Spring Cleaning

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We’re thrilled to feature a guest-post by Lisa Brooks Kift, MFT this week. Read on for some great tips for “spring cleaning” your relationship.

Having an hour more daylight and feeling spring in the air (in Northern California anyway), I can’t help but think about the meaning of spring. For many it’s a time of renewal and recharge, a sleepy-eyed yawn and waking up from a winter slumber of sorts. Many clean their homes, their cars and their work environments.

Marriages can also “fall asleep” and get into a rut. So let’s dust out the cobwebs and do some spring cleaning there too!

  • 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 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 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.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of The Toolbox at LisaKiftTherapy.com, with tools for marriage, relationship and emotional health.  She is the author of The Marriage Refresher Course Workbook for Couples.  Lisa has a couples counseling practice in Marin County, CA.

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