It’s a new year, and a time when we naturally begin to review our lives. A new year can remind us to make positive changes.
However, change is a complicated and nuanced subject. We may say we want things to change, but at the same time we may also find ourselves thinking change is too hard. Or it may be unclear what it is that we even want to change even if we have a desire for something in our lives to be different. It can be surprisingly difficult to know what we truly want.
Change can be particularly complicated with our partners. It can be all too easy to wish for a relationship with more romance and better communication, and to place the onus of changing on our partners instead of ourselves.
If you want to improve something in your relationship this year, how can you get started?
Simply wanting your partner to be more responsive won’t work. We can’t stay the same and hope someone else will be different. If we want to change our relationship, we need to begin by looking at an area where change is within our control – ourselves.
It’s easy to point the finger at your partner and to tell them what they are doing wrong and what they need to change. Resist this temptation – it is exhausting, and it doesn’t work. On the other hand, any changes you make within yourself will invariably have an effect on your relationship.
And it works best if you do it for yourself, regardless of how you want the change you’re making to influence your partner.
You can begin by changing anything, even something that has nothing to do with your goals. You want to feel your own agency. Call a person you haven’t talked to in a while. Take action on something you’ve been procrastinating about.
Feeling a sense of your own personal agency is a powerful starting point for initiating larger changes that may feel daunting. Building confidence is a key ingredient for initiating change, especially when the change is challenging to our most important relationships.
The best goals are those that are clearly defined so that it is easy to tell when you succeed. For instance, “I want to be more patient with my partner” is well intentioned, but hard to measure.
You can improve this goal by including a concrete action, which if taken, will mean that you accomplished your goal: “The next time I feel overwhelmed, I will tell my partner that I need to go for a walk to clear my head and then I will calmly respond to him when I am ready.”
Once you have a concrete goal, write it down. Research has shown that writing down a goal is effective for success. Set a timeline that is reasonable and decide how often you will look at your goal. You may even want to consider finding an image that represents you achieving your goal and make it your phone or laptop background so you see it several times a day.
When thinking about change, it’s also helpful to frame your goal positively rather than negatively. Rather than, “I don’t want to get angry when my partner demands a response right away,” try something like, “I want to take my time and answer calmly.” We can choose a positive option, such as taking a walk.
It is well documented that athletes who mentally rehearse their performance perform far better than athletes who do not engage in visualization.
We can apply the same visualization technique to the change we want to make real in our relationships.
For instance, can you imagine yourself feeling overwhelmed, and then stopping, taking a deep breath and calmly telling your partner that you need to go for a walk? Go over it in your mind as if you were watching a movie on a large screen with you as the star actor. Focus on the end result and how that feels.
That’s visualization: What does it feel like to be you when you achieve your goal? What do you see, hear, think, experience in your new changed reality? If you feel the change deeply through visualization beforehand, you are more likely to make it happen. Use your imagination to your advantage!
Another strategy for creating a meaningful change to your relationship is to have a trusted person in your corner. A relationship coach or therapist can enable a better conversation with yourself. They help you to see patterns in your thinking that are not readily apparent to you as well as help you reframe your perspective on how to make change happen.
A therapist can also help you gain more self-control. If a deeper change is needed, a therapist or coach can help you get to the core of what really matters so that you can identify what will have the most impact.
To create a positive change in your relationship, whether big or small, you need to choose a good starting point. Think about all of the areas that are within your control, create one measurable goal, visualize the end result, and achieve it.
If you are struggling to understand what you really want, or you don’t believe change is possible, or you simply need encouragement, work with a coach or therapist who can support you in your journey.
How do you feel about your relationship with your partner? Do you think change is necessary? How do you think that change can be implemented in your relationship? Are you ready to start with yourself?
Tags Marriage After 60
What great advice!
I thank God every day for my wonderful husband of 43 years. We are closer than other couples we know. Perhaps it’s because we decided to be a fun aunt and uncle for our many nieces and nephews, rather than parents. Many childfree couples are inordinately close. Having children is great for some, but it’s not for everyone. Perhaps you can rekindle love outside of the family arena.