There is always room for effort and improvement in our personal relationships. You never hear about someone on his deathbed lamenting the fact that he spent too little time on work or petty arguments, but many people regret more personally meaningful things as they near the end of life.
Whether you are married, in a dating relationship, or simply want to improve your relationships with close friends and family members, don’t wait for a life or death situation to make some small, positive changes. The new year offers us a chance to reflect on what is really important and commit to avoiding pitfalls and focus on growing in love. Here are some thoughts to get you started, but I would love to hear yours!
1. Spend the time.
Human relationships are not instant things. The important things like trust, bonding, love, and loyalty are built slowly, step-by-tiny-step, over long periods of time … spent together. Especially when life gets busy, it’s tempting sometimes to put personal relationships last. When you have pressing work deadlines, household chores, and social obligations, who has time to sit and have a cup of coffee or watch a movie with a friend or significant other? YOU do. If your relationship matters, you need to feed it, with the real presence of yourself.
2. Spend the effort.
When you are newly in love or beginning a new relationship, it’s easy to make the efforts required to keep that loving feeling alive. you want to make special plans and prepare special gifts for your love interest. It’s exciting, fun, and new! In a long-term relationship, whether marriage or family, it’s easy to take those you love for granted and not make the small efforts necessary to keep your loved ones feeling … well, LOVED. Do those little things that matter most, even on an ordinary day.
3. Notice their details.
We all want to be seen, known, and loved despite the knowing. One way we can do that for those we love is to pay attention to their details. Nothing makes me feel more loved than when my husband notices something I need and provides it for me, sometimes before I have even noticed the need myself. It’s not so much about replacing the blade in my razor or changing the lightbulbs in the kitchen as it is about the fact that he is paying attention to me and all the little things that make up my days. that’s what love feels like.
4. Make a physical connection.
For married people, of course, this resolution can include connecting sexually on a regular basis, but the more important point to note is that physical connections matter in all human relationships. Physical touch is important, but we aren’t all “huggers,” and that’s okay. If you aren’t naturally physical, start small by resolving to hug hello or goodbye more often, hold a hand sometimes, place an hand on a shoulder, or even make better eye contact while speaking. Our physical presence and our physical expressions of love and affection are an important way we can make others feel loved.
5. Listen more.
Do you really listen to your loved one? Or do you check email, scan Facebook, and think of what you want to say next while he or she is talking? Take note of how well you listen and resolve to do a better job of it. Avoid distractions during conversations, ask important questions, talk less yourself, don’t interrupt, focus on your loved one’s words, and repeat the main ideas back to him or her, to be sure you have understood. These skills don’t come naturally to all of us, but everyone can become a better listener simply by paying attention to the kinds of things that get in the way of good communication and making efforts to overcome them.
6. Compliment in new ways.
We all need to be encouraged with affirming words. Maybe you already tell your loved one that she’s beautiful or that he’s a great dad multiple times a week, but oft-repeated compliments can become old and lose their meaning. Are you stingy or getting lazy with compliments? Make an effort, once a day, to notice something new (even something small and silly) to compliment and encourage in someone you love. And be specific. “You look nice today” is not nearly so nice a compliment as “That sweater looks beautiful on you. The color really brings out your eyes.” “Thanks for cleaning up” is not nearly so nice a compliment as “The dining room looks so clean and pretty! I feel relaxed and happy just looking at it. Thank you for doing that!”
7. Assume the best.
Assuming the worst is sometimes a defense mechanism. Especially if you’ve been hurt in relationships in the past, you might be quick to assume bad motives on the part of others and therefore turn small infractions into mortal wounds. But with so much potential for pain and conflict in human relationships anyway, why go looking for more? When your loved does or says something that hurts, resolve to pause before reacting. Instead of assuming the worst possible motivation, ask yourself if there is any possible positive or even neutral “spin” you can give to the situation. If so, do that in your mind before speaking. If you are stumped for a spin, do your best to respond positively to a negative situation. Try something like, “It sounds like you are saying I’m too stupid to do my own taxes and that hurts. Can you tell me what you really mean?” Give them a chance! You might be pleasantly surprised. And if not, at least you have called them on their bad behavior without resorting to indulging in it yourself.
8. Do the extra thing.
You know the thing I am talking about. The thing is whatever you do to cut corners in your relationship that you wouldn’t do in a new and important relationship. Do the thing. Fill the tank with gas, take out the trash, fix your hair and makeup, put on a clean shirt, offer to make lunch, set the table, make a treat, sweep the floor, visit at work, text cute and silly things, whatever it is: Do it! You will make your loved one happy in some small way and get in the habit of making those small extra efforts yourself which builds your own self esteem and happiness. Win win!
9. Stop keeping score.
This one goes hand-in-hand with doing the extra thing. While you are doing your extra things, stop keeping track of the ways that others do or don’t do “their share” of things, around the house or otherwise. It’s ugly, it’s petty, and it never delivers the results you want anyway. No one is motivated toward greater acts of selfless love by a shrill voice screeching “I always …!” and “You never …!” Remember that we all notice our own contributions too much and others’ contributions too little. Keep your efforts focused on your own generosity and see what positive changes that inspires in your relationship.
10. Ask for input.
You might think your relationship needs no resolutions. And it might not, but there’s no harm in sharing this list and asking your loved one where you should focus first. Who wouldn’t want to be asked, with a positive and generous spirit, “I love you and want to show you that I love you. How can I do that better?” Don’t worry. You don’t have to stay up all night talking about your feelings, but communicating about your relationship speaks volumes about the importance of your relationship. Keep an open, humble heart in these conversations. You might just be pleasantly surprised by how simple it can be to communicate commitment and love to those you car about most.
How about you? Do any of these resolutions speak to your heart? What kinds of changes do you hope to make in the coming year? Whatever your resolutions, I hope and pray that 2014 will be a year filled with the kind of peace, joy, and satisfaction that can only come from nurturing personal relationships with those you love.