In this article, we will
- discuss five different approaches to enhance your relationship;
- discover that little changes in your everyday life can have a big effect;
- share a number of ideas you can easily implement with little effort -- just pick one or two.
Spring is approaching and this month, many of us may be engaging in an age-old ritual – the spring cleaning of our house.
But are you only spring-cleaning your house or also other areas of your life? Spring cleaning essentially means that you clean out dirt and dust, renew, and prepare for the future.
Now isn’t that something that would do your relationship some good as well? Whether you are currently experiencing issues in your relationship or not, any relationship deserves some extra care and attention from time to time -- because your relationship is what you make of it.
We have applied the different rituals of spring cleaning to relationships for you, whether you feel like you want to move your relationship forward this spring, or just take care of some old problems. This is the time to discard, dust, revitalize, reevaluate, and create. Don’t get overwhelmed by all of our suggestions; just pick one or two ideas and get to work.
Let’s get started.
There are many things that can get in the way of a healthy and fulfilling relationship. Think of constant criticism that may be wearing you down, distractions that keep you from having quality time together, frequent comparisons with other couples who seem to have it all, or old and destructive habits. Get rid of all that debris!
Think of all the excessive or unkind criticism that wears you or your partner down, even when the criticism really only applies to a rather trivial matter.
Bite your tongue from time to time and save your criticism for the times when it really matters.
Or even better, try to replace that criticism with a kind comment on what you appreciate in your partner!
You may experience many distractions in your daily life that take away from your time together. Think of cell phones and other devices that you use when you could actually talk with each other – at meal times or on the playground. Sometimes, worries can be distractions, too. Make a conscious decision to create some space for your relationship, be it on the dining table or somewhere else in your life. And if worries are wearing you down, try scheduling some “worry time” so that you can tend to your worries then but otherwise keep them more in the background.
In times of social media, it’s easy to compare yourself, your partner, and your relationship to others’ relationships. Social media posts tend to selectively portray others in a positive light. After all, you’re much more likely to post about your latest weekend trip than about the ongoing strife with your partner.
If you’re in the habit of passively scrolling through others’ posts, you’re at particular risk for comparing yourself unfavorably to others. Don’t do it! Reduce the time you spend on social media, or use your social media time more productively by actively interacting with others or making appointments to spend time in-person with others.
Old and destructive habits
We all have habits we’d rather not have, or that are a thorn in the eye of our partner. Maybe you deposit dirty dishes in the sink rather than in the dishwasher, leave smelly socks in bed, are too loud, or just generally are rather messy. There are many habits that can become annoying once we live with someone who can’t escape them.
If you have a habit that you know annoys your partner, give it a try and change your habit. Here are some tips:
- Ask yourself why you have that habit. Maybe there’s something you can change to make the habit go away?
- Does your habit get triggered by anything in particular? Identify your triggers and try to avoid them or replace your old response with a new, more adaptive response.
- Habits are habits because we don’t much think about them. That’s also why they’re hard to change. Create reminders for the situations or locations when you’re most likely to engage in your destructive habit.
- Replace your habit with another action or an unpleasant consequence. Let’s assume you are trying to stop biting your nails. For some time, wear a rubber band around your wrist. Every time you find yourself biting your nails, snap the rubber band so that it hits your wrist. You’ll likely stop biting your nails sooner rather than later.
- Be patient and forgiving with yourself. Habits are hard to break and it takes a while to get rid of them. Instead, celebrate your progress!
Maybe there are some things in your life that need a little brush-up. They're there, and they've been there for a long time, but even things that tend to exist in the background need some tender love and care from time to time.
The way you fight, for example, might have changed since you first got together. And it might not have gotten kinder. Or have you thought about your daily routines and whether they are still serving you well?
Fights are an inevitable part of relationships. But there are better and a worse ways to fight. And while we can’t go into the nitty gritty details of how to fight a “good fight” in this article, we do have some pointers for you here.
- Choose your words carefully so you do not insult your partner (that is, do not threaten them or call them names)
- Consider your partner’s point of view
- Request, rather than complain
- Refrain from comparisons
- Take a timeout, if needed
And if you truly get caught up in a bad fight and are upset, try this trick: Imagine how you will feel about the conflict a year or so in the future. Thinking about the future changes both your reasoning strategies and your feelings, and you may feel more positively after you have reconsidered your conflict from a future perspective.
Routines exist to make our life easier. But as life moves on and changes, routines do not always adjust. Routines are mostly unconscious so you can use your cognitive resources for other things. Therefore, you’ll have to do some digging to find out if your routines need some dusting off.
Are there times or moments in your daily life when things consistently don’t go well? Maybe a faulty routine is to blame. If you regularly trip over the same things again, consider making a change. Think about how you have handled things up to now, and what you can adjust in your routines so they fit your current way of life and do your relationship some good.
There are likely many nice and pleasant things in your life – activities, hobbies, events, memories, interactions, and so on. But do they have a rightful place in your life, and do you pay conscious attention to them? If you haven’t been doing so, maybe this is the time to start.
- Find activities or hobbies you both enjoy doing together.
- Revisit the place where you met.
- Have weekly lunch or dinner dates.
- Take the time to appreciate the little things in your relationship that make you happy.
- Remember what you loved about your partner when you first got together. Be conscious of his/her traits and habits that make you happy.
- Make an effort to be empathetic and considerate.
Life and relationships change, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. But change can get tiring, particularly when you do not adjust your expectations and goals. Alone or with your partner, sit down to establish and discuss goals you have for your relationship, your family, or your life. Don’t take it for granted that you have the same goals.
The goals for your relationship are also determined by the love story that you live out with your partner. If you and your partner have incompatible love stories, you will sooner or later run into conflict.
The best way to identify mismatching stories is when you often feel like you’re routinely miscommunicating with your partner - you say one thing but they persistently hear another thing, you feel like you’re not connecting, and your conversations lead nowhere. Reconsider your love stories and see whether you can find common ground.
Need something new and enjoyable in your life? Create it! Think about what’s missing in your life. Are you interested in a new hobby or activity? Would you like to spend more time with your partner? Explore your interests to find new things to do.
Do you feel like you are caught up in everyday life? Make your life more enjoyable by consciously extending a kindness to your partner every day, or being mindful of the little blessings you have in your life (which may not be so little after all!).
Good luck with your efforts! Remember, just like a good old spring cleaning of the house, change is not easy. But it’s well worth it!
Huynh, A. C., Yang, D. Y.-J., & Grossmann, I. (2016). The value of prospective reasoning for close relationships. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(8), 893–902.
Sternberg, R. J. (2006). A duplex theory of love. The New Psychology of Love, 184–199.
Sternberg, R. J., & Sternberg, K. (2018). The new psychology of love. Cambridge University Press.
Wirtz, D., Tucker, A., Briggs, C., & Schoemann, A. M. (2021). How and why social media affect subjective well-being: Multi-site use and social comparison as predictors of change across time. Journal of Happiness Studies, 22(4), 1673–1691.