As a couples therapist, the new year makes me feel sentimental because it offers couples the chance of renewal and reinvigoration.
Taking the time to do a New Year’s relationship check-in can have several benefits. First, it gives you the opportunity to consider the highlights of the last year: the romantic dates, the travel, the inside jokes. Second, it gives you the space to revisit tough conversations and make resolutions for the coming year together.
Strike a Balance
I sometimes ask my clients to describe what they like about each other. They are often surprised by how wistful and sentimental they get. It’s as if they haven’t heard these sweet things from their partner since they first started dating. In some cases they haven’t.
Especially when complaining or working out a conflict, it’s important to reaffirm the good things and strike an emotional balance. Your relationship is capable of handling both positive and negative feelings even if they are being articulated at the same time. The key is to stay above the magic ratio of 5:1.
Sit down together and talk about your favorite moments of the last year, no matter how small.
The State of the Union
Dr. John Gottman refers to something called shared meaning. In order to live a fulfilled life, couples need to be able to share their career desires, travel plans, and life goals with one another and figure out how they can help one another achieve them. These dreams are always changing and maturing.
In order to be able to build shared meaning, Dr. Gottman suggests that a couple needs to be on steady ground: they fight fair, show respect, and have a good romantic connection.
Set aside some time this month to have a “State of the Union” conversation where you can talk about the goals you have for the year. It doesn’t matter whether these goals are to be achieved together or as individuals. Perhaps you want to start a new business or spend more time playing sports. Make a plan for how these dreams can fit into your lives together and how you will support your partner for their endeavors and offer them ideas for how they can support you.
- What goals do you have for this year (travel, work, family, friends)?
- What do you think we can do to make those easier/possible?
- What can I do, specifically, to help you get what you want?
Do you and your partner have shared goals? Take the quiz here to find out.
The Story of Us
It’s normal to have had both highs and lows during your year as a couple. What matters most is how you both tell the story of your relationship.
Was the summer hard? Did you both learn something from it? Or do you both still have feelings of resentment and hurt? Figure out how to weave a story in a way that glorifies the struggle. The feeling that you have “emerged stronger” in the new year is a narrative that pulls you together, rather than pushes you apart.
- Do you have any leftover hurt from our arguments this year?
- Is there anything we still need to talk about?
- Do you feel we’ve resolved the issue now?
- What could we do differently next time?
Resolve to speak about your relationship, to keep the things that work, and to toss the things that don’t. These conversations can be hard but will lead to a more fulfilled year ahead for both you and your partner.
Work together to register the changes you would like to make, add new things you’d like to do, and to forgive old grievances. Ask each other questions about what you’d like to do in the new year and draw up resolutions, fresh with possibility, old wisdom, and new hope.
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