As the New Year approaches, it is common to reflect on the passing year and consider ways of improving ourselves in the upcoming one. This concept of New Year’s resolutions can be applied to our relationships as well. Here are a few suggestions for areas to bring growth to your relationship in the coming year.
Focus on yourself.
It’s somewhat counter intuitive, but one way to grow in our relationships is to take our focus off of our partner, and put it back on ourselves. Relationships can fall into a rut when we are reactive rather than of proactive; we often respond to our partner’s behaviour instead of striving towards the type of partner we want to be. The qualities we would like to embody as a partner are often influenced by our morals and values. For those who ascribe to a theistic faith, writer Gary L. Thomas notes that this embodiment can be conceptualized as being God-centered (focused on pleasing God) rather than spouse-centered (focused on pleasing our partner). It’s not that we shouldn’t strive to meet our partner’s needs and bring them happiness; if we shift our focus toward demonstrating the qualities we value, we will be able to bring ourselves happiness, and consequently, our partner happiness as well. That being said, we should never put up with maltreatment or abuse from a partner. In generally healthy relationships, (i.e., if both partners take this approach) this tactic can foster a foundationally strong and enduring relationship.
Use the “F” word.
Not that one, but the slightly lengthier one: forgiveness. Critical to growth in healthy relationships is forgiveness, for both our partner and ourselves. When it comes to forgiving our partner, this can be accomplished through expressing the hurt and then having empathy, compassion, and understanding towards them even though they hurt us; in this process, we release the negative feelings we harboured towards them. Equally important to our relationships is forgiving ourselves, particularly when we’ve already been forgiven by our partner. As most of us are well aware, we are often our own worst critic, punishing ourselves with feelings of guilt long after the one we hurt has forgiven us. Continuing to shame ourselves only serves to impede the healing, and may also frustrate our partner, who is ready to make up and move on. So forgive, and enjoy making up!
Improve your dance skills (figuratively).
The cycle which becomes ingrained in our romantic relationships can be thought of as a dance (an analogy used often by the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy/ EFT for couples, Dr. Sue Johnson). Each partner performs certain repetitive steps, and reacts in certain ways to the steps taken by the other. Improving our relationship often means changing the dance, so as to get out of maladaptive routines that fuel disconnection by impeding our sense of relational security; instead, this creates a new, more connected dance. Sometimes it’s difficult to do this on our own because the steps become so habitual, and can seem so subtle to us that it’s nearly impossible to notice and actually change from our inside view. At such times, it may be helpful to enlist the assistance of a trained “dance instructor” (meaning a psychologist, psychotherapist, or other regulated mental health professional) to facilitate our awareness of our unhealthy dances and contribute to the choreography of a new, healthier one.
Johnson, Sue. (2008). Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.
Thomas, Gary (2015). Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.