Building Stronger Relationships

By James & Suzie Pawelski

Let’s face it, a strong, healthy relationship takes work. After awhile, the honeymoon stage fades and you habituate to things. You may start to ignore the good aspects of your relationship and instead focus on those pesky small things about your partner that bother you. When you take the good for granted and stop noticing and nurturing it, those annoyances or flaws now take center stage.

It’s easy to mindlessly dwell on your partner’s shortcomings and what you find lacking in your lives together. You may daydream about what it’s like elsewhere and start comparing your relationship and your partner with others.

So, how do you get back to building a strong, healthy relationship together? One way to do that is to shift your perspective and attention to what is going right.

Shift Your Mindset

What are those initial qualities that attracted you to your partner? Did those traits suddenly disappear or are you so busy fixating on small annoyances that your perception is distorted and it’s all you notice?

Wise American philosopher and psychologist William James emphasized the importance of voluntarily directing and focusing your attention in order to influence your perceptions. Rather than looking at what’s going wrong in your relationship what if, instead, you focused on nurturing what you have? Positive psychology can help you do that by focusing your attention on your character strengths and those of your partner. Researchers have identified 24 character strengths that have existed across time and cultures. Knowing and appreciating your partner’s character strengths can be a big step in building a stronger relationship.

For example, maybe your partner has a good sense of humor and always has a way of bringing a light-hearted perspective to difficult situations. Over time, you may begin to take this for granted. But, you can shift your focus, instead viewing this as a special gift that can help you overcome future challenges and be grateful that it is one of your partner’s strengths.

It’s important to regularly celebrate your strengths and the strengths of your partner. After you and your partner complete the free VIA Survey and discover your top five strengths, commonly referred to as “signature strengths”, you’re ready to put them to action in your daily life.

Celebrate with Strengths Dates

One way to apply your strengths in your romantic relationship is by going on regular “strengths dates.” A strengths date entails picking one of your top strengths (e.g., zest) and one of your partner’s (e.g., love of learning) and planning an outing where you both have an opportunity to exercise those strengths. For example, you could plan an afternoon date renting Segways to tour the historical part of your city together. Your sense of adventure would be fulfilled and your partner’s intellectual thirst would be quenched! Remember to take turns planning the dates—or plan them together. The main point of the activity is to have fun together, authentically connecting, not competing with one another.

Small Changes Make a Big Impact

Make a conscious effort to shift your perspective to what is going right in your relationship. Saying a simple “thank you” to your partner for something small can go a long way. If you find and feed the good in your relationship, you’ll begin to notice that the things to love about your partner continue to grow and grow.

References

  • James, W. The principles of psychology. (1890). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Larry King Now, Ora TV. Interview with Suzann Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski. TBD. Check listings: http://www.ora.tv/larrykingnow
  • Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Pileggi Pawelski, S. & Pawelski, J. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love that Lasts. New York: TarcherPerigee.
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