The Power Of 7

Relationship

Words: Dr Gary W LEWANDOWSKI Jr

New Year’s resolutions most commonly focus on eating healthier, exercising, losing weight and being a better person. Admirable goals, to be sure. But focusing on body and mind neglects something equally important: your romantic relationship. Couples with better marriages report higher well-being, and one study found that having a better romantic relationship not only promoted well-being and better health now but that those benefits extend into the future.

The lesson is clear: Your relationship is important. Resolve to get it right.

That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. But, here are seven resolutions based on recent psychological research that you can make this New Year to help keep your relationship going strong.

  1. Set yourself up for success. Adjust your mind-set so you see your relationship as a key source of positive experiencesPsychologists like mecall this boosting your social approach motivation. Instead of merely trying to avoid relationship problems, those with an approach motivation seek out the positives and use them to help the relationship. Here’s how: Imagine a conversation with your partner. Having more of an approach motivation allows you to focus on positive feelings as you talk and to see your partner as more responsive to you. Your partner gets a burst of positivity, too, and in return sees you as more responsive. One partner’s good vibes spill over to the other partner, ultimately benefiting both. After a year when your relationship may have felt unprecedented external strains, laying the foundation to take advantage of any positives is a good place to start.
  1. Be optimistic. While things in the past may not have always gone how you wanted, it’s important to be optimistic about the future. But, the right kind of optimism matters. A 2020 research studyfrom Krystan Farnishand Lisa Neff found that generally looking on the bright side of life allowed participants to deal with relationship conflict more effectively — as they put it, better able to “shake it off” — than did those who were optimistic specifically about their relationship. It seems that if people focus all their rosy expectations just on their relationship, it encourages them to anticipate few negative experiences with their partner. Since that’s unrealistic even in the best relationships, it sets them up for disappointment.
  1. Increase your psychological flexibility. Try to go with the flow. In other words, work on accepting your feelings without being defensive. It’s OK to adjust your behaviours — you don’t always have to do things the way you always have, or go the places you’ve always gone. Stop being stubborn and experiment with being flexible. A 2020 study by Karen Twiseltonand colleagues found that when you’re more flexible psychologically, relationship quality is higher, in part because you experience more positive and fewer negative emotions. For example, navigating the yearly challenge of holidays and family traditions is a relationship minefield. However, if both partners back away from a ‘must do’ mentality in favour of a more adaptable approach, relationship harmony will be greater.
  2. It’s OK to put ‘me’ before ‘we.’ It’s easy for some people to play the self-sacrificing martyr in their romantic relationship. If this sounds like you, try to focus more on yourself. It doesn’t make you a bad person, or a bad partner. When you’re psychologically healthy, your partner and your relationship also benefit. Researchers have identified four main traits that are part of good mental health: openness to feelings, warmth, positive emotions and straightforwardness. These traits help with being more clear about who you are, feeling better about who you are, expressing greater optimism and less aggression, exploiting others less and exhibiting less antisocial behaviour. You can see how what’s good for you in this case would be good for your partner too.
  3. Do something for your partner. But, it’s not all about you. Putting your partner first some of the time and catering to your partner’s desires is part of being a couple. A 2020 study by Johanna Peetzand colleagues found that prioritising your partnermakes you feel closer to them, increases positive feelings, reduces negative ones and boosts perceived relationship quality. In the new year, look for ways to give your partner some wins. Let them get their way from time to time and support them in what they want to do, without exclusively prioritising your own wants and needs.
  1. Don’t be so hard on yourself. So many New Year’s resolutions focus on body image. Aspirations to eat better and work out often stem from the same goal: a hotter body. Yet, research from Xue Leishows that you may not really know what your partner wants you to look like. Women tend to overestimate how thinmale partners want them to be. Similarly, men believe that female partners want them to be more muscular than women say they do. It may seem harmless, but in both cases individuals are more critical and demanding towards themselves, in part based on misreading what a partner truly desires.
  2. Stay in touch. I saved the easiest item on the list for last: touch your partner more. When Cheryl Carmichaeland colleagues followed 115 participants over a 10-day period, they found that initiating and receiving touch— things like holding hands, cuddling, kissing — were associated with both a boost in closeness and relationship quality. Importantly, being touched by your partner has the added benefit of making you feel more understood and validated. Who couldn’t use more of that in this New Year?
Dr GARY W LEWANDOWSKI Jr, PhD, is Professor of Psychology, Monmouth University, and author of Stronger than You Think: The 10 Blind Spots that Undermine Your Relationship and How to See Past Them. His research focuses on the self and relationships, which includes attraction, pick-up lines, relationship maintenance, infidelity, and break-up. His work and expertise has been featured in over 150 media outlets such as: The New York Times, CNN, Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s World, Marie Claire, WebMD, Women’s Health, Self Magazine, Woman’s Day, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Men’s Health, Scientific American Mind, and USA Today. Dr Lewandowski is also a nationally recognised teacher who was featured in the book, Princeton Review: The Best 300 Professors. His articles have been enjoyed by over 3.5 million readers and his TED talk by two million viewers. This article is republished from The Conversation [7 Research-based Resolutions that will Help Strengthen Your Relationship in the Year Ahead], under a Creative Commons License.

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