As ‘spring has sprung’, well at least in the Southern Hemisphere, it has got me thinking about spring cleaning. For me, spring cleaning has always been an opportunity to go through all those old cupboards, drawers and wardrobes to clear out the junk, make new space and organise your contents. It’s a great feeling when you do this and your life can work so much better after a spring clean!
This got me thinking about relationships and wondering, how often do people actually consider having a ‘spring clean’ of their relationship?
So firstly, what might be the signs that your relationship needs a spring clean?
Your relationship might need a spring clean if:
- you notice that you wake in the morning and go to bed at night having only communicated about housekeeping issues throughout the day
- you are staying at work to avoid coming home and dealing with relationship problems
- you focus most your energy into your kids and their wellbeing with little left for your partner
- you avoid sex or even situations where your partner might want sex with you
- you are both stressed, tired and grumpy and fight more than enjoy each others company
- the same issues keep coming up again and again and never get resolved
- you notice you often feel critical and resentful of your partner
- the joy and happiness has gone out of your relationship and feeling irritable has become the norm
If you are relating to some of these scenarios, it may be time for a relationship spring clean.
Unlike cleaning your cupboards where you can accomplish that task on your own, a relationship spring clean will take the efforts of both of you engaged in improving the way you relate.
Tips for Having a Relationship Spring Clean:
1. Identify what areas need to improve
Start by identifying where are the problem areas, complaints or dissatisfactions that either or both of you are experiencing. Sit down and make a list so that you can begin to form a strategy for making changes.
Sometimes just the process of sitting down together and acknowledging the problem areas in your relationship can make a difference, even before you make changes. This is called the paradoxical theory of change i.e. change comes from acknowledging ‘what is’.
2. Commit to making concrete changes in your behaviour
Once you have your lists of problem areas, consider what are each of you willing to change within yourself to improve your relationship. This is a really important step because you are not asking your partner to change! You are letting your partner know what YOU are willing to change and commit to improving.
Most couples get stuck in a cycle of trying to change their partner. It is a myth that if your partner changes that you will be happy. Shift the focus to what you can stop doing and start doing instead. You may be amazed at the results. Take 100% responsibility for all your actions and reactions and see what happens to your relationship
3. Make yourselves accountable to the changes you commit to
This is where most couples fall down. They commit to making changes but have no strategies in place for making themselves accountable.
When you make your commitment for change, also include how you going to make yourself accountable. One easy way to do this is to be very clear about the changes you are making and have your partner give you feedback if you are not making those changes.
4. Regularly check in with your progress and give feedback
As part of your accountability in making relationship changes, you need to have regular check-ins to monitor progress. This is where each of you share how you think you are going with your own changes. Your partner will also give you feedback as to what changes they are noticing and how they are feeling in the relationship.
Beware! This is not an opportunity to blame, criticise or ‘dump’ on your partner because they have not met your expectations for change. Remember, this is a team effort and you want to be a cheerleader for the changes that your partner is making and visa versa.
5. Seek the services of a professional relationship counsellor
Sometimes in a relationship, blame, criticism or defensiveness has become so ingrained that it is not possible to use these behavioural strategies to initiate change.
It is then that it is important to reach out for professional help to guide you through identifying the negative patterns and creating positive patterns. Asking for professional support is not a sign of defeat or weakness, but rather an acknowledgement of how much you care about the relationship and each other. You are putting your relationship first by learning the tools to make it even better.
6. Make your relationship spring clean an annual ritual
We all go to the dentist, doctor and have our cars serviced regularly. Why not have a relationship spring clean on an annual basis? Establishing such rituals can only make your relationship stronger and more robust. You are also attending to each other with the care and respect that brought you together at the beginning.
A relationship spring clean is an opportunity to clear out the dirt and dust and bring in light, love and a fresh approach to how you relate.
Do you need relationship help?
photo credit: TheeErin
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.