Been in a relationship for a while? It is surprisingly easy to get complacent and lazy. While troubled relationships often demand our attention one way or another, low-conflict relationships can cause partners to take one another for granted. Annoyances become complaints and routines become ruts, all because we forget one of the central truths about relationships: they take work. Here are some suggestions for getting your relationship off to a good start in the new year:
- Have at least one “date night” each week. A romantic dinner together at home or at a favorite restaurant gives you both something to look forward to and helps each of you feel special. It reminds you to pay attention to one another. That sort of intimacy helps relationships thrive.
- Be vigilant against letting work schedules intrude on time together. Everyone works long hours these days. There’s nothing wrong with occasional late hours. But if late evenings start to make either of you feel like your relationship has adopted a job as a third member, it’s time to push back and set limits
- Distinguish between routines and ruts. Routines in relationships can give us the greatest sense of satisfaction – creating home for one another, comfort and happiness. Celebrate these. Ruts, on the other hand, produce boredom and frustration and often result from one partner or the other not taking the initiative. Ruts can strangle a relationship. See if you can do something fun instead.
- When was the last time you had sex? New partners and single people may find it hard to imagine, but sexual intimacy can suffer under the weight of fatigue, time intrusions and familiarity. Without either partner intending it, the relationship is on its way to becoming sexless. Spontaneity may be nice, but penciling intimacy onto the calendar is better than skimpy sexual intimacy.
- Express gratitude often. Someone said that every negative comment or complaint requires seven compliments just to get back to neutral. Letting your partner know how much you appreciate and value him builds closeness, affection and goodwill.
- Rather than keeping score, practice generosity with one another. Some relationships seem obsessed with fairness, perhaps under the misconception that everything is supposed to be 50-50. Keeping score leads to nitpicking and criticism. If there’s a problem, talk about it. But would it really be that big a deal to be the first one to pick up the check, or the dry cleaning?
- If there’s a problem, talk about it rather than letting it gnaw at you. Problems and criticisms are like weeds in the garden of your relationship. If there’s an issue, talk it through and see how you can resolve things in a way that feels better for both of you.
- If there’s a big problem, get help sooner rather than later. Too many couples avoid couples counseling until it is the last resort before calling it quits. Better to seek out the sort of professional who can support your relationship – maybe even be a “relationship coach – and help you increase your satisfaction and happiness with one another.
John Ballew is a licensed professional counselor and has been in private practice in Midtown for 25 years. For more, see his website at www.bodymindsoul.org.