Resolve to Improve Your Relationship This Year

By Dr. Arthur Freeman

December 23, 2016

But despite our best intentions, and resolutions are most often well intentioned, most resolutions are broken, surrendered, or violated within the first week of the new year.  Typical resolutions, such as a vow to finally lose those last five pounds, fall aside when confronted by grandmother’s triple chocolate layer cake.  It’s hard enough to stick to a resolution but when it involves another person, especially a relationship partner, family member, or relative, it becomes even more difficult. But turning your resolutions into a reality is possible. Here are five tips to help you stay on track as you enter 2017.

State your resolution very clearly and specifically- The thing to remember is that vague resolutions lead to vague plans which lead to vague results.  For example, the resolution to “be nicer to my wife or husband” is immediately problematic in that it is unclear what being nice means.  For one couple being nice means doing the dishes once a week.  For another couple, being nice means to no longer make negative remarks about his or her family. 

Make your resolution realistic- The resolution to “change who I am” we can quickly see is not going to last very long.    Individual #1 has the idea that they are going to change their shape and go from square to round.  Individual #2 says that they are going to resolve to smooth out the sharp corners.  Individual #2 has a far better chance of success.

Set several short term resolutions rather than one huge resolution.  If your resolution is to engage your partner in some task, for example learning tennis,your goal cannot be that at the end of the year you will both be playing in the finals at the US Open.  Your first goal may be to learn how to serve the ball.  Subsequent goals would include, learning a forehand or backhand stroke.

Discuss the resolution with your partner- Keeping the resolution secret from your partner only serves to exclude the partner from knowing about a goal that is meant to improve your relationship.  The author O’Henry in his short story “Gift of the Magi,” describes a couple that resolve to get their partner something that will be seen by their partner as the most wonderful gift.  The wife has beautiful and luxurious hair of which she is very proud.  The husband owns a pocket patch that belonged to his father of which he is very proud.  For Christmas, he sold his watch to have the money to but his wife a beautiful set of combs to hold her hair.  She sold her hair to a wigmaker to have the money to buy her husband a beautiful fob for his watch.

Minimize the number of relationship resolutions- Rather than stating five or 10 resolutions, choose no more than three and keep them connected, For example, they all could have to do with the children, the physical relationship, the opportunities for increased (or decreased) sharing of thoughts and ideas, or sharing of house or home responsibilities.

If you are successful with these three resolutions over a period of 1-2 months, you can always add more.  You don’t have to wait for New Year’s Eve.  Good luck!

Dr. Freeman is Chair and Professor in Touro’s School of Health Sciences, Department of Behavioral Science.  He is Board Certified in Family Psychology by The American Board of Professional Psychology.