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Whether you officially make New Year’s resolutions or not, there’s something about turning the page on a whole new calendar that invites fresh thinking about the twelve months to come.
Your marriage/relationship is one of the most important (if not the most important) aspects of your life. So doesn’t it make sense that during the time of year that inspires you to commit to making it to the gym three times per week or to finding a new job you’d be inspired to bring that same attitude of rejuvenation and commitment to your relationship?
5 ways to rejuvenate your relationship in the New Year (at any time of the year!)
These are all simple, free, and require little-to-no extra time on your part (most of them involve your own mind, which means you can practice them anywhere you are!). That means anyone can do them, at any time. That’s the good news.
But anything that’s truly simple to implement means it’s also easy to skip. So it’ll take practice to remember these. And as you’re practicing, you might work with one at a time at first. Small steps are easier to keep pace with than massive leaps.
If you’re serious about bringing some freshness into your relationship, that means you’ll try these out without any particular outcome in mind, and without expecting your partner to do the same. There’s no quicker way to stomp out positive change in its burgeoning stage than to tell your mate s/he must do exactly what you are!
1) Replace apathy with empathy
If someone asked me to choose one mindset that could most benefit a relationship, I would have to say: “Empathy.”
Empathy can be a powerful game-changer in every facet of life that involves interpersonal interaction, even instances that feel superficial (for instance, rather than get angry with the store clerk who you feel has been rude to you, you try to imagine how he might be feeling dealing with demanding customers all day, and you bite your tongue and end up having a much more peaceful day because of that choice).
But empathy is at its most powerful, and most beneficial, with the people to whom we are the closest.
Empathy asks us to put ourselves in our partner’s shoes. Not so that we can judge our spouse/partner, not so that we can “fix” whatever’s going on for him/her, but just so that we can be fully present to what it must be like to be our mate in that moment. This allows us to be kinder and more present than we might be otherwise.
2) Create connecting moments instead of expecting them
When the great American novelist William Faulkner was asked about whether he waited for the muse to find him before he wrote, he said, “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”
It’s like that with the positive experiences you desire in your relationship (and in life in general)—rather than passively wait for these experiences to arise (and tell yourself you’ll be happy or loving or grateful once they do), be proactive in shaping what’s within your control.
A powerful way to create connecting moments between you and your partner is through shared activities. Without forcing your partner to do something s/he doesn’t want to (when’s the last time you felt good about being forced to do something?), try to think of some things you and your spouse might like to do together. It might be an activity entirely novel to both of you, or it might be a pursuit one of you knows something about but is eager to share with the other.
The activities themselves are less important than the willingness to engage in them as a couple (and please note that they don’t have to be lavish or complicated!).
You’d be amazed at how connected you can feel to your spouse/partner when you do things together. I’m not talking about life-maintenance things, and I’m not talking about one person being “dragged” along by the other. You get the idea.
3) Try on a fresh perspective—remember why you fell in love with your partner
Life is hectic. And often hard. No one would fault you for getting so swept up in what needs to get done every day that you tend to stop seeing your mate as the person you once happily chose to spend your life with and instead barely “see” him/her (and when you do, you may take the fact that s/he is there for granted).
We’ve all been there.
But you can rewind your mind to the point when you first knew you loved your mate, and you can celebrate what drew you to him/her at the beginning of your relationship. As with anything that asks you to momentarily step out of the demanding swirl of life, this requires practice and patience, but it can be well worth the mental and emotional effort, in terms of the renewed contentment it can bring.
And best of all, no one needed to lift a finger for this to happen!
4) Seek opportunities to show your love rather than save them for “special” moments
Like most emotions, being loving is contagious. If you don’t necessarily feel all that loving, but your partner behaves affectionately with you, you are not only likely to reciprocate those gestures, but to actually feel more loving.
But did you ever stop to think that the “contagion” of the beneficial mindset of love is also contagious within you?
That’s right: when you coax yourself to make a loving gesture, you are much more likely to actually feel that lovingness underneath the gesture (as opposed to waiting for something to occur that encourages you to express some affection).
Again, when you do this without expectation of your spouse/partner reciprocating or behaving in a certain way because of your affectionate gesture, you are paving the way for true relationship rejuvenation.
5) Practice gratitude
If gratitude were an element of clothing design, it would be the new black—and with good reason: it’s simple, it works in almost any occasion/setting, it’s timeless, and it can transform a relationship (and the individuals who practice it).
It may feel more natural to focus on what needs “fixing” in your marriage/relationship, but if you give an “attitude of gratitude” a try on a regular basis, you’ll see that it’s just as natural to experience appreciation for what’s already working between you (or what you are thankful for about your mate).
Also, research shows that focusing on what you already have to be grateful for lifts your mood.
This tends to be contagious, too. You’re likely to notice that if you start to make gratitude more of a rule than an exception (and especially if you voice that gratitude to your partner from time to time), that you’ll be more likely to hear and/or feel appreciation coming from your spouse to you. It’s a win-win!
As the old year wanes and the new one approaches, it’s a natural time to take stock of the things that matter to you and look for places you can make improvements. But keep in mind the fact that any/all of the above tips are healthy additions to your marriage/relationship, absolutely any time of the year.
Wishing you a fulfilling relationship,
Richard Nicastro, Ph.D.
(Images courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)