According to a study by Matthew Johnson et al. (2019) of the University of Alberta, the idea that you’re in a relationship that can last can influence the quality and outcome of your relationship. This makes sense, as the level of confidence influences how we interact, whether in positive or negative ways. So how is your level of confidence in your relationship? And, if this needs sprucing up, how can you do this?
First things first, find out what your level of confidence in your relationship is. Test yourself with the five questions the authors in the study used to measure relationship confidence. Use a 1 to 7 scale of strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (7) regarding your current relationship:
Now, what to do about the results. Identifying strengths and weaknesses is the first step. Take a moment to celebrate any areas of strength and share any gratitude you have with your partner! See “How to Create Appreciation and Gratitude in Your Relationship” for a refresher.
Lower scores identify areas you may want to improve. If your level of confidence is low in, for instance, your ability to handle conflict, then working on conflict management skills would be a great thing to focus on. Check out these blogs: “Contempt, the Battery Acid,” “How to Get Rid of Criticism and Defensiveness,” “3 Ways to Keep Calm When Your Partner is Driving You Nuts!”, and “Do the Same Arguments Keep Coming Up Again and Again With Your Partner?”
If you are concerned about other skills you will need, such as keeping romance alive, or building and maintaining trust, read up on these topics. You could start with “How Healthy is Your Sex Life?” and “How to Create Trust and Maintain Trust in Your Relationship.” Take time to reflect as honestly as you can, then have a conversation or two with your partner. If it feels daunting to do this on your own, participating in a workshop that focuses on these skills can make a world of difference. Or, if you would prefer more individualized support, consider a couple retreat.
Whatever the results of your assessment, this is an excellent time of year to look under the hood of your relationship and tune up any areas that need addressing. This will help ensure you have a reliable and healthy ride for the year to come and beyond.
For making significant changes in your relationship, the good news is that doing “small things often” will get you there. Dr. Gottman’s research shows that tiny moments in couple interactions make a big difference in the relationship over time. The first few moments in a conversation, for example, around a disagreement, predict not only how that conversation will go, but how the relationship will go (whether “happily ever after” or in divorce). I’ve talked about the four horsemen of the apocalypse in other blogs, and if you guessed that these were the things that predicted divorce, you would be right!
So, if I had only one recommendation to couples for a new year’s resolution, I would choose this one: get rid of the four horsemen in your relationship. Start by choosing one to work on. For instance, criticism. Step one, notice if you use any “you” statements (e.g., “You never take out the trash.”) or global statements (these include words like never and always). Step two, keep a journal of the times you notice when you use a criticism (a simple tally on your phone would work great). Step three, work on replacing these with I statements (“I feel about , I need .”). For example, “I feel irritated that the trash is overflowing, please help me by taking it out.” You can start small by practicing starting statements with “I.” Bonus step, tally the times you remember to use “I.” Step four, continue previous steps for at least six weeks.
Once you have “you” statements reduced, you can focus on other horsemen, like defensiveness. The same steps above work for this one, in this case, replace the I statements with taking responsibility; for example, “You’re right, I haven’t taken out the trash yet.” Taking responsibility is the antidote for the second horseman. That “I statement” is also handy in avoiding defensiveness (which can take the form of a counter-attack, a critical statement or whining). After taking responsibility, it may be helpful to continue the conversation with your own perspective on the subject. So, the above example could be: “You’re right, I haven’t taken the trash out yet. I’ve been feeling stressed lately and would like to talk about how to handle household chores when we are so busy.”
If you focus on one horseman at a time, for six weeks each, it would only take you half the year. This will result in significant changes in your relationship for the better!
The holidays are notoriously stressful times, even though they are touted as being joyous occasions. Indeed, the expectations are that they should be full of happiness and meaning. But the holidays can be a time of loss (if someone is no longer with us to celebrate), conflict (with family members we may otherwise avoid), and dashed expectations. In some cases, someone may struggle with substance use, which can tilt events into chaos when folks have had a bit too much. So, what to do? Here are some things to consider:
Have you ever heard anyone say, “I should take my own advice, shouldn’t I!” It turns out that giving advice to others actually can benefit you. A recent study in the journal PNAS showed that giving motivational advice raised academic achievement for the advisor. Here is the thinking about how this works:
So how can this work in your relationship? If you want to improve your relationship in a particular area, say, improving your love life, you could write your own advice column on the subject. You might do some research, see what is out there, and choose some things that make sense to you to include in your column. (By the way, for ideas on this subject check out: “How Healthy is Your Sex Life,” “Sex and Relationships,” and the guide “Things Your Mama Never Told You About Talking Dirty…”).
Once you have your article completed, consider sharing it with your partner and having a conversation about it. Though I would caution against giving your partner advice—if they haven’t asked for advice, it may come across as criticism or worse. Or maybe you have a friend who would be interested in reading it. Or simply write it down in your journal. Whatever you choose to do, check back in a few months and see if you have followed any of your own advice!
Dating can be exciting and fun, and being in love can be magical. But is there something you should be doing to see if this is the right person for you? Well, yes, as a matter of fact. Dating is about getting to know one another and, in this way, seeing if there is a good match between you, finding out how compatible you are with one another. Don’t get me wrong, no matter who you partner with, there will be differences that will need to be negotiated. Knowing about these ahead of time, before making a long term commitment, can help you decide if you are a good enough match for one another. This will improve the chance of your relationship being successful in the long term.
I love the card deck 52 Questions Before Marriage or Moving In designed by Ursula Burton. The card deck has four categories: romance, social life, work, and money. Each card has questions to help you have meaningful conversations around these topics. For instance, a card under romance asks: “What are your views about having children? Pets? How strong are your positions about this? What, if anything, would change your mind?” Under social life, one card asks: “In what ways do your religious and/or political beliefs and practices, if any, differ from your partner’s? If you have children, with what beliefs and practices will you raise them?” Under work: “What reasons might there be for one or both of you to cut back on work hours or not work for money?” Under money: “How do you feel about any existing debt? About taking on more debt as a couple?”
As you can see, the card deck has great questions and conversation starters to help you explore life together. This will help you understand how good a match you are for one another, and what areas might be challenging to negotiate as a couple. It is crucial to know if there are any “deal breakers” in any of the differences you explore. Deal breakers are differences such that one of you will not be able to meet a core need; for example, one person wants to have kids, the other one does not. But keep in mind, outside of deal-breakers, differences do not mean your relationship won’t work. Differences are unavoidable. It is how you manage these differences—how you talk about them—that makes all the difference in the world. Knowing about these sooner rather than later can help you evaluate the next steps, such as further exploration, getting help from a trusted other to talk about difficult topics, or taking time to do some soul searching about your relationship.