Most of us make resolutions to improve only ourselves: We vow to cut out sugar, work out three days a week, dust off the resume and start the job hunt for real. In general, resolutions tend to be very me-focused — willpower, weight loss, self-care.
Photo: Harsha K R
But what if we resolved to do good things for our relationships, like resolving to go dancing more or even to spend more time on the couch together? Research shows that getting your partner on board when you’re trying to get healthy is a huge predictor of success, so why not also make a deal that you’re going to shape up your love life, too?
If you’re both committed to improving your relationship, you’ve just upped your chances that you’ll end 2018 with a stronger bond than you started with.
At least, that’s the advice from the fellows at the Institute for Family Studies. The IFS polled their research fellows and contributors for their best advice for getting the year off on the right marital foot. The tips include everything from “get off your phones” to “listen more” to “find an older married couple to spend time with,” but my favourite is definitely “double down on your positive time together.”
Scott Stanley, the co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, writes, “Examine your leisure time. Are you regularly doing something with your spare time, as a couple, that you both enjoy doing?”
Stanley notes in another IFS post that one would think that spending leisure time with your partner would be inarguably good for the relationship — but that the topic of recreational time and relationship satisfaction is actually a little more complex than that.
For couples who have strong common interests, enjoying time together is easy — if you both love to shred on the guitar or squeeze tomatoes at the farmers’ market, what to do on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings is obvious. It’s trickier for couples without a lot of overlapping interests.
He cites a 2002 study that, in fact, found that “the pursuit of leisure activities as a couple was less strongly associated with marital happiness than most people believe” — and that the determining factor is that both partners must enjoy the activity.
Now this may seem like a duh finding — of course both partners should enjoy the leisure activities — but consider how many couples you know where one partner is not all that psyched for football, contra-dancing, wine-tasting or NASCAR, but goes along anyway. Stanley writes, “it is no real boost to marital bliss, now or into the future, if a couple routinely engages in leisure activities that mostly only the husband enjoys.” In other words, you actually can’t fake it till you make it.
This goes for all genders and all kind of couples and relationships — no one should be pretending to care what the Braves are up to in the off-season or who’s singing the soprano in Tosca at the Met. So even if you’ve gotten really good at pretending to care, it’s time to make a new year’s resolution to reevaluate your “positive time” together and make it, well, even more positive.
In his post on leisure time, Stanley offers some concrete solutions, like speaking up if you’re not truly enjoying the things you do together now and making a list of the things that you actually do enjoy doing together. And then, he suggests, agree to keep other relationship problems out of your fun couple time. If you’re playing mini-golf, don’t bring up how pissed you are about the household budget or how you wish your MIL visited less often. Let your recreation be conflict-free.
Resolutions, after all, are supposed to make your life better. In 2018, resolve with your partner to have more fun. At the very least, you’ll feel less guilty for snuggling on the couch watching Netflix with your sweetie instead of hitting the gym.