Spring symbolizes rebirth and reminds us of the constant opportunity to refresh and renew our lives and improve our relationships.
And, if couples don’t get too caught up in “making” themselves seem happy, they can use the longer spring days to relax and reflect on how to refresh their daily priorities, renew their relationships, and let their “happy” bloom naturally.
The 3 R’s of Relationship Improvement
Reflect: Despite what you may think, people don’t really learn from experience. Instead, we learn from reflecting on our experiences. And, it’s the same for couples.
Think about it. Unless they reflect on their experiences, couples just rehash the same argument and make the same mistakes over and over again.
To renew their relationship, couples must truly think about how their life could flow more easily and be filled with the simple pleasures that constitute true happiness, not the manufactured kind. This type of reflection usually begins with one person, who later shares it with the other.
So, this spring try to capture some relaxing time for yourself so that you can truly reflect on your relationship. Does your marriage seem routine? Does your spouse seem like your roommate and not your best friend and the love of your life? Do you fight about things that don’t really matter and avoid talking about the things that do? Have you let the kids’ activities monopolize all your discretionary time? Have you let your own interests take away from the time you could (and probably should) be spending with your partner? Have you let financial concerns keep you from finding creative ways to bring simple joys into your relationship?
Refresh: In order to let your “happy” bloom naturally again, you first must identify the patterns you would like to improve. So, whatever life stage or circumstance you are in, think honestly about what small changes would make a big difference, and keep in mind that it might be YOUR approach that needs to change.
Once you have identified the existing patterns that interfere with the easy flow of happiness in your relationships, select the one non-threatening pattern that you believe — if changed — would bring a sense of renewal to the daily life of your relationship. Later, you can address the other issues you identified.
Make one change at a time, because the increased happiness you feel from the first change makes subsequent changes easier to implement.
Begin to change the interfering pattern by refreshing the way you and your spouse/partner approach the issue involved. This will, of course, require you to disclose what you’ve been thinking about to your partner. The trick is to initiate the conversation with what’s called a “soft start-up”. A “soft start-up” addresses the issue directly and head-on but does NOT include criticism or blame. Begin with an “I” statement and say, for example, “Things are so hectic for us these days, I really miss having time to just hang out with you. Will you help me figure out some small changes we could make in our routines so that there is more time for us to just be together?”
This refreshed approach will not work if your partner feels blamed for your discontent. Be sure to use the soft start-up and take the time needed to create a safe conversational zone. Then, don’t be surprised if you learn that your partner has been feeling the same way.
Renew: When couples refresh their approach to managing the daily patterns in their lives, they are able to reprioritize the allocation of their time, energy, and finances; recapture time to invest in their relationship; and create a sense of renewal and base-line happiness in their relationships. When this happens, couples don’t even think about how to make happiness, it just blooms naturally, like spring, every day.
So, share this column with your partner, grab some couple time, and brush up on the 3 R’s that let happy relationships bloom naturally.
And, let me know if I can help.
Jamie C. Williamson, PhD is a FL Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator and Gottman Methods Couples Counselor. She is an owner and partner at Amity Mediation Workshop, a mediation practice specializing in “friendly divorce” mediation and marriage revitalization sessions for couples. Dr. Jamie speaks frequently on relationship topics and authors the blog “Work it Out”. You can find her online at amitymediationworkshop.com.