At a time when many of us resolve to lose weight, save more money, and live a more disciplined life in the new year, wouldn't it also be helpful to take stock of what’s actually most important to many of us—our relationships?
You can improve your relationship in the coming year by taking a page from the playbook of relationship science and considering these resolutions:
1. Play together. There is science behind the adage, “Couples that play together, stay together.” In a series of ingenious experiments, psychologist Art Aron and his colleagues have shown that couples that share exciting, exhilarating activities together—such as rock climbing or riding roller coasters—experience an increase in their sense of closeness and relationship satisfaction. Not just any activity will do, though; it’s important that couples play in ways that are physically arousing, according to Aron.
2. Crack more jokes. People in many satisfied long-term relationships point to humor as a key to their longevity. Humor benefits both individuals and relationships by helping to relieve stress, defusing tension that might otherwise lead to conflict, and even allowing people to bring up topics that would be difficult to discuss otherwise.
3. Learn to listen. Listening is a skill at which almost all of us overestimate our ability. More than just hearing what another person is saying, listening involves investing the energy to understand and remember another person’s message, and then to respond to that message in an appropriate and effective way. That’s tougher than it sounds, but because listening is a skill, it can be improved through practice.
4. Say you love each other more often. This resolution comes from my own lab, where we find that both receiving and expressing messages of affection improves the health of close relationships—as well as the health of the individuals in them. If you’re already an affectionate person, step up your game in the new year…and if you generally shy away from affection, resolve to express it more often—at least once a day—in a way that feels comfortable to you.
5. Find a faith. Research tells us that couples that are active in a religious faith are more satisfied and more committed to their relationships than couples who are not, irrespective of which religious tradition they follow. If faith appeals to you, consider establishing or renewing bonds with your religious community. If religion isn’t for you, consider a commitment to a cause that matters to you. The content and focus of your commitment are less important than the fact that the two of you engage in your commitment together.
6. Put away the cell phone. Communication technology is a boon for maintaining social relationships, but it can interfere with intimate ones. New research shows that even the presence of a cell phone during a face-to-face conversation—even if it’s never touched—reduces people’s satisfaction with that conversation. It may seem innocuous simply to lay your phone on the table while talking to your partner, but its visible presence can send the message that your attention could be diverted from your partner at any moment.
7. Forgive. For many people, this is undoubtedly the most difficult resolution on the list. In close relationships, we sometimes hurt each other, intentionally or accidentally. Resolve to let go of the hurt others have caused you. Holding onto disappointments and transgressions only hurts you and your relationship, so learn to forgive. Forgiveness won’t happen instantly when the calendar switches to 2015, but it’s a process you can resolve to begin.
Not all of these resolutions will help every person or relationship; pick and choose the ones most relevant to you, and add others of your own. In the long run, what you do is probably less important than the fact that you direct energy and attention to your relationship in the first place. Doing so will help you make the new year a happy and prosperous one.
Click HERE to join my email list and receive my free newsletter featuring more information on this topic and resources for communicating better in your close relationships.