During these early weeks of a new year, both my inbox and brain are filled to the brim with messages about the value of resolutions. As a therapist, I regularly encourage the notion of “new beginnings and change making. I coach reflection on the components of the good life, on setting intentions and goal making.
Yet, I strongly resonate with the words of one of my favorite NYT columnists, Tish Harrison Warren as she writes about her readers yearly ‘reSOULutions’.
… I am lousy at discipline. So resolutions, to me, can feel ungracious, a yearly visit from a disgruntled drill sergeant, an occasion for needless guilt. This ambivalence springs from a tension I feel between the responsibility to actively seek self-improvement and the reality that, in the end, everything most lovely in life — from love to salvation to goodness to joy — comes as a gift. It is all a mercy. Even our ability to strive toward change is a gift, a grace and not exactly in our control, which is clear to anyone who has ever planned a productive day only to be sidelined by a head cold, a migraine or a broken transmission.
The point of resolutions shouldn’t be to add another task to our busy lives or another brick on the crushing and cruel burden to “do better.” The point is that renewal is always possible, and with a large dollop of grace we can freely try new things; we can continue to grow and change.
This year, I’m going to refocus myself and my clients to return to the basics, to what I call ‘looking for the love’. Contrary to what our culture teaches, love isn’t found in the expensive gifts or a Caribbean vacation. It is found (if you go looking) in the quiet, even dull moments of living with others. It is in the unbidden load of laundry done, sharing a meal without screens, laughing at a joke, feeling a gentle touch in passing. Love is cultivated during the grind of everyday life.
I regularly remind my clients of the research of Dr. John Gottman – that the number 1 thing couples argue about isn’t money or in-laws or sex. Most arguments in relationships are about a failure to connect emotionally. Recognizing how vital the small moments of love are is the first step to feeling more connected with your partner.
The long-partnered couples in my own research discovered that this attentiveness built the trust in their relationship and was the foundation for romance and intimacy. These pioneers reinforced my conviction that couples ignore each other’s emotional needs out of mindlessness, not malice.
The key to understanding one another’s emotional needs and looking for the love is to:
- Be curious about your partner; ask questions
- Listen to the answers; remember them
- Whenever you can, let your partner know how much you appreciate them
It turns out the seemingly most insignificant moments of connection are exactly the most important of all.