Setting intentions as a couple is a boon to your relationship. “Having shared projects, shared goals and shared meaning increases [closeness],” said Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships in Orange County, Calif.
It’s also “an opportunity to examine what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong in the previous year,” said Susan B. Saint-Rossy, MSW, LCSW, a psychotherapist who works with couples in Loudoun County, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
The key is to set positive, concrete goals — elements that many couples unwittingly neglect.
For instance, couples commonly resolve to fight less, or they try to reduce other negative behaviors, Nickerson said. “If you’re constantly thinking about what you shouldn’t do, you’re continually in a negative mindset. Negative mindsets usually lead to negative behavior.”
Positive goals might include everything from helping each other more often with chores to giving a compliment every day to setting aside 20 minutes at night for quality time, she said.
Saint-Rossy believes that the “how” of your goals is the most important part of keeping intentions. For instance, instead of resolving to communicate better, she suggested resolving to learn about effective communication for couples. Read books by relationship experts, such as John Gottman, she said. Attend a workshop and try the techniques to see what works for you.
She also noted that one of the best resolutions we can make is to become an expert on our partner. Psychologist Stan Tatkin, PsyD, talks about this in his Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT). Becoming an expert on your partner can involve understanding what makes your partner feel safe, secure and loved, she said. It also can include: knowing when your partner is upset through their verbal and nonverbal cues; how to help them recover from being upset; and how to repair your relationship after an argument, she said.
If you’d like to set unique goals for your relationship, Saint-Rossy suggested asking yourself these questions individually and as a couple:
- How do I want to feel in my relationship with my partner? What specific things can I do to feel more that way?
- How do I want to make my partner feel in our relationship? What specific actions can I take to help my partner feel that way?
- What is the potential of our life together? What do we want our relationship to look like in the next year? What can I do specifically to create this life?
Nickerson shared these additional questions to consider:
- “When was the best time in our relationship? What was I doing for my spouse then? What was he or she doing for me?
- What would mean a lot to me now?
- What would make me feel safer? More loved? More important?
- What can I do to be more helpful? More positive? More optimistic?
- What’s a goal that’s positive and important to us both?
“The healthiest couples cultivate a relationship that is optimistic, positive, full of praise, kindness and gratitude,” Nickerson said. “Anything you can do to create a relationship like this will be a great resolution.”
And if you’re still not sure which intentions to set, she named this goal as the best resolution for 2015: “We promise to talk about what we’re grateful for in our lives and in each other every day.”