January 25, 2021


Three Ways to Improve Your Relationship in 2021 


As we say goodbye to the previous year and look to the future, many people experience the natural changing of years as a fresh start or renewal.  It is this fresh start that gives many people the motivation to reflect on the life they are living and make goals to better themselves. You may have set a resolution to improve yourself, but have you set a new year’s resolution to improve your relationship?

Now is the perfect time to check in with yourself and your partner and to set goals for the coming year to work towards together.  Whether you have been together for years or you are still in the honeymoon phase, any relationship can benefit from taking time to reflect and push to better your relationship. Here are three goals you can set right now to connect more deeply to your partner this year.

1. Learn Your Love Languages



Love languages, based on the research of Gary Chapman, are meant to give you a deeper understanding of how you give and receive love. Knowing both your own and your partner’s love languages is a great way to learn how to more effectively meet each other’s needs. If you receive a certain kind of love, and your partner is offering a different type, it can leave you feeling dissatisfied even if your partner is trying hard to make you happy.  It is all about knowing what is most important to each other so that you can give love in a way that will have the biggest impact. The basic breakdown of love languages divides different acts of love into 5 distinct categories: quality time, touch, words of affirmation, gift giving, and acts of service. We will take a deeper look at what these can mean for your relationship below. If you don’t know what your love language is, simply ︎︎︎Take the Free Online Test.


Quality Time

Quality time is a love language that values, you guessed it, quality time and attention spent together. Those who value quality time are likely to feel the most loved when they have their partner’s presence and full attention. Some activities that can make someone who values quality time feel especially loved include: take a walk together, make dinner together, spend time together without the distraction of technology, play games together, and learn a new skill together. The big takeaway here is that the most important word for quality time is together.


Touch

People who value touch as their primary love language feel especially loved from physical intimacy. To debunk a common misconception: this doesn’t just mean sex. There are a lot of touch-based activities that have no sexual intention, and it is important for partner’s who value touch to have regular physical contact with their significant other.  Some touch specific activities include: hugs, holding hands, massaging, sitting close, stroking hair, and kissing.  The most important takeaway from touch is physical intimacy.


Words of Intimacy

Partner’s who value words of affirmation feel most loved with their significant other expresses love and appreciation verbally. These are the people who feel extra special when you share just how special you think they are by communicating it with words. Some words of affirmation activities include: thanking for hard work, verbalize appreciation, complement on social media, express pride, surprise with compliments, applaud effort, and saying I love you. The most important takeaway from words of affirmation is expressing your love with words.


Gift Giving

Gift giving is exactly what it sounds like, letting your partner know how much you love them by finding and giving special gifts.  If your partner has gift giving as their primary love language. It does not mean you have to break the bank by finding and giving the most amazing gift everyday. Instead, those who value gift giving appreciate knowing that you think of them when you are apart. Some gift giving activities include: give souvenirs, celebrating special gifts on birthdays and holidays, surprise with a note, buy flowers, and making something special to let your partner know you love them. The takeaway from gift giving is to show your appreciation with presents that are outside the typical big events like holidays, but to think outside the box and bring gift giving into everyday life.


Acts of Service

People who value acts of service feel most loved when their partner shows appreciation by doing something for them. Acts of service can feel like a list of chores, but it’s not all about taking out the trash or doing the laundry.  Acts of service can be so impactful because they actively make your partner’s life easier. Some act of service related activities include: make dinner, let your partner sleep in, help with errands, clean the house, watch kids, and breakfast in bed. The takeaway from acts of service is to show your love by doing something for your partner.

2. Expand Your Knowledge



If you have been together with your partner for years, or even decades, you may think that you know everything about them. After all, you have been sharing your life with someone for a while now, you may expect that you know all their quirks and they know all of yours. In reality, there are pieces of information that we simply never learn until we ask.  Do you know your partner’s most embarrassing moment? What about their least favorite relative? And your partner’s favorite tree? One way to find out how much you know is to fill out the Gottman love map questionnaire. 

John and Julie Gottman, some of the top relationship experts, believe that you can build a strong foundation for your relationship by deeply knowing your partner’s world. There are multiple versions of the love map questionnaire out there, ranging anywhere from 20 – 62 questions. You may know many of the answers or you may be surprised to find out how much you learn. As long as you keep the spirit of fun, you can even turn this exercise into a competition to see who knows the most.  Whatever way you choose to engage in this exercise, you are bound to learn more about your partner’s inner world. And even if you do know most of the answers to these questions and you don’t learn anything new, you still get to feel a sense of accomplishment knowing that you and your partner lead deeply integrated lives.

3. Communicate More Effectively



I saved this one for last because communication is the one goal every couple brings to counseling. I have never met a couple who believed their problems were unrelated to their communication.  Because communication is complex and there can be a lot of different factors at play, if you feel like your communication is hurting your ability to function as a couple, you should seek out a couples counselor for further guidance.  Couples counselors have the skills and knowledge to work through your specific circumstance in a way that no general guide can. In the meantime, I am going to teach you one of the communication skills that I share with all of the couples I work with. The technique is called “I statements.” At first it sounds simple, right? All you have to do is share how you are feeling by saying I feel _______. Unfortunately, in real life relationships we struggle for a variety of reasons to communicate our feelings and needs. Someone may feel that they can’t ask for their needs to be met. Some may not even be able to identify what they are feeling. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of communication struggles, this technique can make sure you are clearly communicating your needs and teach you to listen better to your partner’s needs.

So how do you use I statements?

The basic formula is simple. I feel _______ when you __________.  Let’s break it down. The “I” part is vital because it demonstrates that you are taking ownership of your emotional response.  In contrast, using “you” statements can make your partner feel attacked, effectively ending communication with defensiveness. So, you’ve got the I part down. Next comes “feel.” Feel is important because it makes you take inventory of what is going on for you and communicate your response to your partner.  Feel should be followed by an emotion word. Let’s practice:

I feel angry…

I feel annoyed…

I feel ignored…

If you can’t pinpoint exactly what you are feeling, check out emotion lists to help you build up your emotional vocabulary.

Next is “when you.” This is the part where couples seem to struggle the most. What should follow “when you” is a nonjudgmental statement of fact. Couples who are struggling with communication often communicate judgement at this point in the statement, which again leads to defensiveness.  If you state just the facts of the situation, you may be able to bypass an argument about who said what when.  I’ll say it again, I feel (emotion word) when you (statement of facts). Let’s take one of our examples from before and walk through the do’s and don’ts of I statements.

The statement: I feel annoyed when you don’t do the dishes.

The emotion: annoyed

Facts: partner did not do the dishes

If you can keep the judgement out, this is an effective and straightforward way to let your partner know what you are feeling and why, which allows you both to work together and find solutions to the problem.

But sometimes we make mistakes. Let’s take that same example and add judgement to it.

The statement: I feel annoyed when you don’t do the dishes even though you had all day to do them.

The I statement from above is still here, but it has the added judgement: even though you had all day to do them. Instead of communicating what you feel and why, you are communicating that you are disappointed in your partner, that your partner is lazy, or that you don’t care what your partner did today because it wasn’t what you wanted them to do. When we feel attacked, we defend, and when we defend, we aren’t open to hearing what are perceived as threatening statements. Hopefully with this quick guide you can introduce more I statements into your relationship.

The changing of years holds a special place in our rituals as we reflect on how we want to better our lives. It is a time of year when we are more open to accepting change and trying out new ways of being.  The new year may make you want to change some patterns in your life, whether they are personal or interpersonal. Love languages, love maps, and I statements can help you understand and communicate your desired love style, provide a fun way to test what you know about your partner, and help you to communicate more effectively in your everyday life.



Now practice these tools and share what you have learned with your partner to start out the new year with a renewed relationship!

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