Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’d like to share an excellent article written by our friend Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT, titled “Get Out The Broom…8 Ways To Spring Clean Your Marriage.” We love her suggestions for reinvigorating your relationship and putting the focus back on you and your partner this Spring! We’d like to add that it is absolutely possible (and realistic) to work on these things year round. We know that this sounds overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be.
As our research has shown, the happiest couples build romance everyday in the smallest, most seemingly insignificant moments. Keeping your romance aflame is not about dedicating all of your time to your partner. It is about nurturing a strong connection byturning towards each other, staying emotionally engaged, showing each other fondness and admiration, building bridges, and knowing and loving each other all year round. For more on staying emotionally connected, see our blog post, Magic 5 Hours A Week! And now, we give the virtual floor to Lisa:
• Take a walk down memory lane. Do you remember when you met? Can you recall what drew you to each other? Take some time to reflect upon this time. Research shows that happier couples are the ones who can recall pleasant earlier memories. It can be an anchor for the relationship, a reminder of what you might have forgotten. ”Oh yea, that’s what I fell in love with…”
• Get back to checking in. At one time you likely talked a lot, especially in the early stages of your relationship. As time goes on and life gets peppered with kid related responsibilities, family, social obligations and work, it’s easy to let the communication between you and your spouse get tossed out the window. Re-prioritize a daily relationship check-in, even if brief. ”How are you?…How are we?…Is everything ok?”
• Look under the carpet for hidden resentments. One problem that can be a consequence of insufficient communicating in marriage is the build-up of negative emotions towards each other. If anger, disappointment or sadness go unchecked they can become toxic. Resentment can undermine the very fabric of the relationship. If there is something bothering you, bring it up. It’s useful to begin with “I statements” rather than using attacking language.
• Check your assumptions. What if what you were upset with your partner because you misunderstood what he/she said or meant? What if you never clarified this? Well, you’d be suffering for no reason. One of the best ways couples can avoid distress is to simply ask the other what they meant rather than assume you know. Otherwise, you will likely have a negative emotional response towards him/her, followed by a negative behavior – and all for nothing.
• Create happy memories. If boredom, “same ‘ol, same ‘ol,” and a lack of fun has permeated your marriage, it’s time to have positive experiences together to lay down over the other. It’s kind of like the negativity bias of the brain; the more you internalize positive emotions, the more you can ease your brain away from the negative. Plan date nights, go out and play, take a walk or do something totally new and invigorating.
• If you broke it, fix it. We all make mistakes and can inadvertently hurt our partners. The important thing for the health of relationships is taking ownership when it’s appropriate. John Gottman, PhD refers to successful repair attempts as “the happy couple’s secret weapon.”
• More gratitude, please. There is a lot of research out there now on the power of gratitude, individually and in relationships. Express appreciation for each other when possible. Notice the good rather than focusing on the not so good. It’s easy for couples to slip into negative cycles together. Make the effort to shift to a more positive (and reinforcing) cycle of support and gratitude for each other.
Take it up a notch if needed. If your marriage feels particularly “dusty” and in need of some TLC, get proactive and get access to the many tools available to help couples do just that; a local marriage weekend workshop or going through a marriage workbook or a book might be just what you need.
It would be nice to imagine being able to do these things 365 days a year but this probably isn’t realistic for many. At the very least, adding your marriage to your spring cleaning to-do list every year is one consistent way to put the focus back on you and your partner again. If you’ve slipped up and “fallen asleep” during the winter, you can get back to prioritizing your marriage again…and maybe make up for some lost time.
If you have gotten in the habit of sticking a band-aid over problems that have built up over the Winter, now is your chance to heal any remaining wounds – to patch them up, make peace, and restore your relationship to health.
Remember that “Spring Cleaning” your relationship is a process – a deep clean, if you will. It requires patience, commitment, and hard work from both you and your partner. Don’t start wielding the feather duster to attack the cobwebs while looking under the carpet for hidden resentments, or make ambitious plans to renovate the entire house! Take your time. Know that “slow and steady wins the race.” Be gentle with each other.
All for now,