Having a healthy relationship is something many of us strive for, but it can be really bloody hard. Navigating two very different people's emotions and needs and wants and hang ups and never ending stream of oddball behaviour is tricky. What could help though, is making some relationship resolutions. You know, checking in every once and a while to make sure everyone is groovy goes a long way. Because remember, romantic relationships are meant to enrich our lives. That doesn't mean they don't require work, though. In fact, the idea that relationships - if they're "right" - should be easy, is nonsense and gives us unrealistic expectations.
I spoke to Simone Bose, a relationship counsellor at Relate, who shared some super helpful relationship resolutions all couples should make, any time of year, if they want to strengthen their relationships and have a healthy romantic life.
Be more grateful for each other
It's so easy to plod along with your lives and relationship without giving it, or each other, much thought. But really, you're with this person and therefore you probably quite love them I would imagine?
"This resolution is about starting to really look at your partner, and being more grateful for the things you don’t necessarily notice," Simone says. "If you’re in a state of gratitude it’s hard to have negative feelings about the other person because you’re thinking about them in a positive way."
Plus, Simone says that if you actively conduct your relationship with this mindset, you'll naturally be more complimentary of your partner and therefore make them feel good about themselves.
Start using a different language
If you and your partner do have recurring issues, Simone suggests adapting the way you talk about them.
"Don’t use blame language, and instead say it from the ‘I’ perspective," she recommends. "Instead of saying, 'Oh you’re always leaving mess in the house,' say, 'I feel that it makes me a bit frustrated when I see the mess in the house'."
When people in relationships use blame language, it can often make their partner defensive and even sometimes shut down entirely, because they can feel like they're being attacked. "Language and tone is very important when you’re communicating," Simone adds.
Actually listen to them
We all know communication is so important in any relationship. But do you really listen to what your partner's saying? Simone says listening is the biggest, most key part of communication.
"When people are having an argument they spend so much time trying to think of their own response. They can miss a lot from that, and then the other person doesn’t feel acknowledged." Simone uses an exercise with her clients to help with this where she asks couples to give each other five minutes to talk each, without any interruption. "After that, the listening partner will recap for a few minutes: 'I understand that you said X,Y,Z'. Then the other person can respond accordingly: 'Yes, you understood X, but you didn't get Y'.
"A lot of couples interrupt each other, and you find people are always ready to butt in. Eye contact is also very important when you’re doing this," she adds. "You find a lot of couples don’t look in each other’s eyes for days because they’re so busy."
Talk about your goals for the year ahead
"Share your dreams for the year and see how you can help your partner achieve their dreams," Simone suggests. "Support them, and help each other achieve what you want to. Obviously it’s really important to develop yourself in a relationship, because if you’re your best self, you’re going to be happier in the relationship."
Do something together
Not just going out for a drink or having dinner out, but something new and different. "It doesn’t have to be going out and spending loads of money," she says. "But if you can, do a class or learn something together. Whatever you have in common, whether it's fitness or learning a language for example, as long as it's something that bonds you. Make sure to have time spent together outside of your daily routine."
She suggests taking an online course or learning something together using YouTube videos if you don't have much extra cash. "It’s really lovely and gives you something to look forward to. As long as it's something where you’re giving each other time, and where you can laugh or chat about something else other than the day to day."
Whether you're making resolutions because it's New Year, or you just want a healthier more communicative relationship, it's likely to feel like a redemptive time for you.
"Talk about the things that have upset you and been on your mind," Simone says. "Look a little bit deeper and ask what really makes your partner tick. Talk about your family, the culture they grew up in, their childhood, why things upset them and where that comes from."
Learning more about each other and trying to understand where certain issues and emotions come from can be done without a counsellor, she explains. Through understanding more about each other, it'll be easier to forgive when you argue.
Make time for acts of kindness
Many of us will feel that we already show our partner how much we appreciate them, but Simone explains there's a certain way to go about it.
"A big thing that comes up in the counselling room is that one partner doesn’t feel loved or appreciated in the way they want to be. The other person is usually confused by that, and feels like they do show appreciation. But different people need to be shown love in different ways."
This concept is know as love languages. As Gurpreet Singh told Cosmopolitan UK, "In a relationship, peoples' styles of thinking are very different, so it would follow that what their needs in a relationship could be different. Therefore, it’s important to understand what your partner’s language of love is. Because if you don’t know that, it’s likely you’ll get it wrong. And without wanting to, you might end up hurting each others’ feelings. Or, your actions might not be as well received as they would be if you spoke a language they understood."
Simone explains your partner may want more little gestures of love, for the cleaning to be done or more physical affection for example. "If you can understand what your partner wants, give them that in the way they want throughout their lives, that brings a stronger bond. And, when you have arguments, you’re more likely to be more empathetic as there’s of that bond. It’s quite systemic, if you have a stronger bond you’re likely to forgive more."
So how do you find out what your partner's love language is? Simone recommends just asking them. "Say, 'Do you like the cuddles? Or what is it that you like the most? Is there something I don’t do enough that you lack?' They might want you to sit down with them more, say 'thank you' more, or give them more physical affection. Take that in before sure to do that."
Put your phones away
There's nothing worse than being out for dinner with someone, and their phone is on the table in your eye line, blowing up with group WhatsApps. We've all been there.
"I see a lot of younger couples on their phones with each other," Simone says. "So for younger people especially, reduce the time you spend on your phones. Give your partner time and make them feel special. When there’s a phone near you the person always feels like they could be given up for the phone."
Although her advice is aimed at younger couples, Simone accepts this is an issue that can arise at any stage of a relationship.
See a professional
If you're having problems in your relationship and want to work on them, see a professional relationship therapist or counsellor. You can find your nearest Relate centre here, or call to book telephone counselling on 0300 003 0396.
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