As we count down to the new year, most of us will find ourselves working on one final project before January arrives: New Year's resolutions. (Forty-five percent of us make them, in fact, according to the University of Scranton's Journal of Clinical Psychology.) While your list likely has action items for personal improvement, you may want to considering adding a few that will benefit your romantic partnership. Read on to find out what psychologists say are the best New Year's resolutions for people in relationships.
No couple is immune to arguments, and having a system in place to handle hurt feelings now will strengthen your relationship later. Matthew Mutchler, Ph.D., LMFT, says he often sees couples who have different expectations of how to handle a disagreement. "People get wrapped up in being 'right' or 'fi' a problem [and] they miss the point," says Mutchler. "Underlying many conflicts is a desire to be heard, understood, and validated. You can tell the quality of a relationship by how they hear and respond to one another. Your partner might just want you to say 'I understand what you're feeling' without qualifications."
If the past year turned out to be more hectic than either of you imagined, and getting date night on the calendar felt like a chore, Mutchler recommends prioritizing alone time. "Between careers, parenting, and other demands on people's time, our relationships often get neglected and we long for a day when we have time for each other," says Mutchler. "That time will never come unless you make it. Set aside time each week to spend time together. In that time, actually be together–not just watching TV or sitting on the same couch doing independent activities. Interact, talk, be affectionate, develop a new hobby."
Relationships thrive when good communication exists, but for that to happen, both people need to know how to speak each other's language. "If you have something emotional to say, try to keep it simple so your partner is less likely to get overwhelmed," says Dr. Susan Edelman, a board-certified psychiatrist. "Use 'I language': Say, 'I feel' rather than 'You always,' which can feel like an accusation. If your partner criticizes you, try to hear their concern even if you feel defensive."
It's easy to get too comfortable in a relationship, and sometimes that comfort can translate into forgetting to show your partner respect and appreciation. Dr. Edelman says our partners can feel taken for granted if we don't tell them we like what they're doing for us. "It means a lot when you acknowledge the large and small things they do for you," Dr. Edelman says. "Say, 'Thanks for making breakfast today. I really appreciate all the time you saved me. It means a lot because I know you were really busy today.'"
Instead of harping on a mental list of things your partner does that secretly drive you crazy, find a way to learn from what makes them different from you. "This resolution will cause you to think outside the box about how you consider a trait or behavior good versus bad," says Kyrss Shane, a LMSW and mental health professional. "It will also challenge you to turn an annoyance into something beneficial, helping you not to be bothered by that trait and helping your partner to not feel that this trait is a negative part of who they are."
It's easy to spend a handful of minutes, or even an hour or two, on your phone without even realizing it. But giving your full attention to the screen in front of you, instead of your partner, can lead to problems in the relationship. Jill Murray, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist, suggests making next year the year when you both vow to stay off your phones when you're together."So many couples go out to dinner and both of them are face down looking at their phones, absorbed in social media," says Murray. "They are 'liking' other people's lives more than they are liking their partner. Commit to giving your focus and attention to your partner."
If things have been a little, ahem, stale in the sex department, a new year can provide a chance to spice things up. Shane recommends adding new intimacy to your relationship while also learning about your partner's fantasy. "By sharing, you are opening the communication within your relationship, showing you trust your partner, and you are working together toward improving your sex life."
If you've never made a couple's bucket list before, there's no time like the present. "This resolution challenges you to work as a team to have new experiences together," says Shane. "This may result in a new shared passion, it may cause a new closeness between you, and it may lead to new inside jokes, new memories created, and a closer bond than ever before."
Whether you're in a new relationship of have been with your partner for years, being clear about boundaries and expectations will keep you from forgetting about what's most important. "It can be difficult, especially for women to set boundaries in relationships out of fear of disappointing a loved one," says Cristina Dorazio, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist. "While this fear is completely understandable, it's okay to set limits within your relationships because the last thing you want is to become resentful of those you love."