With spring in the air in the Bay Area, many of us are starting to contemplate our spring cleaning rituals. Because relationships can easily fall into a rut, they can also can benefit from a spring cleaning.
Here are 6 ways you can dust off the cobwebs in your relationship starting now:
- Get back to checking in. At one time you likely talked a lot, especially in the early stages of your relationship. As time goes on and other responsibilities take center stage, it’s easy to forget the importance of checking in with each other. Re-prioritize a daily relationship check-in, even if brief. ”How are you?…How are we?…Is everything OK?”
- Look under the carpet for hidden resentments. One problem that can be a consequence of insufficient communicating in a relationship is the build-up of negative emotions towards each other. If anger, disappointment or sadness go unchecked they can become toxic. Resentment can undermine the very fabric of the relationship. If there is something bothering you, bring it up. It’s useful to begin with “I statements” rather than using attacking language.
- Check your assumptions. What if what you were upset with your partner because you misunderstood what he/she said or meant? What if you never clarified this? Well, you’d be suffering for no reason. One of the best ways couples can avoid distress is to simply ask the other what they meant rather than assume you know. Otherwise, you will likely have a negative emotional response towards him/her, followed by a negative behavior – and all for nothing.
- Create happy memories. If boredom, “same ‘ol, same ‘ol,” and a lack of fun has permeated your relationship, it’s time to have positive experiences together to lay down over the other. It’s kind of like the negativity bias of the brain; the more you internalize positive emotions, the more you can ease your brain away from the negative. Plan date nights, go out and play, take a walk or do something totally new and invigorating
- If you broke it, fix it. We all make mistakes and can inadvertently hurt our partners. The important thing for the health of relationships is taking ownership when it’s appropriate. John Gottman, PhD refers to successful repair attempts as “the happy couple’s secret weapon.”
- More gratitude, please. There is a lot of research out there now on the power of gratitude, individually and in relationships. Express appreciation for each other when possible. Notice the good rather than focusing on the not so good. It’s easy for couples to slip into negative cycles together. Make the effort to shift to a more positive (and reinforcing) cycle of support and gratitude for each other.
It would be nice to imagine being able to do these things 365 days a year but this probably isn’t realistic for many. At the very least, adding your relationship to the spring cleaning to-do list every year is one consistent way to put the focus back on you and your partner again.
Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is a couples therapist in Larkspur, Marin County and frequent consultant for the media. She has appeared in HuffingtonPost.com, CNN.com, Shape and Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine.