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Motivation

3 Steps to a Relationship Reboot

3. Try a complaining fast.

Key points

  • Resolutions help us shift our perspective and visualize a future that engenders hope.
  • Suggestions to re-inspire your relationship include weekly dates, pay it forward challenges, and a complaining fast.
  • Research shows that writing down your goals can significantly increase your chances of achieving them.
Photo by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels
Source: Photo by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels

I don't know about you, but I actually like New Year's resolutions. Yes, we all see headline after headline about the dismal follow-through around these new-year-new-me commitments—for example, that fewer than 8 percent of people actually stick to their goals, or that most people end up giving up on their targets before the end of January. The most cynical among us scoff at the idea that the simple turn of a calendar page should even have any sort of magical, Pixie-dust effect on our motivation.

But I find that setting resolutions, big or small, tends to get the creative juices flowing. Resolutions help us shift our perspective, visualize a future for ourselves that engenders hope, and maybe, just maybe, inspire new, more productive, and beneficial actions in the present.

Resolutions aren't just relegated to the individual, either. If you're in a committed relationship, here are three inspiring relationship goals for you and your spouse to set for your new-year-new-us vision. If any truly speak to you and your partner, feel free to use them. They're simply meant to get you thinking so you both can land on ideas that are personally meaningful.

1. Go on Weekly/Monthly/Quarterly Dates. Busy lives tend to leave little room for quality time with your spouse. By planning ahead and penciling in fun dates, you'll have something to look forward to and be more likely to actually make room in your schedule for it. Some weekly/monthly/quarterly date ideas include:

  • Couples' massage.
  • Hikes (new trails or old favorites).
  • Mini-getaways to a nearby hotel.
  • Plays and other local entertainment.
  • Shared showers or baths.
  • New recipes made together at home.
  • Foreign film night (or horror flick, or rom-com, etc.)—with no phones.

2. Complete a Shared Pay-It-Forward Challenge. Doing kind things for others benefits the doers as much as the receivers. Witness you and your spouse making a positive impact on your friends and community by setting regular goals such as:

  • Minimum monthly volunteer hours.
  • Scheduled charitable donations.
  • "Just because" gifts to couple friends or family members (e.g., a free night of babysitting, a nice bottle of wine, an unexpected card).
  • "Secret" benefactor acts (e.g., hiding $5 Visa gift cards around town or in stores, paying for the coffee or groceries of someone in line behind you).

3. Try a Complaining "Fast." Can you give up complaining about your spouse for an entire month? How about a week—or even just a single day? I'm not insinuating that complaints are "wrong" or that issues in your relationship shouldn't be properly brought up and addressed. But making a conscious effort to give up complaining has this weird little effect of helping us become more aware of just how often we tend to complain in the first place.

The idea is to:

  • Simply notice—without judgment—how often you nag, complain about, or criticize your spouse, whether in your head or out loud.
  • Turn down the volume on your complaint channel and instead allow the space where a complaint used to go to be filled with quiet observation.
  • Tack on an explicit expression of gratitude (even if you just think it to yourself or write it in a journal) every time you catch yourself complaining.

A Few Practical Thoughts on Goal-Setting

Even when backed by the absolute best intentions, change can be hard. Here are some things to keep in mind that might help:

  • Aim high but set the bar low. Do not be afraid to have "big" goals (for both your marriage and and yourself), but be sure that you chunk those goals into small, exceedingly doable action steps. By setting the bar low, you'll be more likely to see yourself go from "to do" to "done," which keeps your momentum going and helps you build sticky new habits. As an example, if your goal is to start exercising together, you and your spouse might set an initial goal of taking a 10-minute walk after dinner every night for a month. Action begets action.
  • Write them down. Yes, research shows that writing down your goals can significantly increase your chances of actually achieving them. My suggestion? Once you and your partner decide on some shared goals that are genuinely meaningful, sit down together and write them down—in a journal, on a whiteboard posted on your fridge, or anywhere else where you can see the goals frequently, so they stay top of mind.
  • Get someone to help hold you accountable. Setting goals as a couple automatically gives you both someone who can help you follow through on your resolutions. But having someone outside the relationship adds a level of ownership and accountability that can really come in handy when (inevitably) your motivation levels trend low. A counselor or licensed marriage and family therapist could be a great solution for this, but you could also consider a spiritual advisor or trusted family friend, too.
  • Look for measurable metrics. A goal such as "Improve our marriage" is wonderful, but it's a bit vague. What does "improving our marriage" look like? How would you and your spouse actually know if you've accomplished such a goal? See if you can come up with goals that focus on actions (e.g., we go on X number of dates per month) rather than vague outcomes. The positive outcomes you're looking for tend to fall into place by focusing on genuine actions.
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