For many couples, the new year brings an opportunity to reflect on their relationship and look to the future.
Relationship counsellors typically see a surge in enquiries after Christmas and New Year. And the first working Monday in January is so-called ‘Divorce Day’ when there’s a reported peak in calls to solicitors and internet searches on the theme of divorce.
The stories surrounding these trends are often negative and focus on couples splitting up or arguing.
But according to our counsellors, it’s also a time when couples want to be more positive, make changes and look to strengthen and improve their relationships.
Maybe they have made a New Year’s resolution to work harder at their relationship – and need to talk to someone about this.
We spoke to BACP member Stefan Walters about his advice for people who want to help their relationship in 2019.
1. Know yourself
Making sure you ‘know yourself’ is one of the most important things you can do in a relationship, said Stefan.
Understanding your own personality, emotions and pressure points can be very beneficial to a relationship.
“You take yourself into the relationship,” he said, "you need to start by working on yourself.
“Know how to regulate yourself so things don’t build up. Know your triggers and how to deal with them.”
2. Make time for a quality dialogue with your partner
“It’s important to do this as often as you can,” said Stefan.
“Some couples will do this once a week, others will use the time they spend in therapy for this dialogue.
“You need to create the time to take the temperature of what’s happening in the relationship. It’s an emotional gauge of what’s going on.”
These conversations can mean people don’t get upset because an issue has not been articulated, and they can also stop partners being complacent in the relationship, said Stefan.
It’s vital to be aware of how both people are feeling and what’s going on in the relationship.
3. Manage the ‘thirds’
Stefan stressed that couples should have an agreed strategy for managing anything that is outside the relationship, such as work, hobbies or family.
“Come at it from an agreed standpoint,” he said.
This means you are both on the same track, there are fewer surprises and both people in the relationship are more prepared about how to tackle issues when they come up.
“This can be particularly important after Christmas if there’s been a family argument or it’s been a hard time,” he added.
4. Have a shared vision for the relationship
It’s important that your visions for the relationship are shared, said Stefan.
“If one person wants to live in a big mansion, but the other person doesn’t think that’s important, there could be a problem,” he added.
“Some people have this conversation at the early stages of the relationship, but then don’t have it again. It’s no use if this discussion was 10 years ago. Things change, you have to keep having this ‘shared vision’ conversation throughout your relationship.”
5. Don’t forget the physical side of a relationship
“Remember to practise physical touch – whatever feels comfortable,” said Stefan in his final piece of advice.
“Make sure that physical contact is part of the relationship, it can offer safety and security. Even holding hands or having a kiss can help,” he said.
To speak to a BACP relationship counsellor, visit our Therapist directory.