour. It is a lesson we all need to be reminded about on a regular basis.

    The second point made is about changing your mindset. If you can just take a different perspective then what irks you can become something positive.

    A story which illustrates this perfectly was one day when I took my small children supermarket. I was dead tired and pushing my supermarket around. My son was sitting quietly in the trolley basket but my daughter was running around like a looney, singing at the top of her voice. I wanted her to stop but didn’t have the energy to do anything much at all. From sheer frustration I was ready to give up shopping altogether when an old man came up to me. He said "What beautiful a beautiful, happy daughter you have. It must make you feel really proud!". I looked at her, and yes, suddenly I was!
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