• Dr. George Stoupas

Relationship Resolutions: Couples and Families in the New Year

It’s never too late to hit the reset button and start over; however, a fresh year gives us all a convenient and exciting opportunity to reflect on our successes and heartaches of the previous year while setting our intentions for the one to come. We get to join in on the fun of the New Year’s resolutions dominating our social media feeds, connecting with other folks we know (and those we don’t) as we try to imagine our future best selves.

As a couples and family therapist who specializes in relationship counseling, I am struck by just how many of the common New Year’s resolutions we see focus on the individual – for example, losing weight, starting a new career, making more money, or even drinking more water. These kinds of goals focus on what the person can, should, or must do, without explicitly mentioning the important people connected to the person. I totally understand why we do this; we’re told to focus on what we have control over and to take responsibility for our own decisions. However, it’s usually not that simple. As someone who has been married for a relatively long time and has two kids, I can tell you that every decision I make impacts my family, no matter how seemingly personal the goal. We are intimately connected to the people we love – there is no other way around it. So, as I reflect on my counseling practice clients and my personal resolutions this year, I thought we might consider something that better honors our interconnectedness: Relationship Resolutions.

Just like good individual New Year’s resolutions, these don’t have to be fancy or complicated. They don’t have to mean anything to anyone but you and the ones you love. As you reflect on your important relationships over the course of the past year, for example, with your dating or marriage partner, your parents, or your children, think about what’s working and what isn’t. Do you feel safe and connected? Do they? Is this person physically and emotionally accessible, responsive, and engaged? Are you that way in this relationship? Does the current state of this relationship feel like it enhances your life, or does it feel more like a harmful burden? Answering these questions will take some deep and honest reflection on your own, as well as an open discussion with your loved one. If things are less than ideal, then it might not be easy to do this. Facing problems can be unpleasant, which is why not everyone does it. I see this in my couples and family therapy practice all the time; people often wait to make changes because change is hard. The good news is it’s a New Year, and you can use this opportunity to begin again.

While every important intimate relationship is as special and unique as the people in it, here are some potential Relationship Resolutions to get you started:

  • I will try to be mindful about my thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations when I am with my loved one. I will use this information to (re)calibrate and connect.

  • I will identify my core hurts, fears, and hopes related to my loved one. I will be brave and share these with him or her as soon as I can, to the best of my ability.

  • I will try to recognize that my loved one is doing the best he or she can in this moment. I will try to understand even hurtful behavior in the context of longings and unmet needs.

  • If I am the one who tends to pursue, I will try to soften my approach to my partner so they can see my vulnerability and fears.

  • If I am the one who tends to withdraw, I will try to engage and open up to my partner so they can see my vulnerability and fears.

  • I will remind myself that relationship conflict is a sign that we matter to one another; we fight to connect.

Above all, I will be gentle and compassionate with myself, knowing I am doing the best I can in the moment while also striving to be more effective in my relationship.

Just like any New Year’s resolution, these are easier said than done. Relationship focused therapy, whether it’s for your marriage, family, or yourself individually, can help further clarify these goals while providing support, guidance, and encouragement along the way. Having a healthy and satisfying relationship enhances our personal development and can supercharge all of those individual achievements we imagine at the dawn of a new year; two birds, one stone. As we enter into this new year filled with hope and possibility, what are your Relationship Resolutions?

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