A New Year tradition - make and exchange lists of what you want. We learned this at Harville Hendrix's couples workshop



Julian De Navarez, illustrator, Columbia. Ink drawing, acrylic, and digital coloring. 

When my husband and I married we enrolled in a couples workshop designed by Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen Hunt. It is one of the best gifts we gave ourselves.

We had both experienced divorce. Divorce is deeply painful, and motivating—neither of us wanted to go through that again. We knew we needed to look at our relating habits and patterns as way to change and choose new skills. Then we committed to practicing new ways. We’re still practicing.

I learned that taking time to connect each day only takes a few minutes. I learned the power of changing habits, like this one: when we come home, we find each other for a hug. I learned that how I say something matters. I learned I need to know myself to be able to ask for what I want. I learned that listening means just that--no defending, explaining, fixing, or offering solution ideas. I learned the primary relationship is first and care of it sets the tone for the family. I learned that children learn relating skills by watching parents relate. They learn about love and coupleship from us.

That was fifteen years ago. Today, on New Year’s Eve—a good time for anyone, and a great time for us—our anniversary, we reread these notes, make and exchange behavior request lists. Then it's time for dinner out.

NOTES FROM MARRIAGE WORKSHOP

Encouragement with Partners

Daily Dialogue
Set aside ten minutes a day to share: five minutes for each person to share feelings.

What do you share? Hopes and fears, excitement, and anxiety, joy and sorrow, pride and embarrassment, apprehension, feelings of inadequacy, feelings of anger—the important things that rarely are shared but are essential information for people who love each other. Use “I” language. For example, “I’m feeling disappointed today. I was suppose to meet with so and so and they canceled the appointment. I am imagining so and so doesn’t like me and I’m making up things so and so is thinking. I know I can’t control what another does, thinks, or says. I know that what another person thinks and feels is his/her business. I am telling you my feelings as part of my letting go process. Thank you for listening.”

One person talks while the other listens. Then reverse roles. Listen to understand. Talk from the heart. You might begin by saying, "Will you please listen to me? This happened today…I feel…" A response that works after listening to a share is “Thank you for telling me.”

Daily dialogue is not a time to vent or attempt to manipulate by making your partner feel responsible for your emotions. Daily dialogue is not a time for making demands or requests.

As you become more aware of your needs and feelings and your partner's, you will know when to comfort, encourage, and help. 

Encouraging Days – Each partner does this.

List ten small, pleasant behaviors your partner can do that will please you.
Take a day to think about what you want and like, and make your list.

Behaviors should be specific, positive, and unrelated to past conflicts between you. Choose behaviors that are possible for your partner to do on a daily basis. For example, "Call me and tell me you love me" or, "take a ten-minute walk with me.” Or, “when I come home look me in the eye and give me a hug, or “hold my hand” or “make me a cup of coffee in the morning.”

Exchange lists. Strive to do two encouraging behaviors each day. Notice what your partner does for you and let your partner know of your appreciation.

Focus on Today
Ideas to think about and do.

Anticipate a great week. List three things you would like to have happen today. List three things you would like to have happen this week.

Notice how much power and control you have over your own life. Notice how your thoughts and feelings affect your relationships.

Respond in a new and positive way in three situations. Notice what happens.

What are five things that you could do for your partner that you are not doing now? Do one of them today.

Plan a special night or weekend. Share this plan with your partner. If you can, make it happen, If you can't, what part of your plan can you do today?

Today and each day this week ask yourself these questions: What are three things that turned out well today? What are three good things that might happen tomorrow?

Are you aware that what you are getting from your relationship is usually related to what you are giving? Notice how many opportunities there are to give positive and encouraging comments. Today, take these opportunities when they come.

Say something nice about your partner to at least one other person today. Then tell your partner what you said.

What would you like to receive more compliments about? Make a list of five areas in which you would like to feel more appreciation. Give the list to your partner.

Surprise your partner by doing something nice at least twice today. Do something thoughtful, give an unexpected kiss or hug, leave a love note, cook a special meal, buy flowers, etc.

Admit that you are sometimes afraid and tell your partner why.

Hug your partner at six different times today.

Complete these sentences and share your answers: One of the qualities I first found attractive in you was…. I feel loved and appreciated by you when you….

What is one thing you can do now to improve the way you relate to your partner?

Today, notice your nonverbal communication. Are you showing enthusiasm when you are happy about what your partner is saying or ding? Are you communicating "everything's fine" when you are feeling otherwise?

Today, develop more empathy with your partner. Make a deliberate effort to understand how things look and feel to your partner.

Remember the first time you felt especially close to your partner. Share your memory with your partner.

From Harville Hendix and Helen Hunt, Imago Coupleship Workshop based on their book, Getting the Love you Want. This is a link to a 3 minute video to show one of the skills we learned and practice.

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