Resolve To Take Your Relationship To The Next Level in 2016

Last year at exactly this time I firmly decided, “Nope. I am not setting myself up for another year of failure by making New Year’s resolutions.” You see, I used to be in the 40% group of people who do. For years and years, I exercised magical thinking that “this year I will follow through to lose those ten pounds, exercise more and swear less,” but I was always in the 90% majority of resolution-setters who failed.

I realize now why I’m miserable at keeping my resolutions. By focusing on personal goals that no one else seemed to care much about (my husband seems quite fine with a wife who isn’t a size six), I didn’t have a cheerleader to get me through those tough times when an aromatic piece of focaccia taunted–“eat me, eat me”–and I just didn’t have the willpower to leave it nestled cozily in its little basket of bread.

This year I have had a change of heart–again–and will set New Year’s Resolutions. But I am hatching a whole new strategy for success. For 2016, I am not focusing on my individual goals, but working with my husband to set shared ones for our relationship. After all, every relationship–even solid ones–can continue to stretch in good ways.

If this sounds like something you want to try with your partner (and why not?) here are three tips to get you on your way.

Set resolutions that matter.

Think about what is already working well in your relationship, and how you can take it to the next level. Don’t focus on the “bad” stuff (e.g., “we resolve to fight less”), as that is no way to ring in the New Year! And, be very selective about the resolutions you set—no more than three. Having more than this is hard to manage, and could indicate you haven’t thought hard enough about the type of resolutions that will make the most difference to your relationship success in 2016.

One goal my husband and I have set for the coming year is: Go on three “cultural” dates in our city (Toronto) by April 30th. Notice how our goal is: a) very specific; b) includes a concrete measure; c) has a “target date” so that we don’t fob it off into the future, and, d) is not so “out there” as to be unrealistic. These are important resolution-setting principles!

This resolution will make a difference to our relationship because we have a tendency to do “the same old thing” on our dates like eat at a neighbourhood restaurant. While there is nothing wrong with this, it doesn’t get us out of our comfort zone as much as, say, seeing a contemporary exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, watching a documentary at one of Toronto’s many alternative venues, or discovering a new band. Expanding our horizons together will make us more interesting to ourselves, and to each other–and make conversation even spicier on those dinners out.

It is a great idea to write your resolutions down. Committing them to paper makes it more like a ‘contract’, something you won’t break easily. Perhaps stick them on your fridge as a daily reminder of how you are going to make a positive difference in your relationship in 2016.

Break resolutions into bite-sized pieces.

Many people fall off their New Years resolution wagons because there is too big a gap between “current state” and “future state,” and the steps to bridge them haven’t been logically thought through.  Resolutions will seem less daunting if you work together to figure out “how” you are going to achieve them, and “who” is accountable for each step along the way.

In our case, seeing three cultural events together in the first quarter of 2016 will require coordinating schedules (especially since one of us works out of town a lot); researching upcoming events through local papers and websites; booking tickets, etc. My husband has a better eye than me for spotting interesting events and is more adventurous when it comes to trying new cultural experiences (so he can take the lead), and I am happy to spend the time booking tickets, or figuring out places nearby that we can go for a bite before or after.

Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.

Following through on resolutions can be tough. It takes effort and commitment of course, but sometimes life just gets in the way of the best laid plans. Don’t beat yourselves up, and definitely don’t throw in the towel. And most important of all: don’t point fingers at whose fault it is, if things veer off the rails. Instead, congratulate yourselves on taking even a small step forward, and figure our how you can take even bigger steps together in the weeks and months ahead. And don’t be afraid to talk about whether it was the right resolution to begin with. Maybe a different or modified resolution would make more sense? Consider it all part and parcel of your relationship journey.

Even the best relationships can get better, more meaningful, and more exciting. There is always room to ratchet it up, even just a notch! But rather than leave things to chance, my husband and I have done a bit of focused planning to make sure it’s not just all talk, and no action…like too many resolutions that have bit the dust in my past.

So…what are your relationship goals for 2016?

[Originally published in eHarmony.]

Sue Nador hashes out expectations in the messy world of love. Follow her on Twitter: @Sue_Nador and her weekly blog The Relationship Deal.

Image(s): iStock