7 Best New Year’s Resolutions To Transform Your Relationship
Are you one who makes and breaks your New Year’s resolutions? You’re not alone. Some studies suggest that 80% of resolutions are broken by the 2nd month of the New Year. If you bother to make New Year’s resolutions, wouldn’t it be great to see them through? Read on for an expert’s tips to successful goal setting. And I’ll share with you what I consider the 7 best New Year’s resolutions that will transform you and your relationship.
What a world’s expert says about setting goals:
In his book Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be, Marshall Goldsmith says this:
“We are superior planners and inferior doers.” We make plans, set goals and fail to achieve them. If we hope to achieve the plans we make, we need structure. “We do not get better without structure.”
Goldsmith is known as one of the world’s most effective executive coaches. He has done coaching and goal setting with fortune 500 business leaders like Alan Mulally, retired former President and CEO of Ford Motor Company, Jim Yong Kim, Twelfth president of the World Bank, and Aicha Evans, VP and general manager of Intel.
The active question exercise:
One of the important ideas in Goldsmith’s book is that we should ask ourselves active questions on a daily basis. And, we need to track the answers. The active questions can start with “Did I try my best today to (fill in the blank)”. The idea is that by setting our intention to do our best on a daily basis we will make progress. He encourages people to write down whether they are doing their best to fulfill their intention on a daily basis.
Effort is more important than results. We can control our effort. Often there are factors beyond our control that influence the results.
Who will hold you accountable?
Goldsmith says that this simple exercise always works. The problem is that few people can continue to ask the question on a daily basis without accountability. He recommends that you use a coach or mentor for accountability.
As a relationship therapist, I believe that your best accountability partner may be the person that you live with. If you a have a supportive relationship, you may want to make the person you love and live with your accountability partner. I guarantee that this will strengthen your relationship. We know for a fact that emotional honesty strengthens bonds in love relationships. If you can take the risk to do this exercise on a daily basis with your partner it will help you achieve your goals while drawing you closer together.
Some of you reading this are saying to yourself “I can barely talk to my partner without getting into an argument. The last thing in the world I want to do is try to make him or her my accountability partner!”
Got it! And you may be right. That could be a symptom of some relationship disconnection. If your relationship is in trouble, your New Year’s resolution probably needs to be to get to a couples therapist after the first of the year. You can find an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist here. EFT has a 70% success rate for turning around couples in distress and a 90% success rate for relationship improvement.
Intention over outcome:
I agree with Goldsmith who says that the active question exercise only works when you state YOUR intention on a daily basis. You need to take full ownership of your intention to do your best to achieve a particular goal. What is important here is the sincerity of your intention, not the outcome. It may take weeks or months to get an outcome. Both you and your partner need to be careful not to judge if an outcome is not achieved.
Judgment causes shame, which damages our self-esteem and our ability to make progress. Brene Brown’s Ted talks and books have plenty to say about this. If you feel judged by your partner it will harm rather than help your relationship.
The accountability partner’s job is simply to listen and to be supportive of the partner who is taking the risk to do this exercise on a daily basis.
A year of your partner’s being present to you as you make the intention to do your best will surely draw you closer together.
With the active question exercise ground rules in place, here are what I consider the following to make you more successful and lovable in 2019.
7 best New Year’s resolutions to transform your relationship:
1. Arresting your addictions.
This is the most popular New Year’s resolution. Rather than resolving to lose 25 pounds, stop smoking, or stop drinking or drug abuse, why not make an intention to do your best every day? Your best may be trying to stop eating excessive carbs. Your best may be attending a recovery group.
Addictions eventually eat away at everything you love the most. Your ability to achieve goals and to be open and loving is compromised by your addictions. Anyone who has been through recovery will tell you that the daily intention to stop is the key to success. “Keep coming back” is a saying in AA that defines this intention.
There are all kinds of AA organizations out there that will help with addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, work and food. They are all free! They simply require your intention and best effort.
2. Replacing T.V. and social media with personal growth books, podcasts and online education.
A little mindless T.V. can help you unwind. I use cooking shows and light comedy for this purpose. Too many people are hooked by dark, violent and sexually explicit T.V. series which will depress your mood and waste your valuable time.
There is a downside and upside to the digital age we live in. The downside – a lot of addictive media downgrades your ability to be a loving, compassionate inspired person. There is neuroscience that proves this, which I won’t be reviewing in this article.
The inverse is also true. There is more media available than ever that will help you feel better about yourself, achieve your goals, and help you be a more loving and compassionate person. Just search for podcasts on leadership, emotional intelligence and healthy relationships. Oprah’s Super Soul Podcast is one of my favorites.
Watch Ted Talks. There are so many inspiring, cutting edge talks that will help you expand your horizons. There are thousands of sermons online that can be a source of inspiration for many of you.
And read books! I love kindle books. You don’t need a Kindle reader. You can download the Kindle app to read them on your smart phone.
If you prefer to listen rather than read, you can download audio books onto your phone from the Audible store. You can also download thousands of audio books for free through your local library. Just get a library card and download the recommended on your phone. This will allow you to download thousands of audio books on your phone for free!
So there is really no excuse not to consume amazingly helpful media. You need to make the choice or perhaps the resolution. Will this be one of your New Year’s resolutions?
3. Practicing mindfulness, loving kindness and gratitude meditations.
A New Year’s resolution, yes, this is a must. There are lots of different ways to practice meditation. The most talked about these days is mindfulness meditation. Dr. Dan Siegel, in his book called Mindsight, does a great job describing how mindful meditation has a positive impact on the brain and body.
The basic practice has to do with learning how to let go of thoughts and to allow yourself to feel what you are feeling, without judging. This breaks habitual thought patterns that are often critical of self and other. It also allows emotions to surface that we do not normally feel because your cluttered thinking keeps them buried in the unconscious.
If you are new to mindfulness meditation the Headspace app will guide through the process. It is a free app available for iOS and android devices.
Dr. Kristin Neff gives mindfulness meditation a focus in what she calls the practice of loving kindness. This involves focusing your thinking and emotions on sending loving kindness to the people you care about. You can also practice loving kindness for yourself. This will eventually rewire your brain and replace your negative thoughts and emotions. You can find these guided meditations on Dr. Neff’s website.
Taking time to practice gratitude on a daily basis can be incredibly transforming. Human beings have a problem with unhealthy comparison and competition. Making the choice to be grateful is the best antidote.
I recently heard Oprah say that she keeps a gratitude journal. Without the practice of gratitude even the wealthy and influential can get caught up in comparison and self-criticism.
Another way to practice gratitude is to write gratitude letters to people who have been kind to you or inspire you. A study conducted at U.C. Berkeley found that subjects who wrote these letters had significantly better mental health in 12 weeks. Berkeley’s Greater Good Center is packed full of resources for practicing gratitude and for making positive changes.
4. Making your ‘Primary Primary’.
Unless someone tells me differently, I came up with this term. I talk about it will all my couples and have written about it in our book Emotional Connection: The Story and Science of Preventing Conflict and Creating Lifetime Love.
The concept comes from attachment science, which was originated, by Dr. John Bowlby and Dr. Mary Ainsworth. These researchers found that infants form a primary attachment with one caretaker who they look at as a lifeline for emotional and physical support. When this primary attachment is insecure it often causes relationship problems later in life.
Researchers Shaver and Hazan found that adults also pair bond in lifetime relationships and have secure and insecure attachment styles. The book Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, talks about how secure and insecure attachment styles affect adult love relationships.
The bottom line is that we must make our primary adult love relationship primary in order to keep the relationship emotionally secure. Jealousy related to your partner’s affection is a strong survival instinct.
When you bond with another person as adults you regulate each other’s emotions, immune systems, pain and fear thresholds. You depend on each other financially and often share a sacred relationship with your children.
You make your primary relationship primary by letting your partner know that he or she comes first in everything. Before other friendships, family members, job commitments and yes, even the children.
Taking inventory every day about whether you are making your primary relationship primary is about protecting and growing your most valuable asset.
5. Taking time for relationship.
Okay, taking time for relationship is clearly one of the best 7 New Year’s resolutions. One of the biggest frustrations of being a couples therapist is observing the kind of problems that couples get into by not taking time to connect and be intimate. So often they wait until the relationship is on the verge of death to come in for therapy.
Couples spend thousands of dollars on therapy. But it’s like pulling teeth to get many of them to even spend 15 minutes a day connecting with each other.
Love takes time. Communication is complex. Lovemaking is an art form that requires a couple’s own special recipe of holding each other to create enough warmth to light the fire.
Established love takes intentionality. Gone are the new-love days of making out for hours or humping like bunnies. We just don’t maintain the same neurochemistry in mature love relationships. Helen Fischer has described the differences in new love vs. established love in her book and research.
Mature love takes time. Time to make decisions, to hear each other’s thoughts and emotions. It takes time to work through disagreements, for recreation and time to stay connected with extended family and friends, and of course children.
A resolution about this for the New Year could involve committing to the amount of uninterrupted time you intend to devote exclusively to your partner on a daily basis. Yes, without the distraction of social media or text messages.
You may need to do the same for time spent with children. In my experience they often get a lot more time at the expense of the marriage relationship.
6. Setting your relationship’s intention.
After going through the incredible pain of a 25-year marriage failure, I wanted to get it right in my current relationship. So Paula and I started out early in our relationship defining our relationship’s mission and vision. We had the whiteboard covered with color-coded bullet points, arrows, symbols and all sorts of craziness that would seem undecipherable to even us today. It was great fun and very helpful.
Our hours of whiteboarding resulted in Paula quitting her job in accounting to administrate my couples therapy private practice, write a book together and produce relationship education content like this article. All part of our mission and vision to help couples prevent the problems we had in our earlier marriages.
We have been together for 10 years and are pretty much on track with the overall intentions we set early in our relationship. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t continually checking in with each other and asking hard questions about keeping the relationship on course.
So setting your intention for your career goals is one thing. It is also important to set goals for how you want to recreate, connect with others, grow your spiritual life and raise your children.
It is helpful to set your intention about how much stress you want to have in your life. What do you want your day-to-day relationship to feel like? What is on your bucket list for travel and life experiences?
How much time and money do you want to devote to helping others? What would that look like?
This one can be a lot of fun. But it doesn’t just happen. Again you must take time to talk and dream together. Then include these things in your New Year’s resolutions.
7. Becoming spiritually centered.
Some people would say that this intention should be listed first rather than last. Unless you like to save the best for last. Regardless of where it appears on the list, I feel it is one of the 7 best New Year’s resolutions.
Staying spiritually centered is about understanding who you are and why you are on the earth. It is about getting in touch with what Richard Rohr calls in his book Falling Upward, your true self. Many writers throughout the ages have learned how to find a source of love inside of them that exceeds the love they can produce by their own effort.
Being spiritually centered requires reading about the lives of the great examples of divine love and practicing what you learn from them.
Writers who are no longer living – Brother Lawrence, Theresa of Avila, and Thomas Merton – are great resources for learning how to live a spiritually centered life.
Taking the time to meditate, pray, reflect, and to find the light of love in others as well as in creation, are all part of becoming spiritually centered.
It begins by knowing and living in the reality of the presence of divine love. Your true self will come forward when you can experience who you are as a human being with a spiritual center.
Setting intention about this requires taking time to read sacred texts. Try connecting with people who can serve as mentors and spiritual guides.
It’s time to make those New Year’s resolutions:
Now that you understand Goldsmith’s active question exercise, I think you’re ready to make your resolutions for 2019. So take some time to really contemplate your goals, where you are, what’s really important to you and your relationship, and what you want 2019 to look like. Dream about the transformation. Get your accountability partner on board, and excited to help you stay intentional. Consider one or more from my list above. If my 7 best New Year’s resolutions to transform your relationship don’t feel quite fitting for you, create your own.
Be well during this holiday season. We wish you the very best in 2019.
Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Supervisor in Visalia and San Luis Obispo, California. He works with couples in creating resolutions for loving, secure relationships. He and his wife Paula are authors of the book Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love and have developed an online learning course based on the science of attachment and healthy relationship. Find more of Dr. Regier’s helpful articles on Your Tango.com, MSN.com and Psyche Central.