Divorce Busting

Musings from an unabashed marriage saver.

The NEW New Year's Resolution

Forget thinner, richer and healthier. Set Relationship Resolutions instead.

There's a saying, "If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time." It's true, which makes setting New Year's resolutions a very pragmatic activity. But if you're like most people, as you're shifting into that, "turning-over-a-new-leaf mode" and thinking about ways to improve your life, your mind starts to meander to those ten extra pounds you've been lugging around or those cigarettes you've been smoking despite the inconvenience of having to go outside in freezing temperatures or that urge that has been creeping up on you every evening to have just one more night cap. And when you're done thinking about all the vices you should quit, you check your calendar to see if this will be the year that you finally take that finance class over at the local community college. Make no mistake about it, you want to be thinner, richer, healthier and smarter.

But the truth is, when nearly one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, why is it that people are so busy worshipping the Personal Improvement God/dess rather than focusing on the improvements we can make to our important relationships? Why don't spouses sit down together and truly think about where they want to be six months or a year from now, setting relationship-oriented goals that can make marriages richer, healthier and longer lasting? Why not forego the cash you'd be shelling out for a Personal Trainer and get some Interpersonal Training to make your marriage more buff? And if this seems like a foreign idea, I'm going to help you out a bit. I will give you some tips for setting Relationship Resolutions for 2009. Ready?

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You should do this exercise with your partner. Commit your responses to writing. Start by asking yourselves:

What are you hoping to change or improve about your marriage?

Make sure that your goals are positively stated so that they are requests for change rather than complaints

When I ask couples what they're hoping to improve about their marriages, they usually reply with a complaint. For example, I hear, "I wish my husband weren't so sloppy." Criticisms typically result in defensiveness which as you undoubtedly know, leads to unnecessary escalation and unrewarding problem-solving effots. Plus, if your husband being "less sloppy" were to be the goal, you are still focusing on the problem- sloppiness. Instead, it is much more solution-oriented to ask yourself, "When my husband becomes less sloppy, what will he be doing instead? What will replace the messiness?" Your response to this question will be a request for change rather than a complaint. For example, you may think, "When my husband becomes less sloppy, he will pick up is wet towel from the floor" or "He will empty the dishwasher in the evening." Watching for helpfulness rather than scanning for sloppiness can go a long way to changing relationship dynamics.

Make sure your responses are action-oriented

Too often people have vague or half-baked goals. They say, "I want you to be more affectionate," or "Our marriage needs to be more exciting," or "Why can't you just show a little respect?" Unfortunately, everyone has his or her own definition of "affectionate," "excitement," or "respect." If you want your spouse to try to hit the mark, your expectations have to be clear. As much as you might love your spouse to be a mind reader, there really is no such thing. So, if your goal is to have your spouse be more affectionate, you need to use action-oriented words to explain what you need. Say things like, "I want you to hug me without being sexual," or "I would really like it if you would sit next to me on the couch when I watch television, even if you're not all that interested in what I'm watching," or "Stop what you're doing when I come home from work and give me a kiss." The clearer you can be, the better.

Make sure your goals are do-able in a short period of time

One mistake people make is setting goals that are too grandiose and because of that, they run out of steam before their goals are accomplished. Since nothing breeds success like success, you need to break your goals down to small do-able chunks, things you and your spouse can accomplish in a week or two. Then, when you see small changes, you will feel inspired to continue the hard work you're doing to make things better. Let me give you an example.

I worked with a couple who spent very little time together and, as a result, had little in common. That's why they sought my help. They felt they had grown apart. When I asked them what they were hoping to change or improve about their relationship, they told me that they wanted to feel intensely in love again and feel more connected something they hadn't felt for a very long time. I assured them that that was an admirable goal, but I wondered what might happen in the next week or two that would be a sign that they were moving in the right direction. They decided that if they went out on a date night once each week, spent at least ten minutes each night talking about their day, and gave each other 2 or 3 daily compliments, they would feel they were making a hearty effort to get their marriage back on track.

As you think about your goals, ask yourself that same question, "What would be one or two small things that my partner and I could do this week that would make us both feel that we are on track to accomplishing our goal?"

Goal-setting is nothing new or earth-shattering. Successful people in all walks of life know the wisdom of having a clear and concrete vision for the things they want to achieve. But setting goals to bring more love, passion and connectedness into your life may not be something you've ever done before. So before the clock strikes twelve on December 31st, why not create your Relationship Resolutions and make 2009 the best ever for you and your partner? What do you think?


Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, is the Director of The Divorce Busting Center in Boulder, Colorado and Woodstock, Illinois and founder of divorcebusting.com.


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