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Quiet Relationship Resolutions

Here are five simple ways to improve your relationship in 2018.

A Lot Of Peopl/Shutterstock
Source: A Lot Of Peopl/Shutterstock

“New Year’s resolutions for us?” My client rolled his eyes, not looking at his wife, who was staring grimly in the other direction: “We always promise each year that we’ll do this differently or start doing that, and by the second week of January, it’s history: No follow-up...”

Many would echo my client. It’s true that all too many New Year’s promises made are promptly broken or never followed. How can you make 2018 be different for you and your partner?

The key to improving your relationship this year may be taming expectations for your partner and quietly resolving to make changes in your own behavior. You have much more power to change yourself than to change someone else, and making quiet, unannounced adjustments in your own behavior can make a real difference.

Here are 5 actions to consider:

1. "I will pay more attention to my partner."

It may be a matter of unplugging from electronics and having a real conversation. It may mean noticing changes — a new haircut, an achievement that may be meaningful to him or her (like finishing a puzzle or completing a beautiful needlepoint project). It may be as simple as stopping and looking at your spouse and asking how she is today or how his day went. A newly separated friend of mine confided that, for all the years of their marriage, his wife would greet him at the door with the question, “Did you do all the errands I asked you to do?” and never once, “How was your day?”

“That simple question might have made such a difference,” my friend told me sadly. “It would have made me feel that I mattered.”

2. "I will express gratitude more often."

When? For what? Even for routine tasks, for things he or she does every day, let your spouse know that you appreciate how hard he or she works, whether at home or in the workplace. Compliment your partner for his or her creativity with home-improvement projects or decorating, or for his or her patience with the in-laws or graciousness with your old friends. It’s important to notice and express gratitude for small kindnesses and for that person being your partner in life. No matter how challenging life gets, it can make a real difference if you’re able to say, “I’m so thankful that we found each other,” or, “Even when things are rough for us, I’m so grateful that we’re together.”

3. "I will honor our differences."

You may be mystified about his devotion to television sports or her desire to spend time with a longtime friend you find annoying. You may wonder why in the world she would want to visit with her parents regularly after a less than wonderful childhood. Or you may be a hermit, and your partner a social butterfly. A quiet resolution to honor your differences by giving your spouse the room to be himself or herself and being the first to offer a compromise can make a real difference. Give each other space to socialize, with or without one another, and without major confrontations. Honor your partner’s wants and needs to stay in touch with those who matter to him or her. If your spouse is a hermit, don’t insist that he or she join you for all social activities. “I’m quiet and love time alone, and my wife loves parties,” my friend Mike told me. “We have an agreement: When it matters to her, I will attend a social gathering without complaining. Otherwise, I encourage her to go and enjoy herself while I stay happily home. This has worked well for us in our 40 years together. We're closer and happier than ever."

4. "I will make our time together a priority."

So many things can come between us and claim our time — kids, work, extended family, individual activities. But giving a higher priority to time alone together can make a wonderful difference. Think before you reject an opportunity to be together because of work or the kids. Time alone together can nurture a wounded relationship. You might establish a regular date night. Or you might surprise your partner with a night out. Or you may establish some time alone together, even if your home is busy. A couple I know, who both work and who also have six children, still manage daily alone time. “We have coffee together after dinner for half an hour, and we have our rules: No cell phones and the kids know not to intrude for this half hour,” they told me. “It’s like a little emotional oasis during a busy evening and a real commitment to each other.”

5. "I will express love in small, but important ways."

You might actually say “I love you” at an unexpected time and place. Take on a household task you know he or she hates. Take the kids on an outing so he or she can have time alone or with a friend. Or show your love with a quick hug or by simply remembering something important to him or her: downloading a song you know she especially likes, remembering important days or dates (besides her birthday and your anniversary), surprising him with small treats. All of this says, “You’re in my thoughts. I care about what you like and need. You matter immensely to me, and through all our ups and downs, I really do love you."