All relationships have ups and downs. During down periods, it’s so easy to find flaws in your partner. “He always…” and “Why can’t she just…” frequently come up in our thoughts or conversations as an explanation for the struggles. However. if you want to have a healthy relationship, you need to look inward first. Here’s why this should be your first step:

Evaluate your performance: Be honest with yourself, are you being the best partner possible? If you engage in unhealthy relationship behaviors (e.g. unfair fighting, avoiding addressing issues, putting in minimal effort, etc.), then how can you evaluate your partner? What if your partner were responding to engaged, appreciative and kind behaviors instead of avoidance or criticism?

Know your contribution: Whenever there are relationship struggles, each person contributes something. (To clarify, this is not meant to blame victims of abuse or violence.) When you can understand what role you played in the breakdown of a relationship, you can do things differently moving forward (whether in this relationship or the next). For example, if you don’t bring things up until you are resentful and furious, then you need to own your concerns and talk about them earlier. If you pick a fight when you feel vulnerable, then you need to learn how to tolerate vulnerability and ask for what you need in a healthier way.

Are there patterns? When you recognize your contribution, it can be helpful to understand if this is part of a larger pattern for you. Is this how you are with friends? In past relationships? If you always avoid conflict, breaking up the current relationship is only a temporary solution because you will simply re-create this pattern in your next relationship. If the goal is healthy relationships, then the solution is to fully understand your patterns so you can respond differently moving forward.

Get input: We all have blind spots. Sometimes a trusted friend is enough to point out a destructive pattern. Other times, people prefer therapy as a place to sort through these patterns in a warm, non-judgmental relationship. Either way, sometimes others can see things that we might be missing.

Once you have become the best partner you can be and worked to understand your contributions to any relationship issues, then you are in a much better position to evaluate if this is a relationship you want to continue. These are skills that will help you in your current or future relationships to create a good foundation for intimacy.