Spring cleaning, for your relationship

Over the long winter, it's easy to take our relationship for granted, and things can get a little stale, even boring.

The other day, as I sat at my kitchen window with my morning coffee, I watched robins gather grass for their nests.

Over the wintertime, I admit that I have a tendency to hibernate with the bears, half-asleep, just waiting for the smell of spring to get me going again. It’s time to breathe some fresh air already!

Many of us could take a few minutes to breathe some fresh air into our relationship, too. Over the long winter, it’s easy to take our relationship for granted, and things can get a little stale, even boring.

John Gottman’s research on happy marriages shows that the happiest couples build romance every day, in small, positive ways. Here are just a few ideas I’ve put together that might just invigorate your relationship this spring:

• Take it outside. Go for a walk, a bike ride, a stroll by the ocean together (we are so lucky to live by the sea!). It doesn’t have to be extreme sports, or a massive cardio workout. The focus here is on enjoying each other while you’re physically moving.

• Breathe together. When you stop to take in the scenery, take some deep breaths together. Watch your partner’s breathing, match yours to theirs, and take in that intoxicating spring air. Inhale to the count of 5, exhale to the count of 8. Do that a half-dozen times and enjoy your connection.

• Try something new. Swim in the ocean, take a kayak lesson, build a bonfire, visit a garden nursery (now, that’s a good place to breathe together!), go for a picnic, even if it’s just in your back yard. Open your bedroom window, re-arrange the furniture, shop together for new linens, or paint your bedroom a different colour (red, like the paint advertisement on TV, anyone?!) and see what happens.

• Touch often. Grab your partner’s hand, slip your arm around them, rub their feet, neck, or shoulders.

• Notice the good. The default setting in our brain is towards a negative bias. While this kept our ancestors alive, it can be deadly to relationships if we get stuck in cycles of negativity or criticism. Make the effort to notice moments that are going well with your partner, savor them, and hold onto them. You’ll actually rewire your brain in the process, easing it away from the negative. How cool is that!

• Surprise your partner. Everyone loves sweet things like having their car washed, receiving a cup of tea, or finding a love-note in their lunch. Be a little creative, and have fun planning and doing things you know would thrill your partner.

• Say thanks. Notice the sweet things your partner does for you, take a deep, loving breath, look into their eyes, and say thanks.

• Listen well. Check in with your partner every day, how are they doing, what’s on their mind. Be a good listener to your beloved, and they’ll be all yours. We all long to be heard, supported, and loved.

• Repair – now! We all make mistakes, say things we don’t really mean, hurt our partner in ways we couldn’t anticipate. It’s important for the health of the relationship to take responsibility for our mess-ups, to learn to say ‘I’m Sorry’ when appropriate, and get back into connection quickly.

• Clear the air. Set up an hour once a week to brush out any relationship detritus that may have accumulated during the week. Then remember to share the good stuff, too.

• Empty the garbage. Old, stuffy resentments clogging up your relationship? Make time to clear up any build-up of negative emotions like anger, disappointment, or frustration before they make a toxic stew that undermines your relationship. Bring it up, gracefully and with love, recognizing that chances are pretty good that it’s connected with our own old stuff that we need to address compassionately with ourselves.

• Smile more. My mother was right. You’ll look better, feel better. And it might just put a sparkle in your partner’s eyes, too.

If your marriage needs some attention, you owe it to yourself and your partner to breathe some fresh air into it again. If you’re not quite sure how to do that yourselves, be proactive and get some help.

Marriage counselling isn’t just for people whose marriages are on the brink of collapse — it can be very productive for people who just need a boost to help their relationship grow into the healthy, vibrant relationship you want.

And it can be fun, too.

Frances Ferguson is a registered clinical counsellor with offices in Courtenay and Campbell River. She works extensively with couples and can be reached at 250-871-7303 (Courtenay) or 778-418-1818 (Campbell River), or at franferguson@shaw.ca.

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