New Year's is coming, which means New Year's Resolutions are coming too. While they have a tendency to be forgotten as soon as they're made, don't feel bad — most of mine don't either. So instead of thinking in terms of resolutions, it's a great time to set goals for 2019. Because goals exist until you achieve them, rather than disappearing as spring hits. And it's not just for yourself — it's a great time to set some real goals for your relationship — and not the kind of #relationshipgoals you see on Instagram.
"Some of the #relationshipgoals floating around the web are not the stuff of real happiness, long-lasting relationships," marriage and family therapist Esther Boykin tells Bustle. "Kissing on a cliff, proposals that include Broadway-sized productions and his-and-hers Bugattis are not the stuff of true love. They’re props and fantasies — albeit nice fantasies that people occasionally live out."
So instead of focusing on fantasies, focus on something realistic for your relationship. Self-improvement is a great tool, both as individuals and for your relationship. It keeps you from getting complacent or from not facing issues head-on. Plus, it can make you more productive. Setting goals for yourself and your relationship will set you up to accomplish way more — and it holds you accountable — all while keeping your relationship strong.
Here are seven realistic goals to consider, because doing something new can totally transform your relationship.
Make sure you're happy together, rather than just being together. "The number-one relationship goal should be for happiness with your partner," online dating expert Anita Covic tells Bustle. "Each partner should recognize what makes him or her happy and strive to find that element with the other as well as alone."
Of course, happiness is going to look different for everyone — and that's OK. The important thing is finding what works for you and not falling into complacency. Be self-reflective every day and focus on how to make it a happy relationship.
Adding some novelty into your relationship is a great way to keep things fresh — and it's also a totally attainable goal. It doesn't matter what it is, but make it new. A new restaurant, a new city, a new activity — even a new sex position — just commit to mixing it up.
"When you try new things together you are creating shared experiences that are new and exciting," dating coach and licensed marriage and family therapist Pella Weisman tells Bustle. "That shared excitement is a way to have both closeness and stimulation, which is a great combination for sparking things back up."
A little change can make a big difference.
No matter how annoyed or angry you can be with your partner — and that's fair, nobody's perfect— you need to able to focus on the positive. So if your partner gets on your nerves occasionally or frustrates you, try to keep the big picture in perspective.
"Researchers found that the only common trait amongst couples in long-term happy relationships was the ability to maintain positive illusions of the other," Dawn Maslar, aka "the Love Biologist," tells Bustle. "Over time, we can focus on the negative traits instead of the good." So remind yourself why your partner, and remind yourself often.
Date nights can make a huge difference — and they're a totally sustainable goal. Don't underestimate the power of setting regular time aside for just you and your partner. "This is a little cheesy, but the reality is that in long-term relationships, couples drift apart and mistake the business of taking care of a long-term relationship for romance," New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. "Going over bills and choosing paint colors for walls is not going to keep your relationship fresh." It doesn't have to be flowers and a movie. You should give it your own twist, but just make sure it happens.
It's too easy to get introspective as a couple — but it's important that you and your partner don't exist in a bubble. That feeling when you're so focused on each yourself and each other that you can forget the world outside can be a dangerous one. Make sure you're doing something to give back together. Find a cause you both care about to donate too or volunteer opportunities to take part in and make it a goal to help others. It's good for you, good for others, and working together for a larger cause has a way of bringing people together.
I don't know how many times I say 'Thank you," to my girlfriend every day, but it's a lot. And I hear it a lot. Even when it's over something small, the recognition is good to hear. Making sure that neither of you feels taken for granted is a good way to keep your relationship happy and healthy.
"Maintain an atmosphere of appreciation and admiration," relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. "Couples don’t disconnect overnight — it takes months or years, but they often stop focusing on the positives about each other."
Being appreciative is good for connecting with your partner and staying positive, so it's doubly important.
Supporting each other is so vital to a relationship's happiness. Whether it's your partner's career change or you taking grad school classes at night, make sure you're each setting individual goals and encouraging each other to reach them, rather than doing everything as a pair. Having separate identities is a good way to keep your relationship strong and fresh — and two happy people make a much happier relationship. Your relationship should feel like a strong base, which supports both of you in your individual pursuits.
It'll make you stronger as a couple — and isn't that what relationship goals are all about?