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Relationships: Small Steps, Big Changes

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Could your relationship do with a New Year make-over? Lee Rodwell asks the experts for their tips.

Instead of starting the New Year with one big resolution – to drop three dress sizes, run a marathon or write a bestseller – why not think about the little changes you could try to make your relationship better? 

But where should you start? Here are 10 top tips from a panel of experts. 

1. Make time to talk

Relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam (susanquilliam.com) says the average amount of time that a couple talks one-on-one and in an undistracted way each week is just twenty minutes! 

“That lack of time and space for focused, intentional conversation is one of the main reasons why the ‘shine’ can go from a relationship. Make a deliberate effort to set aside just ten minutes every day to focus completely on each other. 

“No interruptions, no discussions, so each of you gets to talk for five minutes each on what’s important, what you’ve realised, how you’re feeling. Making time for each other makes a huge difference to relationship quality.” 

2. Change your arguing style

How you communicate has a big impact on relationships. Think about the general pattern of behaviour you follow when you argue. Do you walk away? Do you escalate the situation, piling one thing on top of another? 

Marital therapist Andrew Marshall (andrewgmarshall.com) says: “Think about how you could do it differently – and if you can’t think of anything else, how about doing the opposite of what you would normally do? At least you will have broken the pattern.” 

3. Share a sweet moment

This is a task that you can do as a couple. Sit opposite each other and hold both of your partner’s hands in your own. Now close your eyes and recall a poignant experience you have shared.

“Next, look into your partner’s eyes and describe to them the moment you have remembered, explaining why it meant so much to you,” says counsellor Georgia Powell, (sussexcounselling.co.uk).

“Then your partner should do the same - close their eyes, remember a shared sweet moment, re-tell the experience. 

“This will feel like a very intimate thing to do and will help to bring you together and cement your relationship.” 

4. Be a bit silly

Take it in turns, once a week, to plan something that will make you both smile

A stable, committed, caring relationship is the perfect foundation for a regular ordered life. But sometimes, we forget to have fun, to break out of routine and be a bit silly.

“Take it in turns, once a week, to plan something that will make you both smile. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. It could be a drive into the countryside, a comedy video, a takeaway of food you don’t normally eat,” says Susan Quilliam. 

“The secret is for one of you to plan and the other to be willing to try whatever’s planned – even if it seems unusual or out of the ordinary. You may not like – let alone repeat – every suggestion, but many will introduce you to a whole new world.” 

5. Discover your partner’s needs

Couples counsellors David and Ruth Perl (loverelations.co.uk) say that often, people assume that what their partner wants or needs is the same as them. 

For some people, showing that you care might be gifts, some people want more time together, while some crave touch or nice words. 

“Find out what your partner’s needs are – they could be completely different to your own. Often people don’t know how to ask for their needs to be met but if you can find out what they are and start meeting those needs they will value you and appreciate you more.” 

6. Go to bed and get up at the same time

The bed is one of the most intimate places in the house, but often couples end up falling into the “all or nothing trap”, says Andrew Marshall. How many couples go to bed at different times, or spend their time in bed reading rather than talking? 

“Humans are social animals and we crave touch – yet a lot of couples only touch each other when they have sex. As we get older there may performance issues related to sex, so people tend to stay on their side of the bed. 

“If you are the one who normally leaps up to meet the day, why not spend time cuddling your partner instead.” 

7. Focus on the good things

“All too often in relationships we focus on what's not working: sometimes having this as the overriding focus causes our mood to lower,” says Relate counsellor, Denise Knowles (relate.com). 

“We can also start to view our partner as the cause of our low mood which permeates all other aspects of our life. 

“By flipping our focus we start to see the good things, mood can lift and partners can feel appreciated. It also allows for a more 'can do' approach to life and relationships.” 

8. Take time out

Build in time away from each other to refresh your batteries 

Build in time away from each other. Nothing refreshes the batteries better than going on a residential course or visiting old friends by oneself.

“One of the biggest challenges for a long-standing relationship is getting too ‘routinised’. If you're not careful, your partner will expect you to do everything together and this can tip over until you feel pressurised into not having your own life,” Relate counsellor Barbara Bloomfield says. 

“People often get a renewed sense of competence when they have to fend for themselves and stirring things up a bit is always good for a longstanding relationship.” 

9. Do something active together

Put away the mobile phone, iPad and all technology. Then go out and play badminton or tennis, or do something less active like walking or gardening together. 

“Physical activity not only has great benefits for the body but also produces the right chemicals in the brain that help you feel good,” says Relate counsellor Gurpreet Singh.

“Having fun together creates wonderful memories and builds a stronger relationship.” 

10. Show you care – every day

Relationship expert Dr Terri Orbuch (drterrithelovedoctor.com) says you should let your partner know that they’re special and that you don’t take them for granted by using affirmative action. You can do this through words or actions 

“It’s as simple as saying ‘I love you’ or ‘You’re my best friend’,” she says. 

“Affirmative behaviours can be anything from making coffee for them on in the morning to filling their car with petrol. The key is to give consistent affirmation rather than heaps at once.” 

Retiresavvy is brought to you by Skipton Building Society. This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.

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