It is a New Year and a great time for self-reflection, growth and making positive changes in our lives! It also becomes a great time to look at our relationships, and see how we can make them more satisfying and stronger. Often, when we reflect on how to improve our relationship we focus on our partner. Haven’t we all made comments like “If only my husband would help more around the house, things would be so much better between us.” Or “If my wife could just be more interested in having sex than sleeping, our relationship would be great!” We erroneously think that in order for our relationship to improve, our partner should be doing things differently.
One of the first concepts we teach couples when they come to our office is “Stages of Relationships” from Imago Relationship Therapy. While it may be at different paces, almost all couples will go through various stages over the course of their relationship, beginning with Romantic Love and moving into the Power Struggle stage-the one that usually drives them to seek therapy. Regardless of the power struggle that is occurring and causing them difficulty in their marriage, there is a pattern of blame that is usually happening. Each partner is focusing outwards, pointing fingers and wanting to tell us all their partner is doing wrong, or not doing right! When we begin moving them on the next stage “being committed to working on the relationship”, a key factor is to move the focus from outward to inward. In order for a relationship to improve, each partner needs to look at their own contribution to the relationship, and how their actions are affecting the relationship. Below are three things YOU can do in this new year to improve your relationship.
- Improve your speaking and listening skills-While it’s no secret that relationships need good communication, we often don’t pay attention to how we speak to our partner or how well we really listen. When you want to talk about something that your partner is doing that is bothering you, ask yourself how you speak to your partner about it. Think of the difference in these two statements—“You never appreciate anything I do around here!” OR “I would like to talk to you about something. Is now a good time? I have really been feeling unappreciated lately and when I do things around the house, it would make me happy to hear you express your thanks.” Imagine the defensive reaction you may get from the first statement as opposed to the willingness to listen you may get from the second.
- Practice gratitude and appreciation for your partner-Just as couples love to come into our office and talk about all the things their partner is doing wrong, they are also generally talking a lot about these grievances at home too. So often in relationships, we spend so much time talking to our partner about our frustrations with them, we forget to ever tell them the things they do right. Expressing the things we love and appreciate about our partner goes such a long way in improving a relationship, and strengthening the fondness, affection and connection. Plus, neuroscience is now showing us that the brain reinforces neural connections that get used often. So, if you’re noticing and remarking positive behaviors, that is what will grow in importance to your brain thus making you feel better. When you’re more positive, your partner is highly likely to make positive changes (consciously or unconsciously) as well.
- Look for more ways to connect with your partner-In therapy, we teach how to “bid (or ask) for connection”. Think about how you connect with your partner. Do you ask to spend time together? Do you call or text during the day just to check in and see how their day is going? Do you do nice gestures for your partner, such as picking up their dry cleaning on your way home? Do you reach out to touch or hold your partner? Connection can be done in so many ways; it can be verbal or non-verbal. We need to think outside the box about doing more than just the occasional “date nights” or special celebrations on Valentine’s Day and anniversaries and, instead, look for ways we can connect with our partner on a daily basis. These daily connections, even thought they may seem small, are what keeps a solid foundation of friendship, love and intimacy strong in our relationship.
If you’re ready to focus on what you can do to improve your intimate relationship, call us at (908) 246-3074 or visit our website www.couplestherapycenterofnj.com to schedule an appointment. We’re here to help you create the best relationship possible this year.