It’s no wonder that January is a time when so many relationships hid the skids. I mean – let’s face it, there is nothing about January that is romantic and everything about it that is totally grim making it fertile ground for relationship problems.
When all around feels bleak and depressing, it can be pretty hard going keeping the flame alive when quite frankly, we’re all just dragging ourselves through the day until we can shut off from the world and hibernate in bed away from the dark coldness which seems to engulf us at this time of year.
Research from Richard Nelson solicitors found that searches for ‘I want a divorce’ rose by 230 per cent in the first week of January alone. But what if we are feeling all out of love, but not wanting to be so hasty?
Here at 40 Now What we’ve called in the experts to help us with some much needed relationship maintenance to help you keep the love alive and counter any relationship problems you might be experiencing right about now.
Why do relationship problems crop up in January?
According to Carolyn Hobdey, author of All The Twats I Met Along The Way and founder of the Redefining SELFISH community, ‘Relationships typically suffer in January from the ’New Year, New You’ pressure. It’s a time when many individuals look at their lives and decide that change needs to occur: “this year, things will be different”. We find it hard to blame ourselves for the issues in our lives, frequently seeking external factors – such as our partner – as the cause and what, therefore, needs to change.
Take time to really consider what it is about the relationship that you would like to be different and better, rather than it being the entirety of the relationship! Remember, you can only change YOU and your behaviour, so look at the things in your relationship that are currently irritating, annoying or upsetting you and think about how you could behave differently to prevent them occurring, or choose to respond differently when they do. This is the time to make peace with your partner’s imperfections.’
Avoiding the blame game & the power of apologising
‘It’s critical to take care of our relationships after any difficult time’, highlight relationship coaches Matthew and Emma Pruen. ‘The first step is to move out of the blame game, where everything is our partner’s fault, and see our own part in things. It’s an inner awareness: ‘He might have ignored me all week but then I’ve been telling him off whenever he came home’.
The next step requires courage, although simple it’s a game changer: saying ‘sorry’ and ‘thank-you’. It’s that easy. For example:
- “I’m sorry for being critical and blaming.”
- “I’m sorry for disappearing into my cave.”
- “I’m sorry for leaving on your own at that party.”
- “I’m sorry for doing my emails instead of helping you.”
Follow this apology with a swift thank you to acknowledge them for something you authentically appreciate. (Don’t just be nice, you have to mean it. We can feel when it’s real and when it’s fake.) This could sound like:
- “Thank you for working so hard to make Christmas special”
- “Thank you for being such a great mother to our children”
- “Thank you for being so kind to my Dad”
- “Thank you for helping me do all that washing up without a word of complaint.”‘
Feeling seen and acknowledged
According to the Pruens – who run relationship retreats – feeling seen and acknowledged ‘creates an opening, a window of humility (which can pass quickly) for courageous conversation.’
‘This conversation can heal the resentments and hurts which destroy relationships. The key thing is to speak from ‘I’. The world ‘you’ is toxic. This might sound like “I notice I’ve lost hope of being heard,” as opposed to “You never listen to me. You’d rather look at your phone than talk to me.” Or: “I notice that I’m keeping my feelings to myself because I’m frightened of how you might react,” as opposed to: “You just bite my head off whatever I say.”
When we speak from ‘I’ it removes all blame, and blame gets people’s backs up and closes down communication. This is also the time to express your needs and make requests. Requests as opposed to demands though, which kill intimacy. The word please, when spoken authentically, can be very helpful.
We define intimacy as sharing your authentic thoughts, feelings (emotions) and life-experience and witnessing the authentic thoughts, feelings and life-experience of the other without agenda. What would that look like? Imagine if you could say to your partner: “Last Wednesday I experienced you as telling me I am wrong, dismissing my feelings and then disappearing all day without answering my calls. I heard you say I was wrong to feel angry and that I never think about anyone other than myself. I felt resentful, anxious and lost. And how this brings out the worst in me is I become oversensitive and play the victim. I withhold my affection for days at a time and escape by fantasising about another life without you, comfort eating and nit-picking.”
This sort of agenda-free sharing transforms relationships. This is taking responsibility for your own part in things which is all you have control over anyway. This is what a good relationship looks like.’
How to sustain a happy and healthy relationship
According to the experts, the first step to avoiding relationship problems is to be aware of them in the first place (move over denial then!). So if you’re already feeling the strain, all is not lost. However, it does mean it’s time to take action before things spiral further downwards.
- Don’t rush into a breakup. Give your relationship time to adjust after isolation. It will take some time to get back on track as you establish a new daily routine. When other distractions come back and you can live more independently you may feel your connection reigniting.
- Commit to take some action. Good relationships don’t just happen, they take work and commitment. Decide to do everything you can to rescue your relationship so you know in your heart of hearts that you have done your best. The worst-case scenario is you leave with a lot more clarity and with less guilt having tried your best, but the upside is you could save your marriage.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let go of the little things that have upset you and drop minor grudges that may have been stacking up irrationally due to ‘virus stress’. It’s easy to get tunnel vision about issues that really don’t matter.
- Refocus your mind. Write a list of all the things you love about your relationship, including the things you are grateful for. It is easy to only focus on the negative points so this will help you maintain a balanced view.
- Kindness is king. Kindness is often the first thing to disappear during rocky times in a relationship however it is key to a strong marriage foundation. Finding ways to be kind and loving can often melt tension and rekindle romance.
- Actions speak louder than words. Being the change you want to see in your partner can be the most effective way to bring them around. You may find they reciprocate and make more effort with you without you actually having to ask them.
- Be spontaneous. Surprises can be very romantic so take advantage of being able to eat out in your favourite place again or have drink in your local to rekindle your connection. It’s important to get your sparkle back so be creative!
Recent challenging times will have had an impact on both of you and maybe changed the way you think about life and the priorities that are most important. Take this time to get to know one another again and rediscover who you each are. These steps won’t always be the easy option and sometimes you may feel like throwing in the towel and walking away. Bear in mind nothing worth having ever comes easily and a good relationship needs nurturing. If things have gotten off track it will take some time and effort to restore it. But the good news is that it is possible and it could even make the relationship stronger and happier than ever.
Actionable examples on what you can do to fortify your relationship
If your relationship feels like it’s limping along at the moment, Carolyn Hobdey suggests trying one of these small and easy ways to give it a little boost:
- Make a point of telling your partner what is good about them. When they do something you appreciate – especially the small things – make sure you tell them. Catch them doing something right rather than complaining about what they do wrong.
- Take yourself back to the start of your relationship and make a list of all the things you were drawn to about them in the first place (get them to do the same if you can) and then try seeing them now through those same eyes.
- Time is the great need in any kind of relationship – it’s not about lots of time, but quality time. Seek to carve out specific time together and take it in turns to plan what you do. Remember, it’s not about grand gestures but thoughtful ones.
- Try learning something new together – something neither of you have done before so that you can support and encourage each other. Make it fun and aim towards a goal such as learning a language for an upcoming holiday, how to do something practical so you can make-over your home or garden, learning to dance for a family party. It doesn’t matter what it is, but doing something that evolves you as a couple.
- Know that time apart can be as good as time together. Support, encourage and take an interest in each other’s individuality. Make a point of listening to each other with the aim of finding out something new about your partner every week.
Have you been struggling with relationship problems this month? Remember although things can feel bleak now, Spring is on its way and life will begin to feel better again soon and that in itself will help things to feel more positive again. Follow us on Instagram here where we will be keeping the conversation going.