Happy New Year’s Eve! Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’d like to talk about New Year’s Resolutions.

For many people, the start of a new year is a time for looking back to the past, and more importantly, looking forward to the coming year. It is a time to reflect on the changes we want (or need) to make, and to commit to following through on those changes. A new year guarantees a fresh start, an opportunity to leave the negative in the past, and to focus on the positive in the coming year. Have you been the best partner possible to your significant other over the past year? Even if you think you have been, you can always do more to strengthen your relationship. In today’s post, we would like to help you make attainable 2014 New Year’s Resolutions for your relationship.

If you have been meaning to change something about your relationship, but haven’t felt ready to ask for it, now is the time! Remember that your relationship is constantly evolving as you and your partner spend more time together. Your individual likes and dislikes may change more than you think. Reassess the state of your relationship, paying particular attention to how you both felt about your relationship over the past year. What aspect of your relationship was most satisfying? Most frustrating? Were you sexually satisfied last year? If not, what would you like to see changed? Where would you like to see progress?

Communication is extremely important when discussing these topics, as feelings of discontent may elicit a defensive response. Take turns letting each other speak. Don’t interrupt. Once you have each had a chance to voice your opinions, respond to each other’s comments. Do not make targeted suggestive attacks like “I don’t like the way you…” or “You need to…” Instead, make the conversation about your relationship as a whole by using positive statements like “I think we could…” or “We need to…” When “you” is changed to “we,” the conversation involves both parties. You become a team! Before making resolutions for your relationship, here are three tips to consider:

1. Set realistic expectations: Do your best to think about the things you’d like to change as well as what a realistic change would look like. If you and your partner have been struggling, don’t expect change to happen overnight! However, making a long-term commitment to each other is the first step in getting your relationship to where you want it to be. Talk to each other about where you want your relationship to be in two months, six months, a year…

2. Set both specific and holistic goals: Good resolutions focus on specific details as well as the bigger picture. While having a stronger relationship may be your ultimate goal, improving the way in which you communicate about your day at work or the way that the two of you decide which TV show to watch together make for specific goals that are very attainable. Relationships are incredibly complex. Break your resolution down into smaller goals and it will seem a lot less daunting.

3. Focus on the means, not just the ends: One of the best ways to set New Year’s resolutions is to focus on the means of getting to where you want to be, not just focusing on where you want to be. Improving your relationship is a process. Enjoy the opportunity to getting to know your partner on a more intimate level.

Now that you’re prepared to make resolutions for your relationship, ask yourself what exactly you want to change! Whatever your decision, what is most important is that you are both equally committed to achieving the same goal in the end. Shared goals can be bedrock for relationships – they can give us a purposeful pathway that enriches our lives with meaning. To find out if you and your partner are on the same page, sit down together this weekend and answer the following questions:

  • How can we keep or bring back the fun in our relationship? 
  • How can we spend more quality time together? 
  • How can we build intimacy, both sexually and emotionally? 
  • What is something we can both do to improve our friendship?
  • How will we let each other know about our physical and emotional needs? 
  • How will we handle jealousy, resentment, or competition toward one another? 
  • How will we handle fights and bring them to a healthy resolution? 
  • How will we communicate and “check-in” with each other daily? 
  • What is the most important thing to us about our relationship? 

If less than half your answers match your partner’s, you could use more dialogue. Which areas do you agree with and which areas do you disagree with? Can you form a compromise on the areas of different opinion? Find one aspect of your relationship where you and your partner share similar goals and discuss how you can both work toward it this year.

As Dr. Stephen Covey once said, “If you don’t know where you’re headed, it doesn’t help to try to go there any faster.” Before embarking on this year-long journey to a better relationship, make sure you and your partner agree on the same course. And, as usual, remember to take your time – changes don’t happen overnight! Any relationship resolution may only succeed through mutual effort and communication. If the two of you can take small daily steps to improve your sex life, build intimacy, and strengthen your relationship, you will be surprised by their lasting impact!

Wishing you a healthy, happy, and loving year!

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Ellie Lisitsa

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.