Symmetry Counseling

Written by: Meghan Emerson, MSMFT

New Year resolutions are about embracing change and self-improvement. The motivation comes from reflecting on the past year and the inspiration of a new year to come. This same act of thoughtful reflection and preparation can greatly benefit your intimate relationship.

It is unfortunate that the same level of attention given to self-improvement around the new year is not typically shared from a relationship standpoint. Just like you change and grow over time individually, relationships evolve and need attention and care to continue to flourish. By taking stock of your relationship strengths and weaknesses and using the inspiration of a new year, you can prioritize healthy relationship behavior.

Granted, sitting down with your partner to reflect on relationship ups and downs may not sound as appealing or safe as simple self-reflection, and any discussion of relationship factors can trigger conflict. Thus, it is important to be open-minded, nonjudgmental, and positive-focused when discussing relationship resolutions.

The typical New Year resolution may involve changes in dieting, exercise, looking for a new job, or quitting a bad habit. But what does a relationship resolution look like?

Relationship resolutions always involve both partners, whether it is both partners committing to the same thing, like making more time for the relationship, or separate but complementary resolutions, such as I will help more with household chores if you start walking the dog every other morning. Just like personal resolutions, relationship resolutions require preparation to be effective and must appeal to both partners’ sense of relationship well-being, i.e. both partners must see the inherent benefit of the agreed-upon resolution.

Give your relationship the benefit of your attention and motivation this season. Here are some guidelines on relationship resolution do’s and don’ts.

DO NOT just ask for more. Whether it be more sex, more nights out, or more space, keeping the resolution quantitative risks missing the underlying issue. For example, in desiring more frequent sexual experiences, many partners are actually missing an element of passion in the relationship. Instead of making your resolution about one component of an overarching issue, try to understand why you want more of something, and be flexible with how that can be fulfilled.

DO ask for your partner’s feedback. Unlike individual resolutions, relationship resolutions require awareness and agreement by both partners. The resolution is unlikely to be successful otherwise. If you want to make an individual change for the betterment of the relationship, let your partner know so that he or she can support you and express appreciation for your efforts.

DO NOT wait until the last minute. Be respectful of your partner and your relationship and put real time and effort into planning the change you would like to see in the relationship. Like any goal, you are more likely to meet it when you thoroughly prepare. Establish checkpoints along the way to seeing the relationship change you want to see. Start small and gradually build the improved relationship dynamic. For example, if your resolution is to spend more quality time together, start with eating dinner together without the TV on at least once a week. Then try to establish a weekly or bi-weekly date night. Celebrate achieving the resolution with a weekend getaway.

DO regularly check in on your progress. Make a habit of checking in with each other on the progress and maintenance of your resolution. This will give you the opportunity to express appreciation for each other’s efforts (pivotal to maintaining motivation for change) and to address any constraints that have developed to reaching your goal.

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