There is a moment at the beginning of something new – like the first day of a new year – when we take in a breath of air, pause quietly within and wonder about the ways we may change or be changed. In a way, it’s a moment in which we hover between what we were and who we will be.
This is especially more powerful when the newness in a moment appears to be universally shared by many people at the same time. It strengthens our resolve.
Somehow, through the certainty of connection, we believe we can pluck a dream from the air and make it real or move strongly towards a goal and know that we have the power to reach it. We rise above time and tide, conquer our fears and feel we have the steadfastness to do something we set our minds to doing.
All too frequently, this feeling doesn’t last. We have many reminders of all the times we’ve not followed through, the times when we’ve given up or been so distracted by events in our lives that our dreams and goals for the future float un-tethered in the ether.
Yet in our relationships, commitment and shared resolve are crucial – the difference between growing closer together or drifting apart. By this, I mean that establishing greater common ground relies on our shared resolutions. Intimate connection with one person or more requires that we have the courage to resolve a painful past while being open to wonderful possibilities. This is an essential step for creating successful relationships.
Why do we have to make relationship resolutions?
In our hearts, a real resolution – for example, like resolving to listen more and reduce communication problems – can create strong foundations for greater intimacy and connection in our relationships.
The key here is to take care that we stay optimistic about the shared resolutions we commit to with each other. This way, as we resolve so to do something new or slightly different in a specific relationship, our hopefulness becomes the confidence that brings lasting change.
“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” – Lawrence J. Peter
It’s all too easy in a friendly crowd on New Year’s Eve to jovially shout out the same list of resolutions as we did last year and to laugh about why we didn’t reach them. We’ve all been there, but somehow this leaves us feeling a little hollow afterwards.
I think this is because hidden beneath the camaraderie and convincing common argument that resolutions always fail is the truth that resolutions and failure are not intrinsically connected. People do decide to make changes in their lives and quite frequently it works.
The relationships that are important to us thrive when we keep our interactions fresh and interesting, when we grow and come to know the other person better while also learning more about ourselves.
By deciding on a few resolutions that enhance true connection with our partner or loved ones, we can be sure that we are not living in our own illusions but are very connected in real ways to the ones we love. This premise is very simple but can be very powerful.
Sharing the process of making and keeping resolutions that help with giving and receiving love with friends and family, significantly improves the likelihood that we can make the lasting changes we want to see in our daily lives.
Keeping resolutions active
Discipline is the cornerstone of your commitment to taking action. You can decide to take action against a relationship habit you want to break or towards introducing something new and exciting into an important relationship that was not there before.
Couples who seek relationship counselling often realise that something isn’t working in their relationship but find it hard to see a way forward. Usually they are seeking something that will make a difference to the quality of their relationship and their everyday lives together. They would like to be more emotionally available to each other and to connect more deeply.
Resolving to actively change a destructive habit or to create a new pattern together can seem daunting at first but it definitely gets easier when the task is broken down into a series of small and manageable steps that can be carried out every single day.
Doing it together the smart way
The first thing to decide on is how any change that is going to be introduced will be managed. Rather than starting with what the problems are, it can be very helpful to focus first efforts on the daily actions that will bring a new resolution to life. The key is active participation.
It may be that only one person in a relationship is really taken with the idea of bringing about relationship change and a little help may be needed to convince the other partner to join in. It’s a puzzling fact that typically people don’t have goals for what they cherish the most in their lives.
Many people assume that the relationship will grow and improve on its own- this is a relationship myth. In reality though, it’s only by taking action together that the relationship both partners aspire to create will come into being.
Resolving to actively change something in a relationship that will bring partners closer together – like deciding to introduce a date night or a shared sporting activity – is easy to follow through on because it is very possible to quantify the change.
The process of change is easier if supported by a clear structure. The SMART goal system provides a simple way to structure and keep track of resolutions:
- Specific – a simple, straightforward and focused goal that is as defined as possible.
- Measurable – A measurement allows for feedback and completion date.
- Attainable – This should be no pipe dream but something that can be achieved.
- Realistic – It’s important that if special skills are needed, the partners have these.
- Timely – A time-based goal can be energetically pursued while still being realistic.
SMART goals have become second nature to many people across the globe and are a great way to keep changes manageable. By having specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely resolutions, it’s easier to see the way forward.
Couples and family members who want to improve the relationship they have or singles looking for love, can decide on goals for themselves or as an interesting variation can ask their partner to come up with goals for them. It’s often quite difficult for a person to see into their own faults. If this is done in a gentle way, without criticism, it can have profound effects on a relationship’s quality.
I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal titled: To Stick to New Year’s Resolutions, Try Outsourcing Them that got me thinking about shared resolutions. By engaging in relationship change and keeping resolutions active in our daily lives, there is a greater likelihood that we will succeed in making important changes in our relationships. What’s suggested in this article is that by asking significant others in your life to give you feedback about what needs to change, you are much more likely to be able to maintain your resolutions over time.
If we open ourselves to the possibilities, listen more and give time to those we love in a constructive way, we can learn to take better care of ourselves and our partners and live a remarkable life.
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photo: ‘Flying Hearts’ by JohnathanPoh flickr
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.