Spring clean your relationship
Here are ten simple tips to help you spring clean your relationship and build upon what is important over the next 10 days, and every day forward for the future. Think about what you can do to feel more connected, more satisfied, and happy in your relationship.
1. Reconnect every day. Spend time to 'get to know' your partner. We all change, and sometimes this happens without realisation. Our likes/dislikes, our hopes and fears, our interests and the things that result in stress and pressure fluctuate on a regular basis. Taking the time to listen to our partner, asking the right questions to find out what's going on for them sounds like a very basic thing to do. Yet this is what deepens friendship, strengthens our understanding of each other, and strengthens our connection.
2. Compromise... It's ok to compromise with your partner. There may be times when it is important to stand your ground and address your own needs, but if this is the norm rather than the exception, it may be time to think again. Don't be 'in charge' all the time. Don't be the one 'in control' of the relationship, don't be the 'parent' in every situation as this disempowers your partner. Effective relationships are typically 'equal' and this may mean giving a little, taking a step back, taking a breath, waiting a minute and looking at the alternatives to 'your way'. This means allowing yourself to be vulnerable sometimes, and that's ok.
3. Value. Do you show active appreciation to your partner? How do you demonstrate gratitude? By showing active appreciation, by acknowledging the small things they do that help you (rather than criticising what they 'don't' do), that you enjoy having, that you gain value from, you are recognising the importance that that person has in your life and expressing that in words. It's not about placing your partner on a pedestal, and it's important to be 'real' and truthful in what you say. This isn't just about gestures or gifts but an articulation of 'I see you, I hear you, and I appreciate you'.
4. Share your hopes and dreams. What's your vision for your relationship? Make the time to share your hopes and dreams, aspirations and needs, aims and goals for the future. Find your common ground, and work together in building your foundations for the future.
5. Don't get trapped into a cycle of negativity in your relationship. Constantly focusing on what is wrong does not allow you to reinforce the good bits. Focus instead on the positives, what's good, what you enjoy, what you want more of, and build upon these. This allows you to start filling in the gaps, and finding the missing aspects of your relationship, rather than only 'seeing' what you don't want.
6. Work out the anger. When you are feeling anger and frustration at your partner, before you launch into an angry attack or tirade of abuse, take a deep breath. Pause for a moment and remind yourself that anger is a secondary emotion. We often express our feelings in anger, when in reality, we may actually be feeling acute sadness, fear, isolation or rejection. Anger masks what is really going on, and gets in the way of effective communication, building up defensive walls between us. So stop, and try to work out what the hidden message is. What are you really trying to communicate? What is your partner really trying to tell you besides 'I'm angry'?
7. Don't withdraw. See conflict in a more positive light. Conflict can facilitate positive change, but only if you meet this in a healthy way. No matter how it feels, no matter how challenged you may feel, don't withdraw. Instead choose to have a voice, to express and share what is important to you and why. Also give your partner the opportunity to have a voice. Take a deep breath, pause, work out the anger, resist the withdrawal of emotional connection. Promote healthy, open and honest communication.
8. Be Present. Make sure that when you are with your partner, you really are 'with' your partner. Being present in your relationship isn't an easy task, when fighting off demands from all areas of your life. If you base your relationship on the past, or live too much in the future, you miss out on the 'here and now'. Making the time to be really present in your relationship allows you to enjoy the ordinary but special moments that currently pass you by.
9. Accept differences. As two individuals, you won't think the same about everything. There are bound to be differences of opinion, which could mean that you place a great deal of your energy into trying to 'change' the way that your partner thinks. Instead, explore what it is that you can't accept, what you can't compromise on, or let go of. This may be based upon you holding differing values from your partner. It doesn't necessarily make one of you right and the other one wrong. It is healthy to accept your differences, especially if you are confident in the common ground you share. Difference is ok, difference can be good. We are not all the same, and life would be boring if we were.
10. Trust. Trust is a foundation for your relationship, built upon openness, honesty, commitment, consistency, and respect (and underpins all of the communication you have with your partner). A healthy relationship is built upon trust. A healthy relationship is built upon effective communication. Effective communication comes from trust. Trust that I can be honest with you and you with me, trust that you won't intentionally hurt me. Think about what trust means to you and why. Is this based upon your values, your expectations, and your needs? What does trust mean to your partner? It's an investment, and a leap of faith, and it requires nurturing through your connection, your communication, your togetherness.
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About Anne-Marie Alger
Anne-Marie is an integrative osychotherapist providing individual and relationship counselling. Based in Bolton, offering face-to-face and on-line counselling sessions.