By Ruth Anne Kramer LCSW, LCDC
Strengthening Your Relationships
What comes to mind when you think of the New Year? Many people think “How can I become a better ME?” What if that question were changed to “How can we come a better WE?” January is known for a time of News Year’s resolutions, BUT it is also referred to by the legal community as “Divorce Month.” The New Year is a time for a new you where some people believe ending a relationship to be a new start. If you are considering this option, consider new ways to reenergize your relationship to kick off the new year first.
The best question to ask each other is “How can we meet each other’s needs and desires?” Some people do not know what they need or desire in a relationship and needs and desires can change over time. Even more so when kids become a part of a relationship, it is easy to put your needs and desires on the back burner. Make improving your relationship a priority and place it on the front burner. Areas to explore are love, communication, and relationship goals.
Some couples express that they need more love in their relationship. Well what does love mean to you? Love can be expressed in countless ways such as saying, “I love you,” making your partner a cup of coffee, giving them a kiss good-bye, making them lunch, or scheduling time to meet throughout the day. There are different kinds of love and everyone has different ways they feel loved. The Five Love Languages developed by Dr. Gary Chapman include: “Words of Affirmation;” “Quality Time;” “Receiving Gifts;” “Acts of Service;” and “Physical Touch.” To develop a greater understanding of how your partner needs to be loved and increase your partner’s awareness of how you need to be loved, you can take the Love Language Quiz at www.5lovelanguages.com/assessment.
Let’s not forget that there are two parts to communication, listening and speaking. You cannot assume your partner knows you are unhappy or hope the other person will change on their own. The bottom-line is that you teach people how to treat you, at work, at school, in public, and in your relationships. If you are not willing to speak up and tell the other person you are not happy, how are they supposed to know?
You can increase communication skills with each other through daily check-ins. Consider asking questions such as: “Did I offend you in any way today?”; “Did I do something that you appreciated?”; and “What is something that made you smile today?” Listening can strengthen your bond and help you to learn more about your partner. German-American philosopher, Paul Tillich, puts it best “The first duty of love is to listen.”
Develop short-term and long-term goals in your relationship around money, faith, children, careers, and health and fitness. Instead of saying “you need to go to the gym” you could say “we need to go to the gym.” Remember these are goals you develop together, to accomplish together.
Not everyone has the same goals and not everyone is meant to be together. Being in a relationship and not having goals that align can be isolating. No one wants to feel alone in a relationship. If you feel alone, you have a choice to stay in the relationship and work on it, or leave. There are trained professionals out there who can help guide you through this process to improve your relationship. Couple’s counseling is not designed to fix you, it is there to help you decide if you should be together or part ways. As long as you feel you have done everything you possibly could to strengthen your relationship, to include making compromises, in the end you need to do what makes you happy.
What Defines You?
With the recent tragedies of natural disasters and public shootings, it is easy to forget about every day misfortunes that occur in our own community with friends, loved ones, and maybe even ourselves. It is not out of the ordinary for some to have difficulty answering the question “who am I?” What if the very thing we have identified with is lost? Many struggle at some point with losing something they consider a crucial part of their identity, something they believe to be the hallmark of their core true self. Whether the loss is a house, a job, a child or loved one, a physical ability such as hearing or sight, or some other aspect of one’s identity, the challenge to redefine the person you are now without that missing piece and move forward may seem completely overwhelming.
What does define who you are today in the moment; your past, present, or both? How do you identify yourself; by name, race, religion, age, occupation, education, family, role(s), fitness level, or net worth? Do the tangible things or the intangible carry most value? Many people may say that it is a combination of these entities that bond together every piece of us.
What does it mean to lose your identity? When we experience loss, or begin a new transition in our life, there is something that changes; a piece of who we are ceases to exist. It is important to understand that no matter the change you are faced with, physical health greatly impacts mental health, just as mental health impacts physical health. Due to this change in identity, we may experience hopelessness. This change may wipe away previous goals and aspirations and it may alter your relationship with friends and family.
How do we accept things we cannot change? We cannot focus on doors that have closed and still move forward. As an old saying goes, “You can’t start the next chapter in life if you keep reading the last one.” It can be a challenge to accept this new direction your life has taken, and that this new direction defines a lot about who you now are. How do we transform the new reality into something we can learn to love, and maybe assist others who might be experiencing similar obstacles?
We must challenge ourselves to see the positive in the negative and identify the lesson learned. It is very easy for the negative to put a black cloud over the light that is still there. There will be things about life that remain sources of joy like favorite foods, movies, sports, family, and friends. These are things we can still find joy in, and that will help us in redefining and reshaping our new identity. And for those of you caring for someone grieving a loss, remember to take care of yourself too so that you can support your loved one as they grieve and go through this transition in life. We all experience hardships in one shape or form because that is life, and that is how we learn and grow. In the end, you get what you give.
It is not always about who you are in the moment but about who you would like to become. You create who you are. Like an open book or blank journal, you put the ink to the paper. Since we are the authors of our own story, make it a good one, and surround yourself with those who are there helping you to write that story, no matter who you are in the moment.