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The New Year offers endless possibilities to set new goals and break bad habits. How about starting new couple habits that will strengthen your relationship?, says Dr. Noelle Nelson, relationship expert and author of Your Man is Wonderful (Free Press, 2009).
 
“Now is the time to take a look at some of ‘him-and-her’ patterns developed over the years. Keep those that work and change those that don’t,” says Nelson. “You know the ones, like the roll-your-eyes-snide-comment thing you do every time your husband laughs at what you consider to be some inane sitcom gag. Or your severe sigh and heavily judgmental, ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ way of ending arguments.”
 
These all worked to get your point across at some point in the relationship. “We don’t establish patterns because they will fail. Him-and-her patterns emerge because they work,” explains Nelson. “When you were first together, letting him know your opinion of a sitcom with a roll-eyes-snide-comment was cute. It certainly was more acceptable than saying something downright demeaning. But over time, it’s not cute, and in fact, can be downright irritating.”
 
In this example, Nelson points out that for the husband, watching sitcoms may relax him; take him away from a world of worry and responsibility. “Instead of rolling your eyes when he turns on his favorite show, accept the good that watching does for him,” says Nelson. “Don’t react negatively. Better yet, smile, knowing the show is of value to him.”
 
An “I don’t want to talk about it” pattern may have kept you from flying into a temper during an argument in the past, but now all it does is prevent you from discussing issues that need to be discussed if your relationship is to deepen and thrive. “Change that pattern to ‘I need some time to cool down. Let’s come back to it later. Is that okay?,” says Nelson. “That way, you can handle your heated emotions without dropping an issue that will only continue to fester if left unaddressed.
 
“We have patterns of behavior for all types of situations, continues Noelle. “We couldn’t function in our highly complex world if we didn’t have reliable patterns to go by. But left unexamined, our patterns can become a prison, keeping us locked in behaviors that no longer contribute to a happy, joyful life.”
 
Nelson suggestions that this New Year, take a fresh look at your him-and-her patterns. “Keep the ones that work,” she says, “and let go of the ones that don’t. With new patterns, you’ll see a surge of love and a stronger bond between the two of you.”
 
For more marriage tips, go to Nelson’s blog, http://anotefromdrnoelle.blogspot.com/ or follow her on Twitter, http://twitter.com/drnoellenelson.

The best gift to give this holiday season is to genuinely forgive your spouse for the various offenses committed over the year that have been driving you crazy.

Forgiving sheds unwanted baggage and makes for a stronger marriage, says Dr. Noelle Nelson, relationship expert and author of Your Man is Wonderful (Free Press, 2009). 
 
Forgiving is not always easy. You may be sitting around the holiday dinner table, giving thanks for all the good things the year has brought. But after dinner, when Uncle Ned says “Great flat screen; let’s switch on the game,” you feel your gut twist. You remember vividly the fight with your spouse for buying something so extravagant. You scream, “it’ll take years to pay it off, what were you thinking?” and he screams that he has the right to get at least something for himself, considering that “99 percent of his paycheck goes to you and the kids.” You both end up exhausted and drop it. After all, you’re not going to divorce over a flat screen.

“Even though a topic is not longer discussed, doesn’t mean it goes away,” says Nelson. “Every time you see him surfing the channels, the bitterness churns inside you. It sours your relationship with him, because at some level, you don’t trust him not to do it again. And with the lack of trust between you, your intimacy suffers.  All because you never made it to true forgiveness.”

Forgiveness is hard, explains Nelson. Forgiveness often feels like accepting unacceptable behavior in order to preserve your relationship, or accepting an apology you’re not sure has substance to it. 
 
“Substance in an apology is composed of two things: accountability and responsibility. Accountability is your willingness to figure out which part of the problem belongs to you and which part to your mate,” says Nelson. “The wife in the above example may say ‘It wasn’t me who slapped down that credit card for a flat screen!” True, and if her and her spouse had agreed upon a budget and he blew the budget, his would indeed bear the larger share of accountability. But her accountability may have been in not setting aside any part of the budget for his–or her–personal wants and needs, instead focusing only on the family budget.”

Nelson says that responsibility portion of forgiveness is your ability to be appropriately responsible for your actions. Responsibility relies on understanding rather than judging or blaming. “Instead of coming to your partner with ‘How dare you!’ even if that’s what you are feeling, talk to him about helping you understand why he chose to do what he did. Listen with an open mind and an open heart. From understanding how each of you feel, you can look at your problems as issues to be worked out, not daggers in the heart–and forgiveness can begin.”


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