We are so happy to be bringing Helen Russell’s new book LEAP YEAR into the world! Helen is the author of the bestselling The Year of Living Danishly (and the person who brought hygge to the UK!) – but her new book tackles a much bigger topic: when so many of us are filled with indecision and fear of change, what can we actually do to change our lives for the better, and for good?

We’ve been conducting our own experiments in-house, road-testing the theories from the book, and improving our own lives along the way. In today’s blog, Assistant Editor Federico finds inspiration on how to change his relationship for the better…

2016 has been a year of big changes for me – and no, I’m not referring to the puzzling events that have changed the world: a few weeks ago I started living with someone for the first time. It’s been a long time coming – my boyfriend and I have been together for just over three years – but it still feels like a big (and I mean BIG) move. So what better time to try and learn new ways of making our relationship work? After all there is nothing more intimate than sharing a relatively cramped space with someone you think you know well… I devoured the chapter in LEAP YEAR devoted to re-charging your relationship, all the while making mental notes on how to apply some of those lessons to my own life: by the end of it I had a plan. Now I only needed my partner to come on board.

The one thing you need to know about Basi (that’s him) is that he’s the quintessential English gentleman: loving and affectionate and incredibly thoughtful, but not exactly accustomed to the idea of talking about his feelings. That’s why experiment number 1 felt particularly promising: following Helen’s words in the book, we both drafted a list of 30 things the other person does that make us love them more. It was somewhat difficult to begin with (30 is a deceivingly large number), but ended up being quite fun, like free therapy.

We both particularly loved focusing on the positives: too often we get upset by small, annoying things and take the good stuff for granted. A random sampling of both our entries includes:

  • Baking dessert for the other person’s friends (“especially since they always come out looking like the book”)
  • Letting the other person sleep until the very last minute (and making sure there’s a mug of hot water waiting for them when they eventually leave the warm comfort of our duvet)
  • Choosing a silly rom-com for our Sunday film night (“so not what I would go for”)
  • Organising short weekends away complete with walks and pub meals (“mostly the pub meal”)
  • Bringing the Christmas spirit home every year by insisting we buy a tree and decorate it while listening to Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas
  • “When you listen to me talking non-stop about the latest office gossip and you actually care”

Some of the things on Basi’s list I expected, others were a complete surprise. And most of them were small, simple things which made me feel surprisingly relieved: no need for grand gestures, just bake more often!

We’ve also tried to have an imaginary houseguest. And let me tell you: this was FUN. The idea is simple: every time you are about to have an argument just imagine you’ve got someone staying with you. You’d want to be on your best behaviour, wouldn’t you? The best bit was choosing our guests. After a number of unsuccessful combinations (Elton and Britney? Morrisey and Celine?) we settled on a British classic: (Dames) Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. Now every time we are about to discuss my tendency to make a bit of a mess every time I open the fridge to cook dinner, we can just picture Maggie in her best Dowager clothes disapproving of the “loud, bickering help” or lovely Judi looking at us like a slightly disappointed aunt. Works a treat…

Overall I think the greatest thing about the LEAP YEAR experiments was that they focused on the positive things in life, and that they added a bit of fun. Writing that list was hard work, but it would have been even worse had we been forced to write the things that we hated about each other, or the small habits we found irritating. Maybe that’s the key for our life together (and – let’s hope – for 2017 in general): stay focused on the good.

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