Happy New Year! I’m thrilled to start off our 2017 blog series by sharing with you some thoughts about a powerful way to use your New Year’s Resolutions for the benefit of your relationship. It’s always so interesting to me to hear my clients talk about their resolutions — many are focused on health, weight, career, and personal growth; surprisingly few are focused on relationships and on strengthening (or maintaining the strength of) couple bonds.
Regardless of what you focus your resolutions on, let me say that I think taking the start of a new year as an opportunity to focus on what you want to improve in your life is a good thing — resolutions sometimes get a bad rap, primarily because of the low success rate (how many of us are still hitting the gym five times a week come February 1?). What makes resolutions successful is both the importance they hold in your life, and how realistic they are to begin with. So resolving to spend five minutes a day meditating (great idea, and realistic!) is much more likely to be successful than resolving to visit all seven continents this year (a bit of a reach, though it would be a lot of fun!). It takes about two weeks to form a new habit — so if you can focus on building a new behavior or routine into your day just until mid-January, there is a high likelihood of success.
So for our first blog post of 2017, I present to you my Resolution Revolution — a list of resolutions I wish my clients would make (and some that I’m making myself!) to focus some of that positive January energy on the ones we love.
- Be more physically affectionate. In the hustle and bustle of life, committed couples often stop making time to cuddle, kiss, hold hands, etc. Couples tell me all the time that they’re less physically affectionate because they have less time (they’re folding laundry and balancing the checkbook while they watch their favorite show together, rather than cuddling on the couch), and because they just feel less in the mood for that kind of touch. They believe the desire must precede the action, and I am here to tell you that it doesn’t always work that way. The action can create the desire, and sometimes spending some time touching each other–even if you don’t feel irresistibly compelled to do so–can do wonders for how you feel about each other. Try it! Fall asleep spooning, kiss for five seconds on hello and goodbye instead of just giving a peck, hold hands in the car, or give your partner an affectionate tap on the bum when you pass by in the kitchen.
- Date each other. And I don’t mean dinner and a movie. I mean date each other the way you did when you were trying like heck to impress each other with your adventurousness, flexibility, and humor. There is a good bit of research supporting the notion that couples who do physically taxing, exhilarating activities (for example, rock climbing or skydiving) experience a stronger couple bond. One of my favorite exercises for couples is to have them choose one weekend day each month where they intentionally go and try something new together. Alternate who gets to choose the activity, and when it’s not your turn to choose, commit to doing whatever the other person selects. You might be surprised how much you enjoy being adventurous with the one you love–and how much closer it makes you feel.
- Put. Down. The. Devices. It is absolutely astonishing to me how often I hear couples on my couch complain about their phones, computers, and tablets getting in the way of meaningful connection with each other. It’s almost universal. This is partly because we’re expected to be always available to our professional contacts (and we need to set boundaries here), but also partly because we’re becoming conditioned to expect and even need almost constant input about what’s going on in our social networks. We’re striving endlessly to stay connected to our Facebook friends, and sacrificing those sitting right next to us in order to do it. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but we’ve got to be intentional about it. Just like we give our kids boundaries on their use of electronic devices, we’ve got to establish boundaries for ourselves. Agree on a time to turn them off, and stick to it. Make it at least an hour before bedtime.
- Sharpen your listening skills. Notice I didn’t say communication skills — I want you to focus specifically on becoming the best listener you can be: focusing your attention fully on the other person, trying to truly understand and commit what you’re hearing to memory, and then responding with empathy. One of the most powerful things we can do in any relationship is to effectively send the message, “I understand how you feel, and it matters to me.” A relationship in which partners receive this message from each other will be more secure, more able to withstand difficulties, and characterized by higher levels of trust and vulnerability than one in which partners are left questioning whether they and their feelings matter to each other.
So there you have it — my resolution wishlist for my client couples. My “Resolution Revolution.” My challenge to you: pick one, two, or even all four of these, and give them a try in your own relationship. Focus some of that good new year’s energy on the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with. I promise it’s a good investment!
Lindsey Hoskins & Associates provides couple, family, and individual therapy in downtown Bethesda, MD and Sterling, VA. Call or email us today to set up your first appointment, or a complimentary telephone consultation with one of our clinicians. 240-752-7650