A New Relationship for a New Year
Written by Crystal Bradshaw, LPC, NCC, Gottman 7 Principles Educator
Synergy Counseling Innovations, LLC
It's a new year, and with it comes the New Year's resolutions. Typically, these are individually focused "goals." I'm going to eat healthier. I'm going to start, and stick with, an exercise routine. I'm going to cut back my hours at work so I can have more time to do the things I like. I'm going quit smoking, get organized, knock out debt, take up a new hobby, etc. With every new year people make resolutions that are typically self-focused, which is good as too many people don't prioritize themselves nearly enough, but don't forget to prioritize your relationship as well.
In addition to making resolutions for yourself, make some for your relationship and share them with your spouse. Here's how you can start.
Don't think of goals, think of values. What do you value in your life individually, as a member of a couple, and (if you have kids) as a parent. Let's say one of your resolutions is to spend more time with family and friends. Great! So what does that look like to you? What does that feel like to you? What do you personally get out of spending more time with family and friends ? What kinds of things do you want to do with your friends and family? How are you going to make that a reality? What are the concrete steps you are going to take to make this "goal," this value, a priority?
So, come up with some things you would like to be doing: personally, as a couple, what you would like to do as a family, and what hopes you have for your kids.
All the things you come up with will likely speak to your values, and having your values known, welcomed, supported, and upheld will make for a happier relationship.
Here are some resolution examples from several of my clients:
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Self: Have lunch/dinner 1 to 2 times a month with friends. Devote regular time to a hobby. Do not bring work home on the weekends. Initiate sex more frequently. Attend a fitness class twice a week. Be more direct and ask for what I need. To say 'No' to things I have no interest in doing and not feel bad about it. Text my partner during the work day to let them know I'm thinking of them.
Couple: Have 1 date out a month. Have 1-2 weekend trips a year. Be more open to feedback from each other. Be more supportive when my partner needs it. To encourage each other to pursue our passions/hobbies. For my partner to hold me accountable to my goals and encourage me to do them. To take turns planning dates. To try new things when we go on dates. To be more playful. To have sex 3 times a week. To have a regular relationship meeting. To save a certain amount each year for retirement.
Family: Have a family movie night. Let the kids pick the dinner menu 1 night a week. Have dinner out as a family 2 times a month. Have family game night. Let the kids pick 1-2 family activity outings a month. Volunteer as a family for a local community cause. Go on a family vacation each year. Have a one-on-one date with a child (parent and child date). Go on after dinner walks twice a week. Have 1 night a week with no technology (internet, smart phones, tablets). No technology while having dinner (no smart phones/tablets at dinner) and have face-to-face conversations with family members.
Kids: Read to them for 30 minutes every day. Sign them up for that jujitsu class they have been asking to do. Enroll them in music lessons because you see their enthusiasm when they play. Say "yes" to the question: "Will you play with me?"/ "Will you watch this movie with me?" Join them in their silliness. Encourage them with their school work. Be a cheerleader for them. Take them shopping for gifts to give people (birthday's, Mother's/Father's day, Christmas, teacher gifts, Toys for Tots, etc.) to teach them to think of others and the importance of forethought when giving.
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It's important to share your goals with your spouse because your spouse can be your accountability partner and you can be theirs. If your spouse doesn't know that you secretly want to start your own business, go back to school to finish your degree, start taking yoga classes, get that book you've been secretly writing published, or that you want to spend two nights a month on a date with them, then how are you going to get the support and encouragement you need from them to help you succeed? If you don't share your inner world, hopes, and dreams with your partner then you are holding back from your partner.
Let's take this one step further. One specific resolution mentioned above is the couple's relationship meeting. I LOVE this idea! It's a regular homework assignment for my couples.
This couple meeting is what Dr. John Gottman calls a State of the Union.
State of the Union
Couples should regularly check-in with each other about the state of their relationship. Depending on the couple and the current relationship environment, perhaps a couple has a State of the Union every week or every other week.
I personally recommend that couples start this habit by having their State of the Union weekly. By meeting every week you will develop new communication habits; once these habits become automatic and second nature, you could tapper the State-of-the-Union to every two weeks. I would not recommend going more than two weeks between meetings. If there is an issue that needs to be addressed, you don't need to sit on that, you need to address it directly and get it resolved. Unresolved concerns will keep surfacing until they are resolved, and this can spell trouble for relationships.
The point of the State of the Union is to:
Now, don't panic and freak out about the idea of a relationship meeting. The meeting does not need to last for hours nor does it indicate that there is something wrong in your relationship; it's really a simple check-in about the past week and the upcoming week.
Here are some questions and guidelines I give my couples who are just starting to incorporate this into their relationship. I tell them to use these questions as a spring board, and then add questions that are more couple-specific and applicable to them and their relationship.
Example questions I recommend include:
This new year don't forget to focus on your relationship. Resolutions are great goals, but make sure your goals are aligned with your values, and that your share your resolutions with your spouse to increase your chances of success. Utilizing these suggestions can help put you on a path to having a more intentional relationship and a well-nurtured marriage.
Read more from Crystal here and here and here.
Photo Credit: Jason Corey Photography
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