Happy New Year 2020! What a perfect time to reflect on your vision of the best for this next year for your relationship. So along with your commitment to spend more time at the gym and eat healthier, here are some suggestions for making a positive impact on your relationship.
Share An appreciation each day
Sharing what you appreciate can accomplish what a hundred conversations can’t. Undoubtedly, things cross your mind that your partner has said or done that mean a lot to you. Small and large. It’s likely you don’t always express them. Sharing what pleases you can perform small miracles in how the atmosphere feels between the two of you.
Some examples could be:
I appreciated you patiently listening to me about my work frustrations.
I appreciated your offer to pick up the food we took to the potluck.
I appreciated your big smile as I walked in.
I appreciated you coming with me to do errands.
I appreciated how welcoming you were to my parents when they visited.
I appreciated your text telling me you love me today.
Here’s how that appreciative exchange goes:
I appreciated . . . . . you dropping everything to pick up Seth when he was sick at school.
That was important to me because . . . . . . . I had that deadline looming and I was so stressed.
That made me feel . . . . understood and loved.
A note of caution: It can be tempting to say, “I really appreciate you remembering to pick up the dry cleaning, ‘cause I usually have to remind you several times.” Your partner will only hear your complaint. A simple “thanks for making the coffee this morning – perfect timing – I’m so short on time” will bring warmth and a smile. And probably more coffee.
Create a powerful minute, three times a day:
This is an important ritual that does wonders for creating and maintaining a safe space. When you leave in the morning, seek each other out for a hug and offer warm wishes for the day. Try to make the hug last at least 20 seconds.
When you arrive home, greet each other with a smile and a hug. If you’re home first and sitting at your computer or cooking dinner, pause what you’re doing, get up from your seat. The air kiss or shout from the other room doesn’t qualify. If your kids are all over you, you can find each other soon after.
Do this same ritual when you turn in for the night. If you go to bed earlier than your partner, find them first for that hug goodnight.
Having had a tough day, not feeling like it, or in a rush are not reasons to stray from this ritual. If you walk in the door with a heavy ‘hello’ with your tales of woe written all over the tone of your voice, your partner will feel anxious, not knowing what’s up. The details of your bad day may be important to share, but not in the tone of your voice when you first greet each other. You don’t really want your partner to bear the brunt of your bad day. Save that conversation for later – let each other know you’re glad to see them first.
These powerful minutes, three times a day are crucial in protecting your bond with each other and creating a relationship space that feels safe, connected and loving. Isn’t this what it means to come ‘home?’
Listen . . really listen
Really listening is listening without interrupting and until your partner is finished (not just until the end of the sentence). It’s asking questions to make sure you fully understand before you respond. Let them know you heard them, even if you disagree or have a different spin.
Good communication is about listening, not talking. When conflict is afoot, it’s the hardest time to really listen. It’s also the most important time. On a good day, you might hear 80% of what your partner said, on a more typical day, maybe 60%. Many misunderstandings continue because you’re already preparing your response while attempting to listen at the same time.
Make your partner your priority.
Many people don’t really know what it means to form a committed partnership. After all, who had any relationship education?? In our culture we prize individuality. This doesn’t seem to shift enough when people couple up. It’s a huge transition from two “me’s” to a “we”.
Your experience in the early – and infatuated – part of your relationship doesn’t offer foreshadowing either. During infatuation you prioritize your relationship above sleep, laundry, paying your bills, and you easily tolerate the fact there’s no food in your refrigerator. Fast forward and the lack of food in the fridge leads to incriminations with at least one partner sensing they’ve stepped onto a minefield.
Being committed partners means that your job is to keep the other feeling safe and secure. This means prioritizing your relationship and protecting it from outside forces that pull you away.
Being partners means if one person is distressed, both work together to find a solution. All too often you might think, “he’s going to have to figure that one out” because you see it as his issue. Or “she’s in a mood, so I’ll leave just leave her alone (until she perks up).” The brutally honest thought is more likely, “I feel helpless because I don’t know how to help you, so I’m backing away from you so I can get away from my discomfort.”
Partnership is about staying in connection and being part of the solution. It’s about asking, “you seem down, what’s up?” Followed by, “what do you need?” or “how can I help?” Being “all in” is what floats the boat of your relationship.
Learn Your Partner’s Love Language
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman contains a real pearl of wisdom – what makes us each feel loved and cared for is not universal. Just as what floats your boat doesn’t necessarily float mine, the same is true for how we express caring for our partners. http://www.5lovelanguages.com/resource/the-5-love-languages/
Do you ever think to ask, “what do you need from me that would let you know I love you?” More likely, you do unto your partner as you’d like him to do unto you. Herein lies the problem – you’re speaking to her in your love language, not hers. Those things you say are nice, but she’s still longing for that quality time with you. You’re missing the target.
What is your love language?
Read the descriptions of Chapman’s five languages to answer that question:
Words of Affirmation. These people appreciate the spoken word.
Acts of Service. Actions speak louder than words. This means doing things you know your partner would like you to do.
Physical Touch. This includes sex for some, and for others it may mean affectionate touch.
Quality Time. This means undivided attention, not just being in the same air space.
Receiving Gifts. The kind that you can touch, perhaps wrapped up in a box with a bow!
The power of feeling loved
Couples have fewer problems when each person feels loved by the other. Simply doing or saying what makes the other feel loved quickly changes the atmosphere between you. Your tendency to feel defensive dissipates. Fights just don’t happen as much.
Knowing the love language of your partner is step one. Step two is the important one – speaking to her in her love language. When you speak to him consistently in his love language, it’s amazing what transformation can happen.
Spend Quality Time
How high on your list of priorities is spending quality time with your partner?
Families have very busy lives these days as we heap on increasing expectations of ourselves and our kids. Most likely you have little personal time or down time, not enough time with your kids, little sex, or too few nights out dancing. And you’re perplexed because other couples or families seem like they’re juggling all this just fine.
Do you feel something is wrong with you for not figuring this out better? Or do you buy the idea that ‘marriage is just like that, get used to it?’ Unfortunately, what’s ‘normal’ is that many couples are not doing so well. This 21st century uber lifestyle carries a lot of stress. What gives way is the relationship – yet it’s the relationship that is seen as the culprit.
Consider the following:
Does your partner have your undivided attention at dinner or is your phone part of the ‘conversation’?
Is the TV on when you eat a meal together or when you’re going to bed – or just on most of the time?
Is your partner supportive of your hobby or long work hours? If no, it might be that you don’t really bring your full presence to the time you do spend together. If it’s distracted time – reading mail, email, online videos – you might as well not be there. This time doesn’t go on the list as ‘time spent with partner’.
If you’re doubtful that this applies to you, ask your partner what are the ways that he thinks you put distance between the two of you. Before you begin to explain or object, think about what she might just be right about. Think of the ways you do put your partner first and compare the two.
Invite your partner to spend time with you. Find activities you can both enjoy. Simple ones are close at hand – a walk, hike, cooking, playing a game, a museum visit. Bigger ones are fun to plan – a day trip out of town, tickets to a show, a vacation.
Repair Your Arguments
It’s never too late to repair arguments, even ones from long ago. Whatever happened way back when often keeps showing up in current tensions. Without a solid attempt at repair, hurt feelings are added to the underground heap, lying in wait for the next match to ignite.
Repair starts with an apology. Even if you think you only contributed two percent to the argument, you can make an apology. It’s an apology without an explanation. Not explaining yourself can be very hard. “I’m sorry I was so harsh”, followed by “I was just so upset by . . . .”, pretty much cancels out any apology.
There may well be a good reason to have a fuller conversation about what happened. It doesn’t belong in the apology. Apologizing opens up the possibility that later you can listen and step into your partner’s shoes to understand – once you’ve allowed your nervous system to settle down. This is when things start to make sense.
Attend to Your Physical Connection
This special bond of physical touch – sexual, affectionate, sensual – provides a lot of the glue in your relationship. It’s also a crucial part of creating a vibe and connection in which problems don’t become bigger problems.
Intimate touch doesn’t always mean sexual touch. Couples get hijacked away from pleasure-oriented touch by the idea that all touch should lead to high arousal and orgasms for all, every time. Prolonged hugs, a casual arm slung over her shoulder, an affectionate swipe across his back as you pass by are ways to make your partner feel connected.
You may be one of those people who walks down the street with every sixth thought being sexual. You may be partnered with someone who never has a sexual thought walking down that same street. The world divides into these two groups. And they usually partner with someone from the other group. For many people, sexual desire shows up once they’re engaged in touching. A big mistake people make is to assume that you or your partner has to have sexual desire before touching. This mistake leads to much lost opportunity!
Are you making time to enjoy physical intimacy? Or do you just expect it to happen between the sheets? Mix it up, be creative. Invite him to bed before you’re both exhausted. Be each other’s appetizer before going out for drinks and dinner. Find each other for some naked time on a weekend afternoon. Add an element of surprise. Don’t let your stressful lives be an excuse.
Put an element of sexuality in the air. Do you wear your baggy sweats around the house? Do you approach her in the way that is enticing to her? Showing enthusiasm for each other in all ways creates a spark.
“I’m not in the mood”, is such a limiting thought. “What could put me in the mood?” opens up possibilities. Perhaps a conversation, a shared glass of wine or cup of tea, a foot massage, a hot bath. There’s a bridge between where your head is at the moment and where it could be – you just have to build it.
Getting back on that track of enjoying each other isn’t about the stars aligning just right. It’s about attending to your relationship in an active way. It does take making sure your partner feels safe and secure with you. Deliberate daily attention, really listening to each other, repairing arguments, expressing appreciation are essential. Physical touch is both pleasurable and bonding. Some of these might be outside your comfort zone. It’s also where you find excitement and fulfillment. And the feeling of being home.
Happy New Year 2020!!