9 Ways to Improve Your Relationship This Year
Argue about money less. Put your phone down more.
Posted Dec 22, 2015
It’s not just about diet and fitness goals. New Year's Day also brings an opportunity to revisit the health and happiness of your romantic relationship. Is your relationship thriving? Could it be stronger or more satisfying? What can you do to make things better? Any goal takes effort, so it’s time to outline what you’ll do to make your relationship the best it can be. As you think about your priorities, consider the ideas below—and remember to focus on what you can do yourself, or what you and your partner can do together. Your goal cannot be to change aspects of your partner; focus instead on changing your own contribution to the relationship, your reactions, and your responses.
- Stop arguing over money.
Do you and your partner butt heads when it comes to your finances? Resolve to take a new approach. Research on married couples shows that financial disagreements can predict divorce. It’s not how well-off people are that matters; it’s how combative couples are when discussing their finances (Dew, Britt, & Huston, 2012).
- Make thoughtful gestures.
Just a little effort can go a surprisingly long way in boosting relationship satisfaction. Research shows that thoughtful gestures make people feel grateful. In couples, that gratitude predicts the next day’s satisfaction, and feelings of connection, for both the gesture giver and the receiver (Algoe et al., 2012). Such findings suggest that "being more thoughtful" would be a truly, well, thoughtful New Year's resolution.
- Work for your relationship.
You clean the house, change your car’s oil, and visit the dentist, but what are you doing to maintain the health of your relationship? Research suggests that couples suffer when they don’t engage in relationship maintenance behaviors. Next year, try doing your part, because engaging in positivity, giving relationship assurances, and sharing tasks predicts liking, satisfaction, and commitment in relationships (Stafford & Canary, 1991).
- Talk (and listen) more.
Making time to talk is not always easy—people are busy!—but evidence shows it’s worth the effort. Partners who share their feelings, and have good listeners at the receiving end, are more satisfied in their relationships (Hendrick, 1981). Developing communication skills is also important: Couples who are able to discuss difficult topics constructively are more satisfied as well (Litzinger & Gordon, 2005). Maybe this year’s resolution can be to designate a weekly time to check in and really talk with your partner.
- Take up meditation.
Your blood pressure and sense of inner calm aren’t the only things that can benefit from meditation or yoga. Mindfulness is a strong predictor of relationship satisfaction, possibly because mindful attention can make partners feel a deeper sense of security (Jones, Welton, Oliver, & Thornburn, 2011). Practicing mindfulness in your relationship and living in the moment may be productive ways to help your relationship thrive.
- Try something new.
If you’ve been with your partner awhile, don’t think you need to be bored with your relationship. Established couples can add passion and satisfaction to their relationships by trying something new and exciting together (Aron et al., 2000). Consider taking a road trip to a new place, signing up for cooking lessons or a wine class, or surprising your partner by trying something like parasailing. When both individuals engage in an exciting, novel activity, the experience can boost relationship well-being—and that makes a fun resolution for the new year.
- Put down your phone.
Does your phone distract you? Do text messages and email take precedent even when you’re with your partner? That's called pphubbing. The term refers to the extent to which your phone is distracting you from your partner, or in other words, how much you’re partner phone snubbing (Roberts & David, 2016). When an individual’s phone use becomes a point of conflict in a relationship, its use predicts lower relationship satisfaction and ultimately, depression. Give your partner a break this year, and stop the pphubbing.
- Say a little prayer for your partner.
For some people, prayer is an important daily practice. Yet little research has examined its possible benefits to romantic relationships. Now new evidence demonstrates the potential positive effects of partner-focused petitionary prayer (e.g., praying specifically for one’s romantic partner). People engaged in this type of prayer experienced greater relationship satisfaction and commitment (Fincham & Beach, 2014). As such, partner-focused prayer could be a relationship-renewing resolution for the new year.
- Laugh more.
Relationship health is no laughing matter—except when it is. Recent research suggests that couples that spontaneously laugh together may be on the road to a healthy (or healthier) relationship. The amount of time couples spend in shared laughter predicts relationship quality, social support, and closeness (Kurtz & Algoe, 2015), all factors that are important in happy, healthy relationships. Maybe this year, focus on finding the funny together and letting yourself indulge in some shared laughter.
- Algoe, S. B., Gable, S. L., & Maisel, N. C. (2010). It's the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 17, 217-233.
- Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples' shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 273-284.
- Dew, J., Britt, S., & Huston, S. (2012). Examining the relationship between financial issues and divorce. Family Relations, 61, 615-628.
- Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. (2014). I say a little prayer for you: Praying for partner increases commitment in romantic relationships. Journal of Family Psychology, 28, 587-593.
- Hendrick, S. S. (1981). Self-disclosure and marital satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 1150-1159.
- Jones, K. C., Welton, S. R., Oliver, T. C., & Thorburn, J. W. (2011). Mindfulness, spousal attachment, and marital satisfaction: A mediated model. The Family Journal, 357-361.
- Kurtz, Laura E., and Sara B. Algoe. Putting laughter in context: Shared laughter as behavioral indicator of relationship well‐being. Personal Relationships, 22, 573-590.
- Litzinger, S., & Gordon, K. C. (2005). Exploring relationships among communication, sexual satisfaction, and marital satisfaction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 31, 409-424.
- Roberts, J. A., & David, M. E. (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 134-141.
- Stafford, L., & Canary, D. J. (1991). Maintenance strategies and romantic relationship type, gender and relational characteristics. Journal of Social and Personal relationships, 8, 217-242.
Front photo credit: Wyatt Fisher/ Creative Commons/ www.ChristianCrush.com