We turned to Tina B. Tessina, a psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media, 2008), for her insight into how to take your marriage from good to great. "The new year is a great time to make positive changes in your relationship," says Tessina. "If you keep these resolutions, you'll get back much more than you put in."
1. Be open and honest
The more open and honest you are with your spouse, the stronger your relationship will be. It can be easy to let things go unmentioned, but this year, resolve to talk often and to do so face to face. "Talk frequently and honestly to each other about your frustrations, about sex, anger and disappointment, about your appreciation of each other, about everything," says Tessina. "No topic should be off-limits."
Making an effort to talk through any issues that arise can also help minimize conflict. "Learn to listen and communicate instead of fighting. Fighting is childish, and you want a grown-up relationship," the psychotherapist explains.
2. Work as a team
One of the most important marriage resolutions you can make is to work as a team. "Strive to work together to solve any problems that come up," says Tessina. "Don't get stuck on who's right or wrong, focus instead on what will solve the problem." She explains that when you build a successful working partnership, each of you will feel supported and respected by the other.
When each person feels that the other has their best interests at heart, problems are solved in a way that leaves both parties happy with the solution. "The mutuality of this type of partnership creates an environment of love where deep trust grows," says Tessina. "When trust, respect, responsibility and love feel mutual, that's when we feel secure in being loved."
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3. Stay connected
It's so easy to let everyday life get in the way of intimacy. Stress, household chores, long hours at work and any number of daily responsibilities leave little time for talking, let alone connecting in a way that really keeps you close as a couple. Make an effort to connect in many different ways this year, says Tessina. "Nothing ensures that your relationship will remain faithful better than a good, warm connection," she explains. "Keep your connection going through communication, sex, affection, understanding and concern for one another."
4. Lighten up
Taking yourself or your partner too seriously can have a detrimental effect on your marriage. Small arguments become bigger and resentment can build. This year, resolve to lighten up, says Tessina. "Have a sense of humour, give the benefit of the doubt, care about each other," she says. "Store up plenty of good times in your relationship reservoir to draw on in the hard times." These good times will also help you work toward becoming more of a team and bring you closer together.
5. Create goodwill
We all dwell on negative moments and times when we feel slighted, but it's more important to focus your attention on what makes you feel good about your partner. "Every kind or unkind word, every gesture of support or criticism, every honest or dishonest interaction between you, and every gesture of affection or coldness are stored in your memory," Tessina explains.
She advises storing up good feelings, forgiveness, support, honesty, appreciation, caring, and sexual and emotional intimacy to build up a backlog of goodwill. "To face problems, separations, disagreements, illnesses and stress you will draw on your relationship reservoir. Memories of good feelings and goodwill let you cheerfully give what's needed."
More often than not New Year's resolutions are about losing weight or hitting the gym on a more regular basis. This year, make a resolution that really matters -- resolve to make your marriage even better. With a few simple changes you can make good on the promise to kick your relationship into high gear.
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