The Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Your Relationship

A middle-aged couple wearing warm clothes rides bikes along sandy beach, smiling and displaying enjoyment while looking off toward something in the distanceJanuary is a time of renewal, to start again; to pause and take stock of your life over the past year, and set your intentions for the next. The top 10 New Year’s resolutions, according to a study published in the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology, are:

  1. Lose weight
  2. Get organized
  3. Spend less, save more
  4. Enjoy life to the fullest
  5. Stay fit and healthy
  6. Learn something exciting
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Help others in their dreams
  9. Fall in love
  10. Spend more time with family

You might or might not have noticed that the list does not include anything about strengthening marriage or committed relationships. (I’m assuming that “falling in love” means “with someone new.”)

Does this reflect where we rank the importance of our relationships? Maybe not intentionally, but insidiously. Having counseled thousands of couples over 30 years, my husband Bob and I commonly find that making time for a couple’s relationship falls to the bottom of the priority list. That is, until couples notice they have drifted apart, an affair is discovered, or conflict escalates to a level of crisis. A study by Notarius and Buongiorno, cited by Dr. John Gottman, found that the average couple waits six years from the time problems develop to seek counseling.

I’ve thought long and hard about why this happens; why, after we promise to love and cherish for a lifetime, many of us take our partners and marriages for granted. Is it because we aren’t aware that lasting relationships require feeding and nurturing over the years? That’s likely part of the answer.

In our society, marriage is often viewed more as an event than a process that necessitates effort. Falling in love doesn’t take much effort; we are driven by oxytocin and the powerful feelings of honeymoon attraction. Planning a wedding requires effort and results in an event—the wedding day. From that day forward, we tend to celebrate other events once a year—mainly anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, and birthdays.

In our practice, we view marriage as the creation of a “life form.” When couples come to us for counseling, we describe their relationship as a living, breathing, but invisible entity.

But there are no conventional norms or models for sustaining or growing the relationship. There are no societal rituals that reinforce the “work” required by a couple to develop their communication skills, manage conflict productively, deepen emotional and sexual connection, or feed and nurture the bond of commitment.

In our practice, we view marriage as the creation of a “life form.” When couples come to us for counseling, we describe their relationship as a living, breathing, but invisible entity. Though we can’t touch it or see it, the energy of the relationship is palpable. When couples walk into our office, their relationship walks in with them. We feel it and sense whether it’s been a smooth week or one fraught with conflict.

All “life forms,” including relationships, need nurturance, lest they wither or self-destruct. Your relationship will only grow stronger and healthier if you put knowledge, effort, time, and love into it, as you do with yourself and your children. The new year is a great time to reflect on ways to renew, revitalize, and grow your relationship, and to focus on the process that will sustain and nurture your bond for a lifetime.

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Here are worthwhile 10 New Year’s resolutions for your relationship:

  1. Communicate authentically. Talk about the strengths of your relationship. Honestly express resentments you have been holding on to in a way that allows your partner to hear them. Instead of avoiding conflict, create a constructive way to engage and resolve it as a team. Read Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work together and discuss how you can improve your communication.
  2. Create “sacred time.” Make your relationship a priority. Block out time. When our kids were young, we created “sacred time”—lunch once a week on Fridays. We committed to keep this date unless someone was in the hospital. We joked that it was the only regular time we had when there were no kids around and we were both awake. If we hadn’t had enough time to communicate during the week, we knew we could count on Fridays.
  3. Create daily “love habits.” Love habits are small gestures that feed the connection and give you a smile. Kiss each other every time you leave and every time you come home. Call each other or text love messages during the day. Cuddle every night before bed. We do “10-second hugs” at least twice a day. When I worked in our satellite office, Bob left me love notes on yellow stickies every week. I kept them all.
  4. Try new things together. New experiences and hobbies are stimulating and build connection. Try ice skating, skiing, sailing, a new museum, painting, a dance class. Take a day trip. Be creative—it may provide a spark in the relationship and create a new memory together.
  5. Express gratitude. Bob and I thank each other for the things we are “supposed to do.” When he does the laundry or I go food shopping; when he cleans up the counter or empties the trash; when I empty the dishwasher, we always say thanks. Some people think this is unnecessary, but noticing the little things and expressing words of appreciation can mean a lot.
  6. Plan regular dates. It’s easy to put everything else before the relationship. We often hear, “There’s not enough time/money/energy,” or, “We don’t have a babysitter.” There are many excuses. However, if you don’t carve out time for just the two of you, the relationship may wither. It’s a reminder of your identity as a couple.
  7. Make time for sex. Don’t neglect your erotic relationship. Passion tends to happen by itself only in the beginning, when it’s new and mysterious. In a long-term relationship, you have to create passion. Have sex dates, read books about sex, try something new, get sex toys. Open your mind and make this a time to have fun and play.
  8. Plan time away. When our kids were young, we planned an overnight at a bed-and-breakfast several times a year. Having 24 hours away was like a little oasis. The benefits were tremendous: it was easy to find child care for one night; they didn’t miss us too much; we didn’t feel guilty leaving for one night; one night away didn’t break the bank; packing was a snap; and 24 hours away felt like a week. It also gave us something to look forward to.
  9. Laugh together. When life gets serious, we can forget to have fun. Whether it’s a funny movie, a comedy club, or playing a game, be silly and do something that will make you laugh.
  10. Do the little things. Ask each other, “What are the little things that make you feel loved?” Every afternoon, either Bob or I go out to get coffee for the two of us. It’s our ritual and a great way to pause and connect in the middle of the workday. It really is the little acts of love in our daily lives that make the biggest difference.

Take this article and share it with your partner. Start by writing down the resolutions you want to make. Prioritize them and do one or two until they become habitual. Then, move on to the next one. Talk about being accountable to each other since it’s easy to not follow through. Agree to check in with each other once a week to review your progress.

Creating your own process and model to grow, nurture, and strengthen your relationship may breathe new life into your marriage and set you on a path to being together for a lifetime.

Happy New Year, and here’s to your relationship!

References:

  1. Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. (1999). The marriage survival kit. In R. Berger & M.T. Hannah (Eds.), Preventive approaches in couples therapy (pp. 304–330). Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/Mazel.
  2. Notarius C., & Buongiorno, J. (1992). Wait time until professional treatment in marital therapy. Washington D.C: Unpublished paper, Catholic University of America.
  3. University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology.(2015, December 27). New Year’s Resolution Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, therapist in Owings Mills, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 15 comments
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  • Victoria

    Victoria

    January 4th, 2017 at 8:51 AM

    I would love to lose some weight but my husband I think tries to sabotage me because he will bring stuff into the house that he knows good and well I will try to avoid but who can do that when there is always that temptation? It’s not like I can kick him out of the house but good grief it would be nice to have a little more support from him!

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    January 7th, 2017 at 9:34 AM

    Hi Victoria, Thanks for sharing. I know you are not alone with this issue. It is so hard to discipline ourselves in the face of our temptations. As a relationship therapist, I would suggest assertively asking for his support in achieving your goal in a positive way, i.e. having a deeper conversation about what his support would mean to you. For ex. “It would mean so much to me if you would…” Or “It would make me so happy if…” Or “I truly need your support…” This is different than the usual way we talk about these issues in a more negative way. For ex. “I can’t believe you brought ice cream into the house when you know I am trying to lose weight.” Or “Why are you buying junk food when you know I can’t resist…” Let me know if this helps. Lori

  • Rodger

    Rodger

    January 4th, 2017 at 5:02 PM

    We have always scheduled in time to be together, not really even date nights but simply time to spend together alone and without any distractions’
    there was a time I will admit when the kids were younger and it was hard but now that they have all pretty much gone off on their own it is easier to do again.
    basically you just have to be willing to make yourselves and your relationship with each other a priority again.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    January 7th, 2017 at 9:39 AM

    Rodger, I’m so glad to hear you two make your relationship a priority. Being mindful of that is a big part of sustaining love over the years. My husband and I are also newly empty nesters, and it IS much easier now to focus and spend time on our relationship. It is actually more wonderful than I imagined with the kids launched. Thanks for your comment. Lori

  • Maesi

    Maesi

    January 5th, 2017 at 9:27 AM

    It does tend to make you feel good to help out other people

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    January 7th, 2017 at 9:40 AM

    Maesi, You are so right! Thanks for your comment. Lori

  • claudia s

    claudia s

    January 6th, 2017 at 12:37 PM

    I would feel like my marriage was so much stronger if my husband and I could talk about things the way that we used to have time to do. Now it feels like we sometimes just pass each other on our way in and out of the door and we never have much menaingful time left over to give to each other. I would like to say that making that time is a priority for both of us but I really don’t believe that it is anymore. I think that until the kids grow up and get out of the house that most of our time is going to be devoted to them. I hope that by then there will still be enough left over of us that we will want to salvage what we have and get to know each other all over again.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    January 7th, 2017 at 10:01 AM

    Claudia, You and your husband are in the stage of marriage where insidiously relationships can drift apart, if you don’t make time for your marriage. I’m not saying that’s easy!! In our practice we see couples everyday at this stage; and my husband and I experienced the same thing when our kids were young. Now that our kids are launched, it is much easier to focus on us. The problem is that if couples with kids lose the emotional and sexual connection along the way, when the kids launch the relationship is too disconnected to repair. I really encourage you to engage your husband in a process to address this. I wrote an article about this on the Good Therapy blog that might be helpful. The Secret to Finding Time for Your Relationship. Thanks for sharing. Lori

  • Hans

    Hans

    January 7th, 2017 at 11:36 AM

    In the two years we have been married we have never spent one night alone without the children.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    January 8th, 2017 at 1:27 PM

    Hans, I understand not wanting to leave, but it is important to find a way to make it comfortable to leave and nurture yourselves as a couple. I hope you and your wife find a way to do that. Lori

  • Bonnie

    Bonnie

    January 9th, 2017 at 4:38 AM

    I very strongly feel that the love habits are sooo important. Tell him you love him at least a couple of times a day. Always kiss goodnight or goodbye. Hold hands when you can.
    It is these small little gestures that are like the glue that can hold you together when there are seemingly insurmountable things that threaten to tear you apart.
    If you have a strong foundation with your love habits my guess is that you won’t be so susceptible to be torn down.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    January 9th, 2017 at 10:54 AM

    Bonnie, Right on!! Thanks for sharing. Lori

  • bethany

    bethany

    January 10th, 2017 at 11:17 AM

    At first when you stop doing some of those things it can feel so small in the whole scheme of things.

    And then you look back and you realize that you no longer have any of them and that makes up a huge piece of the puzzle doesn’t it?

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    January 11th, 2017 at 1:41 PM

    Bethany, you are so right! It’s easy to let the little things drift away; then you wake up one day and wonder if your partner still thinks you are special. The day to day small things grow to create a strong love bond. Thanks for your comment. Lori

  • Babita

    Babita

    April 12th, 2017 at 4:21 AM

    We got married before three years ago.We were happy so much and my husband loved me alot. We were living Dubai but due to some reasons i need to came back Nepal. Because of distance he is in love with other girl.Now our relationship is complicated. I dont want to loose my husband.. Please need suggestion

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