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6 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship in 2014

01/09/2014 08:58 am ET | Updated Mar 11, 2014

If you're looking to add spice to your love life, more fun to your weekends or a better way to resolve conflicts, 2014 is the perfect time to do it.

This year, instead of making a New Year's resolution for yourself, why not resolve to make your relationship stronger, healthier and happier? Here are six ways to turn a good relationship into one that is exciting, passionate and really happy! These strategies are based on my long-term study, ongoing since 1986 and funded by the National Institutes of Health, where I learned what makes couples happy and keeps relationships strong. [1]

1. Resolve to lighten up.
Finding: One of the qualities I observed among the happiest couples is the ease with which they relate. They joke. They shrug their shoulders with a smile. They are accepting. Sometimes we forget what brought us together in the first place.

Solution: In 2014, sit down with your partner and tell stories about how you first met. Then share with your partner a quality that always makes you smile. This two-part exercise helps couples get back in touch with the happy side of their relationship, as opposed to the more serious side.

2. Resolve to be an inspiration to each other.
Finding: The happy couples in my study don't criticize each other, but instead inspire their partners by working on and improving themselves.

Solution: In 2014, take responsibility for your own behaviors, actions and words. Get in shape. Get things done. Put a date night on the calendar. Don't wait around for your partner to do it. You are a team, so when one partner contributes, the other will reciprocate.

3. Resolve to focus on the positive.
Finding: The happy couples in my study focus on what is going well in their relationship, rather than on the problems and the negative aspects.

Solution: In 2014, think of small behavioral changes you can both try that help each other feel loved, noticed, cared about, supported and valued. It can be as simple as giving a heartfelt compliment, touching and kissing or surprising your partner by doing a dreaded chore or errand.

4. Resolve to empty your "pet-peeve pail" frequently.
Finding: I found that happy partners pay attention to the small stuff, the daily obstacles and bumps in the road. They don't let small issues pile up until they cause big problems.

Solution: In 2014, bring up things that bother you, but do it in a positive way. You might say, "Honey, it feels really comforting to me when our house is tidy, and I feel stressed out when I come home to dishes in the sink and clothes all over the floor. Let's come up with a solution together."

5. Resolve to be more empathetic.
Finding: The happy couples in my study try to understand their partner's perspective or frame of mind.

Solution: In 2014, whenever you find yourself feeling critical, resentful, angry or judgmental, try to switch places with your partner and imagine his or her perspective or frame of mind. Most arguments, conflicts and bad feelings between partners could be totally defused if empathy were to become their default reaction.

6. Resolve to seize the moment.
Finding: The happiest couples in my study were not content with a relationship that was decent, okay or so-so. They described their partnership as great or amazing, and themselves as incredibly lucky and grateful. By paying attention to the relationship on a daily basis, they kept their partner very happy and their relationship very strong and healthy.

Solution: In 2014, don't settle for a "good-enough" relationship where you get along most of the time, managing the house, jobs and family competently, but where the passion, excitement and fun are gone. Seize the moment to try new things together, practice new behaviors and get back in touch with your love for each other. Try to do something good for the relationship every day.

References:
[1] Terri L. Orbuch, The Early Years of Marriage Project. University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research. Supported by a grant from NICHD (HD40778).

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