The term “spring clean” doesn’t have to be relegated to physical objects, like the clothing in our closet and the stack of papers piling up on our desk. In fact, the entire concept of “spring cleaning” has to do with resetting and refreshing areas of our life. Sure, much of this pertains to clutter because, let’s be honest, it builds up over those 365 days! But it’s possible to do the same kind of resetting and revitalizing of our relationships, especially when it comes to certain areas that might benefit from a little improvement.
As Susan Edelman, M.D., psychiatrist in Palo Alto, California, explains, over time we can begin to lose sight of some of the simple things that we paid attention to in the earlier stages of the relationship that seem to lose their relevance as time goes by. “These thoughts and gestures, however, shouldn’t disappear, as they show the value you place on your partner,” she says.
So this year, as you dig out your cabinets and unclog your closets, consider also taking the time to “spring clean” your relationship in these useful ways.
Cut back on criticism.
When you’re with someone all the time, especially when you live together, it’s easy to pick up on the things they do that might frustrate you. But biting your tongue in many of these instances can go a long way for your relationship. “Knowing one another for a long time, or a short time for that matter, doesn't give you the right to unload and give each other a piece of your mind,” says Dr. Edelman. If you’re having a strong reaction, she suggests first asking yourself why you’re feeling this way. “Check in with your partner and figure out why you might be having these feelings so you can solve the issue,” she says. “This shows you value them and demonstrates that you want to understand.”
Get rid of distractions.
Think to the last time the two of you were sitting on the couch together. Were you watching TV or on your phones (or both!) instead of interacting? It’s time to change this—and spring cleaning is the perfect time to do so. “Technology gets in the way of many relationships today,” says Rachel Needle, Psy.D., psychologist in West Palm Beach, Florida and co-director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes. “When you are spending time together, make sure at least some time each day is undistracted, which means turning off the television and putting your computer, phone and tablet away!” she says. “Being present and focusing on just your partner can foster intimacy and connection.”
Spend more quality time together.
If you’re like most people living in the modern age, your days are jam-packed with one thing after the other. But don’t let your busy life get in the way of your relationship. You should still make your partner the priority and do your best to incorporate quality time for connection and conversation. “Taking time to check-in with our partner is a simple way to show your appreciation and unyielding support,” says Dr. Edelman.
Stop comparing yourself to other couples.
Social media certainly doesn’t help the case for the saying “the grass is always greener.” It’s easy to get caught up in the lives of other couples and feel as though you’re missing out in some way. But, as Dr. Needle notes, it’s important to remember that what you’re seeing is what others want you to see and that they are not sharing their relationship challenges. “Focus on your own relationship and express appreciation for your partner and relationship rather than spending your energy comparing yourself relationship to others,” she says. “If there is something you want to add to your relationship or that would make you more satisfied, communicate with your partner about it.”
Show more physical expressions of your love.
It’s not uncommon to be less lovey-dovey as your relationship grows through the months and years, however, you should use this “spring clean” to make a concerted effort to include physical signs of intimacy including holding hands, kissing each other hello and goodbye, putting an arm around each other or rubbing each other’s back, says Paulette Sherman, Psy.D., a psychologist and author of Dating from the Inside Out. “These simple gestures show love and can make partners feel cherished,” she says. “Become more conscious to institute one of these love habits on a daily basis.”
Arguments are inevitable, but how you fight is entirely in your control. Dr. Sherman recommends practicing listening to each other, finding the sense your partner is making, compromising and speaking respectfully with each other. “Avoid trigger words, don’t ignore your partner or avoid talking to them, don’t criticize and attack their character or talk down to them,” she says. “If you practice fighting fair you will be able to get through the hard times and it will only make you stronger.”