It’s that time of year again. Everyone I know is joining a gym, beginning a diet, and trying to start anew for the New Year. This year I’ve decided to do things a little differently. Instead of my typical New Year’s resolutions, which focus on work and personal goals, I’m writing relationship resolutions. Here are a few relationship enhancing behaviors that I’m going to work on in the coming weeks and months. Feel free to join me if you’d like to make your romantic relationship a happier, healthier union.
1. Be more positive
There are a host of reasons why positivity beats out negativity. Not only is positivity more attractive than pessimism or cynicism,1 it’s also a winning strategy for navigating relationship conflict. Interestingly, relationship researchers found that people are particularly sensitive to negative feedback and that couples who engage in a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments are more likely to stay together.2 I take this to mean that a little negativity goes a long way, and sometimes even an unintentional slight or criticism can have a powerful impact. I vow to try to be more positive, generally, but particularly when things get heated.
2. Schedule time for my relationship
Good things don’t just happen and that is true even when it comes to good relationships. Just like losing the holiday fifteen, if you want success, you need a plan. Given that there are only 24 hours in a day, how many can you dedicate to making your relationship better? Can you devote one hour a day where you aren’t working, watching TV, or dealing with life’s many responsibilities? I resolve to try and set aside time each day to be present in my relationship.
3. Find fun stuff for my husband and I do together
Relationship scientists have shown that couples who play together, stay together.3 That may sound silly, but it’s true. Participating in fun and exciting play with your partner can actually increase relationship satisfaction. This year I am going to press pause on our Netflixing and find ways to harness our childlike spirits.
4. Be less demanding
Psychologists believe that relationship satisfaction is directly linked to our expectations.4 The more a relationship exceeds what we had hoped for, the happier we are. The interesting and sometimes problematic thing about expectations is that they change. For instance, when you met your partner you may have been thrilled by how great he/she was. However, as time went on you may have gotten used to this status quo of awesomeness. Your expectations rose and you were not as thrilled by the same amazing behavior. Should you, like me, have a really wonderful partner, but perhaps have grown accustomed to all that he/she does for you, you may want to consider asking yourself if your expectations have reached fairytale proportions. I vow not to take my partner for granted and try to remember how lucky I am to be with such a loving individual.
5. Communicate more effectively
This one may be easier said than done (pardon my pun), but it may be the key to a successful relationship. Conflicts arise when people lack effective communication skills and the thing I am the worst at is listening. I am guilty of thinking about what I am going to say while the other person is talking rather than truly absorbing their point. And I admit that during a difficult conversation I spend more time defending myself or correcting my partner than validating his opinions. Relationship therapists use a structured form of communication that feels almost too forced and formulaic for me to explain, but the take away is that only one partner should express his/her feelings at a time. Couples should work together to ensure that what one partner says is being heard correctly by the other. Then, and only then, should the other partner try to explain his/her side of things.5 This year, I will try to listen before I speak and respond to what my partner is actually saying, rather than to what I think I heard him say.
1Vollmann, M., Renner, B., & Weber, H. (2007). Optimism and social support: The providers’ perspective. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 205–215.
2Gottman, J. & Silver, J. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
3Reissman, C., Aron, A., & Bergen, M. R. (1993). Shared activities and marital satisfaction: Causal direction and self-expansion versus boredom. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 243-254.
4Kelly, H. H., & Thibaut, J. W. (1978). Interpersonal relations: A theory of interdependence. New York: Wiley.
5Markman, H. J., Stanley, S., & Blumberg, S. L. (1994). Fighting for your marriage: Positive steps for preventing divorce and preserving a lasting love. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Dr. Sadie Leder-Elder – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Leder-Elder’s research focuses on how people balance their desires for closeness and protection against rejection, specifically during partner selection, goal negotiation within established romantic relationships, and the experience of romantic love, hurt feelings, and relationship rekindling.