It’s that time of the year again. The week before New Years when we often struggle to make resolutions to become better in the next year than we were before. It’s an all too human past time.
If you are looking for “couple ideas” to make your intimate relationship better in 2017, I humbly offer you these 9 ideas for resolutions that are grounded in the science of evidence-based couples therapy:
The opposite of speaking isn’t listening. The opposite of speaking is waiting.
This is why intensive couples retreats are so profoundly useful. Make the time to listen. Resolve to love better by sharpening your listening skills. Don’t zone out and nod meaningfully when your spouse is talking to you. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk. Go eyeball to eyeball. Sit down, look them right in the eye. Summarize what you heard. Ask if you got it right. Remember to ask follow-up questions for clarity. This is ground zero for intimacy.
There is no more precious or priceless quality on the face of the earth than sincere, undiluted human attention.
This is the Mount Everest of your relational skills. This is Job 1! Couple retreats help you to profoundly listen.
It’s hard enough to share intimate feelings with your spouse. Especially when what you’re feeling doesn’t even make sense to you. Say “I feel” instead of “you always “or “you never.” You can get clarity and move through negative feelings if you can take responsibility for what you feel. It helps to think of negative feelings as unwelcome visitors, and not allies in beating up your partner. For 2017, resolve to love better by taming your blaming.
Long-time couples sometimes have too great a focus on the negative. They may take each other’s strengths for granted, while hyper-focusing on familiar disappointments and less-than-perfect partner’s deficits. They forget to compliment.
Check you relational math. resolve to offer three compliments for every criticism. You might find that your spouse starts doing this too. You don’t have to be Chip and Dale. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a virtuous circle of praise and appreciation?
Resolve to love better by not letting snide remarks, all-purpose snarkyness, or irritability chip away at the foundation of your relationship.
Pick your battles carefully.
Is this issue important to you? Then describe your emotions, the situation you want to improve, and enlist your spouse as part of the solution. Don’t treat them like they are part of the problem. Courtesy, politeness, and mutual respect can often lubricate a gridlocked situation.
Do you speak to friends or even strangers with courtesy and kindness? Your partner deserves that too.
During a calm moment, open up a discussion with your partner about the way you speak to them.
You might be surprised to learn that you might be often hurting their feelings in little ways that you were not even aware of.
Ask for specifics.
And work on your less-than-helpful communication habits. After six weeks of focus, ask your partner for a report card on your recent efforts.
When you are in a committed relationship your attitude should be “It’s you and me against the world.”
Your spouse’s obstacles are your obstacles too. You fight the good fight side-by-side. You stand by each other during tough times. And when you have issues between you, you do your best to be open, honest, and work through the issue together.
Social media can often be an unwelcome visitor in your intimate relationship. Preoccupation with social media can provoke a feeling of being phubbed in your partner. This can encourage feelings of annoyance, suspicion, etc. Ask your partner for an honest report card on your use of social media. If you both have an issue, resolve to love better by having some rituals of disconnection from social media. If you and your partner have an issue with social media, create a ritual for dealing with it.
I have a client who had a bad habit of whipping out his smartphone in front of his wife while they were on “Date Night.” They solved this by establishing a ritual where he wordlessly put his phone on silent mode and then handed it over to her before they entered the restaurant.
We are talking about a value that is found Western Culture here. International Couples often wrangle over this specific issue.
But in the West, differentiation can be healthy, and sexy. Struggles around differentiation often arise in the early years of a relationship. Don’t surrender personal goals and interests just because you are in a new relationship. Strive to find a balance between your personal space and your couple space. Don’t abandon your friends. Integrate old friendships into your new personal life. Your partner should be a vital part of your life, but not be your only 24/7 preoccupation.
Being fused at the hip isn’t healthy. If you are strong and independent, you will appreciate each other more.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.