Relationship Goals Can Feel Difficult
#RelationshipGoals: Everyone wants them. Some think that it’s about how your house looks or how your selfies on thebeach come out. Are your relationship goals about the quality of your relationship? The idea of New Year’s Resolutions for Couples that focus on relationship goals can focus on things like saving more money next year, remodeling the kitchen, paying off a car loan. Maybe look for a new job, go back to school. Plan a big vacation.
Here, we’re going to focus on relationship goals that we feel are the most important New Year’s’ resolutions for couples: Making commitments to improve and enhance your emotional connection — that powerful force that is the “glue” that bonds you together and that keeps that lovin’ feeling alive and vibrant.
We’re going to offer suggestions to give you a possible framework for true relationship goals — and one based, importantly, in the science of love relationships. As therapists who work with couples using the most proven methods of helping couples reduce distress in their relationships, we want to highlight the foundations of maintaining healthy, loving bonds.
Relationship Goals – Is Your Relationship a Priority?
As life unfolds, with children and busy careers, it’s easy to slip into habits that fail to include conscious efforts to continually nurture a couple’s loving, secure connection.
Your relationship goals might have included both having careers that take you places, but those careers can make connection difficult.
The arrival of the first child causes major changes in couples’ relationships. Explains Dr. Susan Johnson, the primary creator of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: “For both partners, there is less money, less sleep more tasks and more conflict over how to parent. . . . New parents can soon wind up feeling isolated from each other.” One study by well-known relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman found that in the three years after a baby is born, marital satisfaction dropped significantly in two-thirds of the couples studied.
Life is busy, but relationship goals have to start with prioritizing the relationship in the first place. The couple is the foundation of the family: If the couple is doing well, the family and kids are more likely to be thriving as well. And then whaddya know? Your job satisfaction goes up. Win/win!
Relationship Goals Fundamentals
Research tells us that secure, happy and fulfilling relationships have three things going for them:
- Is my partner Accessible? Can I reach him or her when I need emotional connection, comfort and reassurance?
- Will my partner Respond to me? When I need to be close, will my partner understand me and make my needs a priority in those moments?
- Does my partner stay Engaged with me? Am I truly valued as your special one?
We call these relationship goals the ARE of healthy relationships (as in , “Are you there for me?”). They are intertwined to create and sustain our emotional bond we created with our partner when we first fell in love.
Of course, couples can become less responsive or accessible from time to time due to stressful situations — work demands, extended family needs or the illness or challenges of a child. Part of New Years’ Resolutions for couples is learning to quickly regroup, apologize if necessary and renew having the relationship be a priority.
Creating Your Unique Relationship Goals
A few words about process. We’ll give you some ideas in a minute; however, before going straight to “what should we include,” here are our thoughts on how to develop those resolutions.
Set aside time — perhaps several sessions if needed. Quiet time with no distractions (no phones or screens of any kind). Let kids know you don’t want to be interrupted when you retreat to a quiet space.
Listen more than you talk. If we’re interrupting, we’re often defending ourselves. Truly be present with your partner and listen to his or her thoughts without commenting or judging.
Have fun! You’re mapping your future as a couple, so enjoy!
Something Old, Something New
As you’re sitting down to consider your own New Year’s relationship goals, here’s some questions you can use to spark your discussion. They’re from the corporate world and known as Appreciative Inquiry.
1. Recall some of your best times together as a couple. What were you doing? Who was there? What “ingredients” made those experiences so special and memorable? Take notes if needed. What feelings came up during those unique moments?
2. What do you value most about your relationship?
3. What is special and unique about your relationship or marriage? What is the amazing life force that is positive and contributes to the health of your relationship? What attributes of your relationship sets it apart? What are the strengths of your connection and bond?
4. What are three (or more!) wishes that you have for your relationship/marriage?
One way to do the inquiry is to ask each other the questions, with the asking partner taking some notes to capture the key points. Switch roles, with the other partner doing the asking and recording. This way, you’ve captured all the good stuff to include when you plan your New Years’ Resolutions.
We like this approach because you’re focusing on your powerful connection — not “what’s wrong” or what needs to be “fixed.” You may find the process energizing, enjoyable and informative.
Building New “Rituals” of Connection
Building or rebuilding your close connection can come in many, many forms. What’s most important is to find something thatboth of you would be able to continually repeat and which fits your unique “couple-ness.”
Also, what helped you stay close in the past may not be what can work now. So, you may now want to consider that you’re older, you’re now parents and you now have careers to manage.
Before we list some potential ideas, we want to tell you about the concept of “rituals.” As explained by Dr. Johnson in her first book for couples, “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, rituals are “repeated, intentional ceremonies that recognize a special time or connection.”
Rituals can include always greeting each other with a hug and kiss, saying “I love you” as you depart for work or other times away from each other or an uninterrupted cup of coffee together each morning. Some couples thrive on quick, loving texts during the workday. Sound like great relationship goals to me!
Couples can take a while to develop and remember to repeat their ritual if they have been distant and are trying to establish a ritual to reconnect regularly. Be patient with each other. After a while, the right ritual can become a must-do part of your daily routine.
Ideas for New Year’s Relationship Goals
Relationship Goals can range from a wide spectrum. Even small, memorable changes can make a difference in your closeness and connection.
- Make plans, when possible, for a vacation (even if just for one night) for just the two of you, when overnight childcare is available with extended family.
- Break up with your phones and electronic devices. We counselors often hear one or both partners feeling more distant because the couple is spending time on their screens and not with each other.
- Upgrade date night. It’s easy to fall into routines. Trying new things together creates new experiences and lasting memories and a new avenue to having fun together.
- Commit to more time for intimacy. When we have sex with our loved ones, our brain releases chemicals that foster greater closeness. Busy couples often feel they’re tired in the evening or have too many tasks to get done on weekends. However, our intimate bond is a strong one that keeps us close. For getting close again and refreshing your sexual connection, we recommend the books by Barry and Emily McCarthy. For more information on communication about sex, read Communicating About Sex: 5 Keys to Increased Closeness
- Plan a girls’ night out and a boys’ night out. Staying close with friends is part of a healthy life. Providing opportunities for your partner or spouse to stay in touch with friends is part of a successful relationship.
- Make a commitment to resolve any personal challenges. If you are coping with anxiety, depression, too much alcohol or other addictions or health problems you’ve neglected, those issues can create a “wall” between you and your partner. Yes, changing habits is often daunting. However, getting help to move forward not only improves your well-being, but also that of your relationship. For insight into loving an addict, you can read Loving an Addict: Supporting Recovery, ReBuilding Connection
- Renewing your commitment vows. This can be as simple as a quiet ceremony with just immediate family or a big celebration.
- Practice daily gratitude. We’re often drawn to focus on what’s wrong in our lives and neglect to honor and appreciate all that we have. When we draw attention to what is positive and good, our thoughts actually can shift to optimism.
- Resolve to address lingering disagreements that are impacting your closeness. Whether the issue is financial, division of household chores or parenting styles, those old issues can be contributing to a divide between you. We just happen to be really good at helping couples with these types of relationship goals, so if you are contemplating a complimentary half hour consultation with one of our Denver Marriage Therapists, click here.
We hope that this helps you think differently about relationship goals and create something that is more meaningful for your relationship than the perfect social media image – a strong and lasting bond! Here at Peaceful Life Counseling, we wish you all the best!