January 5, 2013 8:20:55 PM
MISSISSIPPI STATE - Many Americans resolve to improve their physical health each new year, and experts at Mississippi State University suggest it is also a great time to focus on healthier relationships.
MSU Extension Service family life specialist Cassandra Kirkland said the new calendar year brings opportunities for fresh starts in many areas of life, including marriage.
"The busyness of life can take away time that is needed to nurture a healthy relationship," Kirkland said. "It's important that couples schedule dates or 'couple time' throughout the week to reconnect. Work and other demands will always be there, and spending quality time with your partner may energize you for other life tasks."
Time together builds trust and closeness, which, in turn, help partners address some of the most common relationship challenges.
"Someone may become disillusioned by marriage or intimate relationships because of unrealistic expectations, which may lead to a desire to change one's partner," Kirkland said. "Everyone is human, and there are personality traits that are fixed.
"Focus on the traits and characteristics you appreciate most in each other, and praise the qualities and actions that you appreciate. These positive interactions will help build a healthier relationship," she said.
Kirkland said research shows that for happily married couples, each negative interaction is balanced by five positive interactions.
"Some signs of a healthy relationship are that partners are best friends, they forgive each other easily, they look to each other rather than outside their marriage for attention, and they spend time together enjoying hobbies and recreational activities," she said. "Look for another couple with a healthy relationship and ask them to mentor you as you resolve to build a stronger partnership."
Often, both partners in the relationship believe the other person is the problem.
"The only person you can control or change is yourself. Concentrate on being the best partner that you can be," Kirkland said. "Try to avoid scrutinizing your partner, and give that person you love the grace you'd hope he or she would give you when you make a mistake. Always be willing to forgive, for the sake of your own emotional and physical well-being and for the sake of your relationship."
Try to see from the other person's perspective when disagreements arise. Compromise, and look for mutually agreeable alternatives to create a win-win situation for both individuals.
"Hard times will inevitably come for all couples, and you have to be more willing to work on your relationship than you are willing to give up on your relationship. You can safeguard your relationship from the storms with the protective factors of appreciation, respect, trust and mutual affection," Kirkland said.
Kirkland cautioned that working through a challenge is not the same as tolerating emotional or physical abuse.
"Abuse of any kind is absolutely unacceptable and nonnegotiable," she said. "Individuals must remove themselves from abusive situations and relationships and avoid the myth that things will get better in an abusive relationship. One of the best predictors of future abuse is past abuse."
Rita Tanksley, an Extension child and family development area agent in Winston County, has seen her share of the best and worst times during her 32 years of marriage.
"I've had cancer twice, and my husband has had cancer and open-heart surgery, which puts commitment and affection in a whole new light," Tanksley said. "The simplest ingredient to creating contentment in marriage is to express affection on a regular basis. Keep love in your marriage by starting each day with a hug, saying I love you, holding hands and simply listening to your spouse."
She said communication is essential to a satisfying marriage.
"Don't assume your spouse knows how you feel or what your needs are. Learn to share thoughts, feelings and expressions of appreciation," she said. "The marriages that make it are those with partners who are committed to growing together and working to solve each problem that arises."
Creating a healthier relationship in the new year may be as simple as making it No. 1.
"Unless you are willing to make your relationship with your spouse a higher priority than other relationships, such as friends, hobbies, television and even your children, you will not have a growing, healthy marriage," Tanksley said.