If You Want A Successful Relationship, Don't Do This

I don't know about you, but it seems like my inbox right now is overflowing with emails telling me what New Year's resolutions to have and how to keep them. This time of year puts a lot of pressure on us all to make grandiose claims about how we are going to improve our lives in all sorts of ways. But saying and doing are, as we know, very different things.

The truth is that most people will fail when it comes to identifying their bad habits, making changes and sustaining them in the long-term. Change is hard. It's uncomfortable and it takes incredible persistence, perseverance and patience.

As a relationship therapist, I always use the new year to think about the changes I want to make in my relationships as well as supporting changes my clients want to make in their relationships.

But perhaps ironically, I don't recommend that my clients make relationship "resolutions" for the new year. Instead of committing to relationships resolutions that may never stick, I want to invite you to use the New Year to choose a relationship theme instead.

What is a relationship theme?

A relationship theme involves setting an overarching intention for the emotional tenor of your relationship. When you set an intention, you're moving toward a way of being that you aspire to, and therefore go about making change in a mindful and patient way. It also prevents you getting down on yourself every time you "break" a resolution.

In other words, when you choose a relationship theme instead of a resolution, it takes the pressure off having to attain a particular goal, something that is either defined by success or failure. And we all know, of course, that when you think you are failing, you're much more likely to give up altogether. The key is keeping an open, balanced and positive perspective. Hence the setting of intentions — of a relationship theme, rather than a resolution.

Your relationship theme is something you can hold lightly in the background and bring it to the foreground in any (and/or all!) of your relationships, as needed.

So, what are some examples of relationship themes?

Themes are often best expressed with between one and three words. These words are easy for you to remember so you can access them as needed and accurately capture the sentiment of the change you're aspiring toward.

Some examples of relationship themes might include:

  • Kindness
  • Compassion
  • Loving
  • Tenderness
  • Reflective
  • Affectionate
  • Openness
  • Fun
  • Lightness
  • Gratitude
  • Patience

Choose one to three words that truly capture what you want you relationship theme for 2015 to be, and then make a note of them. Write them on a sticky note and place your note where you regularly spend time, such as on your computer or on your mirror.

When you notice yourself falling into bad habits, take note of them, and simply remind yourself of your relationship theme. Do this gently, making sure to be kind to yourself in the process. As you bring your relationship theme to the foreground, immerse yourself in the feelings that your theme evokes.

This is a great way to make your relationship theme more powerful because you're not just thinking about the theme in the abstract. With small — but powerful — steps, you're actually experiencing the benefits brought about by prioritizing your intentions. It's incredibly empowering to feel that change is in your hands, even if it accumulates through small gestures and shifts of mind.

For example, if you start to become reactive to something your partner says or does, gently bring the word "reflective" into the foreground of your mind. Cultivate a sense of presence, sitting with the word "reflective" -- and well, reflecting on it. Sit with the feelings you have in response, allowing yourself to simply exist in the experience of being reflective instead of reactive. Then notice what changes in your relationship, either in that moment, or in the coming time.

This approach is a gentle, supportive and more compassionate way to move toward change, both within yourself and in your relationships.

So, what's your relationship theme for 2015? Please share yours below!

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