Happy 2015! As the new year begins, we’re all thinking a lot about our goals and wishes for the next 12 months. Perhaps one of your New Year’s resolutions is strengthening your marriage. So how do you break a big goal like that into actions you can take every day? Pick one or more of the ideas from the following list to turn into habits for 2015.
- Prioritize couple time. Work, family and the other myriad demands of daily life can easily crowd out your time for each other. But consider this: The stronger your bond with your husband, the more likely it is that the two of you will work as a team to face life’s hardships . Care for your relationship, and it will make your life easier.
- But don’t forget ‘you’ time. While you need times of deep connection with your husband, you also need some breathing room. Make time for the things that you love — the things that make you you. You’ll come back to the relationship a much happier and more intriguing partner.
- Reign in the disrespect. If you tend to be snarky, sarcastic, or roll your eyes when you’re unhappy with your husband, resolve to change your habits this year. Never shame, humiliate or show contempt toward your partner because you’ll eventually destroy the relationship.
- Show your love. Research shows that the happiest couples have a lot of positive interactions that make it clear they value and deeply care for each other — specifically, 20 positive interactions for every negative one. Need to bring up you numbers? Express appreciation, give compliments and even work on greeting each other warmly. It all counts!
- Give generously to the relationship. Do you find yourself “keeping score” on how each of you contributes in your relationship? This can keep you mired in resentment and hold you back from making positive changes. Granted, no one likes that “Do I have to do everything?” feeling. But in the long run, you’ll be happier knowing you are definitely doing your part to keep your relationship healthy.
- Protect your marriage from stress. Make no mistake: The stressful, demanding times we live in affect your relationship. Researchers Lisa Neff and Benjamin Karney found that couples exposed to high stress for extended periods tend to be much more reactive to the normal ups and downs of relationships. To ease stress, take care of your basic needs (getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food), ease up on your expectations for yourself, and take concrete steps to decrease the pressure.
- Listen up. Learning to listen deeply is one of the best ways to deepen your connection and sweeten your life together. This kind of listening means you must be present, so turn off your phone, put away the to do list , and make real human contact for a few moments. When you tune into each other in this way and then listen with an open mind and heart, you’ll uproot the feelings of loneliness and rejection that cause problems in many relationships.
- Just ask. Sometimes we hesitate to ask for what we need, figuring our husbands “should” know. Or we end up expressing our needs in complaints. It’s a lot more effective to ask instead of complaining or silently stewing, so resolve to be more direct this year.
- Correct your relationship vision. It’s not your imagination — it’s challenging to keep a long-term relationship vibrant and interesting. Our brains love novelty, so it’s easy to take the person you’ve been married to many years for granted. Because your partner is so familiar, you literally can’t see all of who he is any more. To make matters worse, because our minds tend to focus on the negative, it’s easy to get locked into only seeing the many ways in which he irritates you. So, resolve to make it a habit to periodically step back and really look at your husband. See if you can learn something new about him, and notice all his qualities, not just the annoying ones. Hopefully, you’ll be able to clearly see why you married him in the first place.
- Work on acceptance. Remember that you are two imperfect people probably doing the best you can in this relationship. Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to fix or change your partner to make him the perfect husband. Everyone has shortcomings. So, resolve to accept (and maybe even love) his imperfections, and you’ll keep your marriage on solid ground.
You can read more about each of these tips and get more ideas for nurturing your relationship in my book Strong Women, Strong Love: The Missing Manual for the Modern Marriage. I wish you a year full of joy, passion and close companionship in 2015!