Working on your relationships in the new year: What are your plans?
By susan mernit on December 28, 2008
BlogHer Original Post
As we all know, January is not only the month where people make (and break) resolutions, it’s the month when people resolve to fix everything that went wrong over the holidays. Not only is January famed as the go on a diet once more month, it’s become semi-notorious as a peak break-up season, when couples who go through abysmal, soul-deadening holidays together get the resolve to say “Never again!” and cut the cord.
For those of us who haven’t made it our New Year’s resolution to dump the partner, January is a great time to think about how you might work on your relationships in the new year, both to strengthen your ties and to address any problems lingering below the surface (we all have these, don’t we?) This is a great thing to do, not only with the significant others/lovers in your life, but with valued family and friends (after all, having strong ties with them takes work, too, right?)
For me, working on my relationships means a few things: asking some truthful questions I am afraid to ask, putting myself on my best behavior as a partner, and listening as hard as I can. It also means creating a space where I am able to hear feedback without going into total defensive mode, something I find hard to do sometimes—and yet something that is essential if you want to help the other person feel heard. It also means being honest with myself about what I am willing to change to make things better—after all, since I am the only person I can actually control, any change I want has to start with me, right?
Asking truthful questions I am afraid to ask
Driving through Ohio with A this week, we got into some long (and interesting) discussions about past relationships he’d had. In particular, we talked about one lover where the split had been over their strong differences around outcome: A felt this was basically a deep friendship; X wanted more and left when she realized she wasn’t going to get it. As A described what he’d found attractive about X, and where the relationship had then foundered, despite that, the question that can to my mind was “What do you think I could do to make myself more attractive to you?” Only, I didn't utter a word of this a) because we have a great relationship right now, and b) I was scared that if he told me I’d then have to act on what I found out.
When I get home, away from all these holiday travels, I am going to ask A a different version of this question. My question will be “What could I do to bet a better partner to you? I am going to pick a quiet time, and a relaxed space, and be prepared to listen to the answer. My guess is that if I could hear and understand what A responded, and then actually work on implementing 40% of it, our intimacy would take another leap forward.
I also plan to ask this question of other significant people in my life—family and friends. “How can I be a better parent/friend/business partner?” is a set of inquiries I am a little scared to kick off, and yet I know that the discussion that could come out of the answers—and the work I could do to address what I learned—will have highly worthwhile payoffs, for everyone.
Putting myself on my best behavior as a partner/friend/family member
Yeah, we all slip. And slide. And don’t show our best sides. Who could, 100 % of the time? But what if we resolved to show more of our best selves to the people we loved the most, and/or were the most present with and connected to? What if we could each improve our behavior—our generosity, our empathy, our niceness—20% more than we did over the very hectic holiday season, and maybe 50% more than at all usual times?
For me, going onto my best behavior means working on being more consistent and taking on less, so I can do what I have better. In January and February, I want to honor my promise to go to the gym with A 2X a week, and work together to plan and hold the dinners and discussion on progressive issues we’ve talked about. I want to be a more consistent friend to my son and make sure I see him at least 1X a month, even if it means leaving town to make that happen. I also want to follow through—without nagging—on my promise to help him explore cooking schools and do the interviews/applications. With my friends, my closest friends, I want to work at having time for us to meet up on a consistent and ongoing basis, and to talk on the phone at times when I am fully present.
With Lisa and Nancy, my business partners for the new venture—and for the folks for whom I am consulting—my goal is to just do everything I am supposed to do, on time and at the highest quality possible. I’m going to accomplish that by NOT doing lots of other little optional things, and seeking to apply focus to my time and energy.
Listening as hard as I can
I saved this one for last, because truly think it is the hardest. If you are someone who is as used to talk as I am, being a good listener takes thought and practice—but it so essential.
In my experience, working at being a better listener not only means you get to hear what the other person actually thinks; it opens a channel for true communication and connection. I consciously use what I call active listening techniques—behaviors I learned back in the day when I was trained to teach students at Ohio State. These active listening behaviors are designed to not only help someone listen better, they communicate back that you are listening to the person who is talking in ways that make it easier for them recognize that.
Some of the hallmarks of active listening are:
- Restating what you heard the person say and what you thought before you jump in with your comments/ideas/reactions;
- Using I-centered language when you do react (I don’t love that idea, rather than Your idea is stupid.)
- Focusing on feeling based language rather than absolute statements (see last example).
Of course, there’s a lot more to being a better listener than just learning some technique. I’d like to be able to relax into being a listener, to consistently listen without thinking about speaking, or what I might say next, and to do that in my relationships most of the time. I’d also like to become a listener who hears the words behind the words, someone who can decipher and interpret tone and what is not said, as well as what is stated. Building those skills in an ongoing process, but one I’d especially like to work on in the new year.
For the rest of my fellow BlogHer folks—community and Contributing editors alike—I’d like to hear about what relationship-improving issues you’re resolving to work at, what you hope to achieve through your efforts, and what tips and resources you’d steer the rest of us to so we could learn more (or have some of what you’re having)?
Post in the comments, pluh-eeze!
The Frisky, Judy McGuire: Dating Don’ts: Four New Year’s Relationship Resolutions To Avoid
“I’m going to quit being a sucker for men this year. No more otherwise-engaged guys, no more men who treat you horribly, and nobody you have to hide your wallet from every time you leave the room. You will only date men who know the difference between “you’re” and “your,” will bathe regularly, laugh at your jokes, think you look cute without any makeup on, and cheerfully pick up tampons on their way over to your house. “
the daily elephant: cheers to ending your crappy relationship
“I don’t really believe in resolutions, but I do believe that you should take a moment to stop. think. and analyze your life over the past year. And while you’re analyzing, you should also stop and realize that all that clean slate talk is nothing but a smelly pile of B.S. I mean, that DUI is gonna ride your coattails right on into the New Year hunny.”
GreenEyed Momster: Til Death Do You Part
“Some people stay friends after a divorce. I know that I'm not mature enough to even try. I would make my hubby's life a living hell if he left us after almost 18 years. I would wish that he was dead too. That's the only way I could deal with the fact that he didn't love me anymore. We've talked about the fact that neither one of us like being alone. Maybe that's just because of how my parents handled their divorce. Maybe it's because of the vow most people take that says "Til death do you part...."
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