Couples Therapist Alexandra Solomon’s Advice Will Help You Up-Level Every Interaction With Your Loved Ones This Holiday Season
Relationships can often feel complicated. Navigating the ups and downs—and everything that other people can stir up within us—isn’t always easy.
It’s one reason why Alexandra Solomon, PhD, compares falling in love to shaking a snow globe. “Old stuff from previous relationships and even from childhood gets activated, swirling up from where it all settled at the bottom,” she writes in her new book, Love Everyday: 365 Relational Self Awareness Practices to Help Your Relationship Heal, Grow, and Thrive. “Rather than fear the storm or succumb to it, our work in love is to grab our hat and mittens and face it with our partner.”
To help us put on those proverbial hats and mittens and navigate all of our relationships—from our intimate partnerships to our friendships to the relationship we have with ourselves—we asked Dr. Solomon for her best advice. Here, she shares wisdom.
A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXANDRA SOLOMON, PHD
You say love needs to be a daily practice. Why is this—and where can all of us start?
Most of us grow up with pretty romanticized notions about what love looks like. We are taught to value the grand sweeping gestures and big proclamations and “romantic” gestures. And I think that that makes us lose focus on the fact that intimate partnerships are built in the small moments—the little practices we do in the every day. I’m certainly here for romantic nights out and grand declarations of love! But really, the way we build trust and emotional safety is by being thoughtful about how we show up in the smaller moments.
Daily practices really do make a difference in terms of creating what a relationship needs, which is emotional safety, trust, and a place to be able to drop your shoulders and exhale—where you feel like you can just be yourself.
Where do we start when it comes to implementing these daily practices?
It’s so easy—especially in long-term partnerships—to put everything else on the front burner and to put our intimate partnership on the backburner. It can be easy to see past our partner.
I love the idea of couples having rituals. A ritual is something that is ordinary, but infused with the sense of intention. It might be as simple as taking a walk after dinner. And you don’t have to do deep emotional work on that walk, excavating the contents of your soul together! Rather, it’s this moment of your day to say to one another, I’m thinking about you. This moment is one that I’m holding for you. The idea of being intentional with our practices is even more important now when we all walk around with our phones in our hands. We don’t want to phub—that’s the fancy word for phone snubbing.
Phubbing can’t be good for our relationships!
It’s not! Because if I’m looking at my phone, I feel like I can look at my phone and pay attention to you. That’s the subjective feeling I have in my body. I can grab my phone, respond to this text, and I’m still listening to you.
But what the research shows is that I lose emotional attunement and I lose comprehension of what you’re saying when I split my attention. Phubbing is tied to increases in relationship dissatisfaction and increases in conflict, because it feels terrible to be on the other end of it. If I’m on my phone while we’re talking, you are thinking, She disrespects me. And the feeling you have is an awful mix of sadness and anger.
Love Everyday is also about like it’s a reminder to pay attention to presence—that presence matters. Phones down. Eyes up. Because at the end of the day, the quality of connection with our partner is what really matters.
Being single is hard, especially during the holidays. Any advice for those who are unpartnered right now?
My intention with the work that I do around relational self-awareness is that these are skills that we commit to within ourselves and then bring to our relationships.
Somebody who is not partnered is still in lots of relationships—and they certainly have a relationship with themselves. And those in-between relationship times are incredibly important periods to be working on things like self-development, self-growth, and healing oneself so that the next relationship ends up being one where you bring a more expanded sense of who you are as a person. This makes you a more skilled partner.
Not every single one of the 365 entries in my book is going to land equally for every single person, but the book is designed to be useful to people at any point on their journey because it is ultimately about being a human who is connected to other humans.
Tell me a bit more about relational self-awareness…
We are socialized that intimate relationships ought to be easy. We see people falling in love, but we don’t see them nurturing that love and sustaining it across time. This is why I’m so passionate about relationship education. We don’t grow up understanding what it takes to create a solid thriving, intimate partnership.
Relational self-awareness is a set of skills that I have pulled together from research, as well as my training as a couples therapist, to help us see relationships as systems. It’s not just about me choosing the right partner so that our relationship is easy and conflict free. It’s about me knowing and understanding that to create a partnership is to become part of a system—it’s to engage in these cycles and patterns.
A romantic relationship has the power to call forth all of our unfinished business, all of our earlier pain. And in that way, it becomes this really potent container for growth and transformation.
Your new book is filled with daily practices (365 of them!) to help us cultivate more curiosity and compassion in our relationships with others and with ourselves. Do you have a favorite for this time of year?
Research has shown that a full 69 percent of conflicts couples get into cannot be solved. They just don’t have an easy answer, because the conflict is related to childhood wounds, or personality differences, or worldview differences, or values differences. It’s why we need relational self-awareness—so that we have more capacity to sit with this kind of complexity. But what that means is that when a couple is facing one of these problems, they don’t yet know how they’re going to handle it. A question I love to prompt couples to ask is this: How are we going to protect the rest of what’s great about our relationship from the impact of this problem?
It's a really important question because it reminds a couple that they are more than this problem. It reminds a couple that actually, the ability to celebrate all of what’s good about the relationship is going to be what gives them the fuel to approach and figure out some way of managing the problem. And it’s a reminder that even when we’re facing a problem, we get to play and rest and be silly.
Alexandra H. Solomon, PhD, is a couples therapist, speaker, author, and professor who is passionate about translating cutting-edge research and clinical wisdom into practical tools people can use to bring awareness and authenticity to their relationships.