It’s that time of year again – to make New Year’s resolutions. Your list may include losing weight, drinking less or saving more, but what about for your romantic relationship? Good ones don’t just happen naturally. They take time, effort and nurturing. To kick off your 2014 right, here are 5 must-have resolutions for relationship success:
Commit to connect – daily!
The top reason for divorce is not that couples argue too much, have money problems or cheat: it’s that couples emotionally and physically drift apart from each other. Between balancing work, raising children, technology distractions and daily life craziness, it’s tough to feel connected to your partner. A client once told me, “I feel like I’m fifth on the list, after the kids and dog.” This is a big warning sign! Many of my couples admit their conversations revolve around the weekly chore list or who will pick up the kids from practice. Focusing on logistics will not rock your relationship the right way!
It takes conscious effort on both sides to maintain the connection that drew you together in the first place and made you commit to each other. It doesn’t have to be large-scale events. In fact, it’s the daily little moments that add up. When you text your partner during the day, send them a compliment or reminisce about your favorite times together. Spend 10-15 minutes each morning or evening talking about topics that interest you, your goals and dreams. Whatever it is, make it count – do the things that make you feel closest to each other.
Practice damage control.
Have you ever said or done something in the heat of the moment, and after calming down, you regretted your words or actions? Do this enough times and it’ll erode the trust and love between you and your partner.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Every relationship has conflict, but happy couples approach it differently – they don’t allow their heated discussions to spiral out of control. You have a right to your emotions, but you have to be careful how those emotions get expressed. If you feel that you’re about to lose your cool or tune out of the conversation, call a time-out. Create a go-to list of activities that help you calm down, like going for a walk, listening to music, working out, etc., and resume the discussion when you’re both calm.
Be positive – on purpose.
A critical aspect of long-term happy couples is that they continue to see each other in a positive way and notice the good things.
The reality of being with someone is that at times they will disappoint you, annoy you and do something that drives you crazy. This doesn’t mean you’re with the wrong person, it just means that you need some tools to buffer your relationship against the inevitable negativity that comes along with any relationship.
When your partner does something that annoys you, give them the benefit of the doubt – they probably didn’t do it on purpose. Think about it – would your partner continue to do things to deliberately hurt you knowing they’d have hell to pay for it? I coach my couples to check their assumptions with their partner and guess what? They overwhelmingly report back that their partner didn’t intend anything negative. And if something still bothers you, then go ahead and speak up – but be calm when you do.
A critical aspect of long-term happy couples is that they continue to see each other in a positive way and notice the good things. You have to actively and purposely build a culture of appreciation in your relationship. When your partner falls short of a task, be thankful for what they did do. Look for the good intention and spend some time thinking of your partner’s best traits instead of dwelling on their shortcomings.
When you touch your partner, oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone,” flows through your body. Twenty seconds from a hug is enough for the cuddle chemical to get released. Oxytocin has many benefits: mood booster, feeling more relaxed and less stressed, and increases feelings of connection to your partner. Challenge yourself to make touch part of your daily environment, not just when you want some nookie. Alternate massages, have sporadic daily 20-second hugs or go dancing (even if it’s in your living room!). It’s a great buffer and connector in your daily hectic schedules.
Hold yourself accountable.
One way to deal with relationship dissatisfaction is to blame your partner: “If only he or she were…” or “If only they stopped doing….” This rarely, if ever, leads to a happy relationship. Instead, focus on yourself first and what your role is. When your partner shuts down, you’re accountable to look at how you bring things up. Are you accusatory and critical? When your partner flies off the handle, are you dismissing their feelings or minimizing their experiences as “no big deal”? I’m sure you can find something you can do to make a positive difference in your relationship.
Besides looking at your own part in problems, you are also responsible for speaking up about what you need. Be as specific as possible. Common things I hear from my clients are, “I thought he would ‘get it’ and assumed he would do something” and “I figured she could tell when I was in the mood.” My couples frequently have different definitions of important relationship needs like romance, thoughtfulness, connection, partnership and passion. Without open communication, these differences can lead to disconnection, conflict and negativity. Don’t assume. People are not mind readers – identify what you want, and then ask nicely for it, and help make it a reality for your relationship.
Put these resolutions into practice, and you can create relationship happiness and success in 2014!