Want a resolution suggestion? Make this the year you rout relationship neglect. It is surprisingly easy to forget that a successful love life requires paying attention. The very routine-ness of them can cause us to stop paying attention. A functional relationship can operate that way for quite a while before the level of stress demands attention. When I sit with a new couple in therapy and ask how long their problems have been going on, they are often more surprised than I am to hear that the first signs of trouble started 5 or 10 years before things got so tough they ended up in my office.
Make the relationship your priority. So many things compete for our attention these days – especially work. But what is more important than the person you love? Remember when you were first dating, and you were all about this new person in your life? See if you can get back to this sense of “beginner’s mind,” seeing your partner with fresh eyes and realizing that your attention is more important to your partner than anything else.
Appreciate each other. Think of all the things your lover does for you during the course of the week – everything from cooking a wonderful dinner to listening patiently as you talk for the umpteenth time about your annoying boss. When was the last time you said “I’m so grateful for the way you hold me at night. Life wouldn’t be the same without that.” Someone said each criticism requires half a dozen compliments just to get us back to feeling neutral about one another. When you are kind and appreciative to your partner, you refill the tanks of goodwill in your relationship. When those tanks get low, you’re in trouble. Don’t let that happen.
Date night! This is something I recommend to almost all couples with whom I work. Take a night during the week and make it special. That could mean cooking at home and sharing a bottle of wine or going out to a favorite restaurant or something that the two of you create that is unique to the two of you. Making a night each week special helps to make the relationship feel special, and reminds you how lucky you are to have love in your life.
Talk to one another. Share what’s going on in your life, and not just the complaints. What are you feeling? Is there anything in particular you’re aware of needing these days? And listening is just as important as speaking. What is your partner saying about what he or she needs?
Cyber-free Tuesdays. Or Wednesdays or Thursdays or… I’m grateful to a couple I’m working with for making this suggestion. Electronic communication is more intrusive than ever; many employers even send emails well into the evening hours that used to be thought of as family time. Put away the phone, the tablet, the laptop and just be with your partner, uninterrupted.
Don’t let sex die. Sex in the 15th year of your relationship may not look like sex in the first year. That’s neither unusual nor problematic. But if too much time elapses between lovemaking sessions, those feelings of juiciness can be hard to recapture. Couples who remain sexual with one another find that the reassuring closeness of being together physically helps with emotional self-regulation as well. Don’t get lazy!
Have fun. Fun is the fuel that relationships run on; without enough of it we become bored and feel like we’re in a rut. You and your partner get to decide what is fun for you: maybe a concert, maybe travel, maybe finding a new place to eat, maybe something completely unexpected. Relationships without enough fun tend to develop problems.