While the new year can be a great time to kickstart personal resolutions and habits, embarking on resolutions with a partner can also be a wise move. Not only do you have a buddy to make sure you actually follow through, but you’ll both be able to reap the bennies of your efforts together. Just make sure you actually hold each other accountable! Dr. Fran Walfish, a family and relationship psychotherapist based in Beverly Hills and author of The Self-Aware Parent says it is only through owning up to one’s actions that change can occur.
Whether you and your partner live together, are married, or just started dating, you can take steps today to ensure your relationship is as healthy and happy as possible in 2018 and beyond. Here, a handful of experts explain the smartest resolutions you can make as a couple in the new year:
1. Do boring shit together. Blah blah blah, we all know the played-out advice about trying exciting activities like “take a ballroom dance class” or “take a hike together”, but in the new year you should also resolve to do boring stuff together, too. You can be paying the bills, cleaning your house, whatever! Dr. Michael Salamon, a psychologist from New York City, says it doesn’t even have to be “fun” or even a leisure activity. The point should be that you both feel a sense of accomplishment from working together and completing the activity. Yeah, washing the dishes together isn’t sexy, but the relief and accomplishment you’ll both feel looking at your empty sink is definitely something.
2. Be respectful, even when you’re pissed. As satisfying as it can be to volley something snarky back during an argument, learning to control your temper and awareness during a fight is even more satisfying in the long run. Samantha Burns, a love and dating coach from Boston, recommends taking your internal temperature when you’re wrapped up in the heat of an argument. “On a scale from 1-10 (10=most), how angry or upset are you? If it’s over five, take a time out by saying, ‘I’m really upset right now, but I know this is important to talk about, so I’ll have to continue this convo once I cool off,’ rather than letting something hurtful slip.” This statement not only diplomatically gives you time to simmer down, but lets your partner know that you care about what’s at stake.
3. Speak up about what you want! Your partner isn’t a mindreader. It’s your job to let them know what you want, why you’re upset, etc. “Aim to eliminate passive aggressive behavior this year by being direct about what you need—be it an orgasm or more attention—and how your partner can help give it to you,” Burns says. No more resenting your partner for disappointing you when you didn’t even tell them what you wanted in the first place!
4. Make an effort to speak your partner’s love language. Okay, the idea of five “love languages” sounds corny, but when you hear what they are, IT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE! Basically, there are five different love languages: gift giving (actual gifts, not like “my time is my gift to you” BS), quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. As Burns explains, “It’s your job to know what’s most meaningful to your partner. Couples often feel disconnected and butt heads because each partner is speaking with his or her own preferred love language, rather than through the words or actions in which your partner most likes to receive love.”
5. Work on your friendships outside of your relationship. Everyone has that one friend who drops off the face of the earth whenever they start dating someone new and then slowly pulls a prodigal son and returns when things in their relationship go south. Don’t be that person! Burns says, “it’s easy to be so infatuated by your new partner that you let your friendships fall to the wayside. But these friends offer valuable vetting opinions, especially if you tend to attract dating duds, and it’s important to see how your new bae gets along with your crew.” Make solid plans for your partner to hang out with you and your friends and you with their friends. Just make sure you also catch up with your squad privately.
Investing in outside friendships can make you stronger and more secure as a couple. Miriam Kirmayer, a therapist and friendship researcher, says it’s not about keeping different spheres of your life separate from each other, but expanding so you can each bring your best self to the relationship. Kirmayer adds, “not only does having another outlet to turn to make it easier to support each other without burning out, it can help you cope with any difficulties or conflicts that come up in your relationship.”
6. Talk about the future. No, this doesn’t necessarily mean going over names for your firstborn six months into things, but rather being open to future-oriented conversations. “If you’re dating intentionally and with the hopes of finding a long-term partner, then you should be clear on your values and the life you want to create,” Burns says. She suggests booking a date on your GCal for you to sit down together and openly discuss where you align, what you feel comfortable compromising on, or potentially identifying deal breakers. Yes, this can mean talking about your partner’s beliefs about kids and marriage, but also other things, like their values in spending and saving money, their ideal work-life balance, and whatever it is they’re passionate about like minimizing their carbon footprint, their vegan diet, or their political beliefs. It might seem formal to sit down like it’s a meeting, but if you find yourself putting these conversations off indefinitely, this strategy can help you stop procrastinating.
7. Choose FaceTime over texting. Salamon says he recommends face-to-face contact for couples, ideally once a day. Shooting your boo meme after meme might be fun, but communicating in a way where you can actually see the other person’s expressions and emotion is way better when it comes to cultivating feelings of closeness.
8. Ask your partner how, not if, you can help… Ana Aluisy, a couples therapist from Florida, says that simply being upfront and asking your partner how you can help can improve your connection and intimacy a lot and it’s way more efficient. “Many times we place immense amounts of efforts into being supportive towards our partner, but they may not notice. Knowing specifically how they need us to be there for them is key to our knowledge and understanding about them, in addition to placing our efforts where it really counts.”
9. …And show your appreciation when they follow through. Aluisy recommends making a conscious effort to recognize your partner’s positive qualities or praise them for their efforts. As simple as it sounds, praise can be a powerful motivator for desired behaviors. “We all liked to be recognized for what we do,” Aluisy explains. When you’ve been dating forever and certain niceties start to fall by the wayside, don’t forget to call out when your partner does something considerate for you and they’ll do the same.
10. Stop keeping score. In a great relationship, there’s no such thing as a 50-50 split of responsibility. Walfish says that the healthiest couples sacrificially serve each other without keeping score. “In the best relationships, there may be be times one person gives 100%, because the other can’t give anything. And there are other times the other [partner] gives 100%. And neither complains when it’s their turn to give all.” Walfish also says that great couples keep no record of wrongs. Forgive and move on. If you’ve handled the conflict in a responsible way when it arises in the first place, there shouldn’t be any lingering resentment or issues.
At the end of the day, don’t forget that these resolutions are a suggestion, not a contract. Everyone has BEEN THERE when they renege on a bunch of ambitious resolutions the first week of January only to shame-spiral and feel guilty for the next 11 months — and that’s not productive for anyone. There’s nothing wrong with trying to tackle just one of these items for this year. As Walfish says, “New Year’s resolutions usually fail because people choose their most challenging issues to overcome — their Achilles heel…You can’t simply decide to change without a long-term plan and safety net in place. Most people set the resolutions at January 1st and fall off the wagon within the first few weeks of the New Year.”
Keep the knowledge that it’s okay to fail in your back pocket in case you ever need it, and don’t beat yourself up even if you face unexpected challenges. If your partner can forgive the hair clogs in the shower, they’ll still love you even if you break a resolution.