Every new year brings new and renewed resolutions and commitments to our work, school, family, and self. We are excited by the thought of what this year can bring. Frequently, we wonder about what new possibilities and opportunities will arise in 2020. As we reflect on our lives, we reflect on our relationships, too.
Some people begin the new year with a new attitude of hope: “Today’s a new day. I am not letting the past hold us back. This year we don’t need to keep repeating all of the old patterns. This year we don’t need to keep waiting for something to change; something can change.” The new year begins to reignite long-held hopes and dreams. When people talk about new resolutions and new beginnings, they start believing that this is the year when things can and will be different.
Other people have wishes to meet the “one” this year or a desire to see improvement in their relationship. However, in the back of their minds, some might be nervous, anxious, and worried: “Will anything be different? Will my partner keep their promises?” As they started on 2019, they might have thought, ”This is the year that we’ll stop fighting;” “This is the year that we’ll decide to have a child;” “This is the year that my partner will stop drinking;” or “This is the year that my partner will love me for me.”
The list goes on, but our wishes and dreams might not have been fulfilled in the past. We wonder if we can really change, if our partners can really change. Many people are tired of nagging and begging for things to improve, so what can we do if nothing is different and no changes have occurred?
Roommates vs. Romantics
Alberto and Maria, for example, are partners who have become complacent in their relationship. They started to feel like roommates and less like partners. Alberto and Marie came to see me after being married for 7 years. Alberto stated, “I think there’s something wrong with our relationship. It’s not like it used to be.” Maria interrupted, “We’re not in love anymore.”
Alberto complained that his wife never had time for intimacy. She didn’t want to have fun anymore. Marie complained that her husband never made time to talk with her. He was always on his phone.
Wondering, hoping, and praying that your partner will change can help but, more importantly, you need to look at what actions and steps you are taking toward change as a couple. This year your relationship can be healthier and more secure through action.
Like Alberto and Maria, we have all sorts of reasons why we can’t stop to say, “Hello, how are you?” when our partner comes home from school, work, gym, or the grocery store – or why we say, “We have no time for fun because we have bills to pay, we have kids, or I’m too tired after working all day.” Some couples spend a lot of time looking at social media or playing games on their phone, which adds to the loneliness and feelings of not being loved.
Complacency vs. Connection
I can almost guarantee that when Alberto and Maria were a couple “falling in love,” they spent quality time together, gazed into each other’s eyes a lot, and found interests and commonalities which helped their relationship thrive. So I asked them, as I now ask you:
- What made your relationship work?
- Are you doing those same things?
Frequently, my clients’ answers to the above questions bring us back to these basics:
- taking time for each other
- letting your partner know you are thinking of him/her during the day
- having a fun date (with no friends or kids)
- sitting across the table from each other
- talking about light, fun topics or having deep and meaningful conversations
- gazing into your partner’s eyes
- sharing quiet love
I caution couples like Alberto and Maria not to expect the honeymoon phase of their relationship, when everything was exciting, fun, and they were young. The newness of your relationship and the novelty made your brain fire neurons and chemicals that kept you connected and wired together. We cannot go back to the good old days and live in the past, but we cannot allow the opportunities of today to pass us by, either.
I explain to my couples that we have to acknowledge and admit to ourselves how things may have changed and are different from the start of our relationship. We may have children and work full-time. We may have wrinkles, bald spots, pot bellies, even varicose veins. We are not 20 anymore, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a loving relationship.
Agree on Principle and a New Plan
Your relationship will be different from when you first met, but it doesn’t have to be boring, cold, and distant. It can be fun, but you may need to get a babysitter now. It can be exciting, but you may need to plan your outings ahead of time because your schedules are less spontaneous.
In PACT, we learn that going somewhere novel and new or trying something you’ve never done before can increase excitement and help increase the brain firing again (like in the honeymoon phase). I tell my clients that they don’t have to be roommates, but they will become roommates if they put their relationship on cruise control rather than focus on being present in 2020.
Therefore, every day, decide who and what are important – your relationship, social media, or something else. Decide to make your relationship number 1. Take action to improve the connection in your relationship. I recommend couples sit down and make a plan.
- Your Principles Will Guide Your Year. What are your agreements about fairness, equality, mutuality, money, and other values and beliefs about your relationship? Ask yourselves:
- What is the purpose of our relationship?
- What and how do we want our relationship to look at the end of 2020?
- How do we plan to improve our relationship and feel closer?
- What do we value and believe is important as a couple?
- Monthly Goals. You may need to break down your agreements and goals into smaller pieces.
- January: What are we going to do in January to reach our long-term principles? Your plan should be specific and detailed.
- February: How did we do? Do we need to tweak our agreements or reevaluate our beliefs, principles, or values? When shall we schedule time to look ahead to March?
- March: How can we improve our accountability this spring to stay on track? Are we working as a team and partners in this process? If not, what do we need change?
- Weekly Goals. Break your goals into even smaller pieces.
- Today: What are we doing today to follow our agreements and principles?
- This week: What is our action plan this week? Is this plan realistic and practical?
- This month: In what ways was our action plan successful? What can we improve?
As the new year fades (which will happen), I recommend that you have a couple meeting to reflect and monitor. Are you following your agreements and principles? Do you need to make any changes to them?
Some of my couples purchase a white board and put up their agreements and principles in a common area of their home. If they are more private, then the couple keeps a journal in their bedroom. White boards and journals are great reminders of your commitments, dreams, and hopes for your relationship in 2020.
Use the excitement of the new year to start making small steps towards a happier and more secure relationship. The new year may fade away, but you can restart and reignite your relationship. Make every day a new day.
Lisa Rabinowitz, LCPC, is a licensed counselor in the states of Maryland, Delaware, Florida, Vermont and Virginia. She is a Certified Gottman Couples Therapist and PACT Level 3. If you want to learn more about how effort makes you more attractive, please contact me for a 20 minute free private consultation today.