Dear Sophia: What are reasonable goals for my relationship this year?

How to stay connected with your significant other in the new year

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Dear Sophia:

I am not really into New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to create some reasonable and realistic goals for a more loving and connected relationship with my partner this year. What would you recommend?

Sincerely,

Partner for Preventative Care

Dear Partner for Preventative Care:

What a wonderful way to start the new year! I appreciate that you see yourself as a “partner for preventative care” because that is, in essence, the question you are asking. We are approaching the season after the Epiphany (January 6) in the Christian calendar where the divinity of Jesus has been recognized by the magi and manifests in the season’s scripture stories. What does this have to do with your relationship? Well, it sounds like you have had a small “e” epiphany—a moment of revelation or “Ah-ha!” moment regarding how you are approaching your relationship. Having reasonable and realistic goals goes a long way in preventing problems later. 

Four Reasonable and Realistic Goals

There are many books, podcasts, videos, and therapists out there you can access for a deep dive into particular issues about relationships, so I am going to share four reasonable and realistic goals to consider that will give you a jumping off point for your needs.

  • Communication: Using the Same Language

I know, I know. You hear “communication is the key” everywhere, but what does this really mean? When we think of communication in relationships, we immediately go to talking to one another about everything. That sounds good on paper; however, suppose you are communicating with your partner all the time, but in a way that they seem to not understand (or do not want to follow your demands … I mean requests). 

Here’s the thing: We all come from different families of origin and have different communication styles based on those experiences and our own personality. What is viewed as shouting in one family is seen as normal exuberant engagement in another. Pretending that everything is fine after a blow up may be the usual in one family, while discussing an issue ad nauseam might be typical practice in another. So really, when we say “communication is the key” what we really mean and need is a common language and set of practices that become the key to unlocking deeper intimacy. 

Here is one practical suggestion to finding a common language: commit to reading a book, listening to a podcast, doing some preventative care with a couples therapist, and/or following a reputable therapist on TikTok or Instagram in order to discuss your relationship using the same language—the language you are learning from your resource. There are great books by relationship experts such as John and Julie Gottman, Sue Johnson, and Esther Perel, who also have podcasts and an online presence. I also recommend checking out books like The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile or Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey (if you are into the Myers-Briggs typology) for another way to understand yourself and your partner and provide a common language to talk about your relationship. 

  • Connect Four

No, not the classic game you played as a kid, although you may want to use it as a way to connect as well! After all, play is a timeless way for human connection to happen. Commit to having four intentional connections each day—large or small. Here are some examples: 

  • A hug in the morning before leaving for work
  • Playing a game together. Whether it’s Connect Four, Twister, Settlers of Catan, or a video game, play creates connection.
  • Trying a new interest together like a cooking class or indoor rock climbing—something that gets each of you a little out of your comfort zone.
  • Prepare-Enrich has an excellent exercise called the Daily Dialogue which focuses solely on the relationship. It asks these questions: What did you most enjoy about your relationship today? What was dissatisfying about your relationship today? How can you be helpful to each other?
  • Sending a text or leaving a message at some point of the day about something specific you appreciate about your partner. “Can you please pick up the milk tonight? OK Thx Love U UR Awesome” does not count (even though it may be true). It has to be a message that has nothing to do with the day-to-day schedule of life.
  • Take a Walk in a Graveyard or Cemetery

This may seem morbid and strange, but I encourage you to make a commitment to walk with your partner in a graveyard or cemetery this year. First of all, they are often beautiful, peaceful places with old trees and interesting gravestones. Second, when confronted with our own mortality, we can engage in conversation about what makes life worth living. This perspective helps you focus on what you want in your relationship and also life in general. Death makes us live better. Finally, if you have not talked about your wishes for dying and death, this would make a great and easy way to have that important discussion. And if you have not yet made a will, perhaps a walk with your beloved through the monuments to others’ lived lives will inspire you to make an appointment with an estate planner. The legacy you leave is also a gift to your partner and all your loved ones left behind.

  • One Spiritual Practice

Whether you have a shared spiritual practice or you help support each other in a practice you do on your own, praying for and/or with your partner is a truly intimate act. If you have an established shared spiritual practice, this is a good time to reflect and decide if it is still working for your relationship. Spiritual practices often have seasons, so it is perfectly normal for something to work for one season, but not for the next. The truth is, your practice must fit in with your lifestyle or you will not do it. Committing to doing something two days a week is much more realistic than committing to getting up before dawn and doing something every day. Figure out what is right for you and your partner and try it for a month or two. Make it work for you and you will be rewarded with a deeper intimacy on a spiritual level. 

People often have every good intention of doing something new and often fail because it was not a realistic goal. For you, dear Partner for Preventative Care, I have every hope that the goals you set will be realistic and reasonable for your relationship. May you enjoy the richness that the commitments to your partner will bring in the year to come!

Faithfully,

Sophia

  • Danáe Ashley

    The Rev. Danae M. Ashley, MDiv, MA, LMFT is an Episcopal priest and marriage and family therapist who has ministered with parishes in North Carolina, New York, Minnesota, and is currently a priest in Seattle and a therapist at Soul Spa Seattle, LLC (www.soulspaseattle.com). Danae uses art, music, drama, poetry, and movement in counseling, spiritual direction, and creation of ritual. Her interfaith Clergy Care Circles for therapeutic group spiritual direction directly supports diverse clergy in varied circumstances across the country. Danae's favorite past times include reading, gardening, traveling, dancing with wild abandon to Celtic music, and serious karaoke.

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