So…2016. We all feel the relief and excitement of a new beginning, a fresh start. Perhaps the most important resolutions you can make will improve, maybe even save, your marriage. Here are 5 New Year’s resolutions for your marriage adapted from the findings of the world’s leading marriage researcher, John Gottman. Pick 1, 2, or all 5 of these New Year’s resolutions and make 2016 the best year of your marriage yet!
1. Invest in the 5 magic hours
Research shows that in most happy, long-lasting marriages, couples spend at least 5 hours per week of quality time together. Plan a date night each week. Have meaningful conversation. Make time for both emotional and physical intimacy. Some of the most important moments you can take time for are right before leaving for the day and when you come together again at the end of the day. However you and your spouse choose to do it, invest in the 5 magic hours.
2. Create a new ritual
Marital rituals (traditions) have the power to give you a sense of couple identity, one-ness, and strength. One couple may write poems for each other every Christmas. Another couple may talk about their upcoming week while drinking tea every Sunday night. For another couple, the husband may kiss the wife on the forehead first thing when he comes home every day. Whether it be a holiday, meal, sex, birthday, sickness, or celebration ritual, use 2016 as an excuse to decide on and put into practice a new marital ritual.
3. Respond to bids
Vulnerability is essential for emotional closeness. This vulnerability often comes in the form of “bids” of attention and affection. Your spouse reaches out to you emotionally by asking a question, making a comment, apologizing, reaching for your hand, or simply giving you a soft smile. They have just made a bid for your attention and affection, and the way you act in this moment is crucial. You have three options: you can turn away (ignoring the bid), turn against (reacting with anger or hostility), or turn toward your spouse (engaging positively). Be on the lookout for these bids and recognize them when they come. When you turn away or turn against your spouse, they will build protective walls and will eventually stop reaching out. Choose to turn toward your spouse by responding positively to their bids. Over time, you will find that your relationship has greater affection and your spouse will more often respond to your bids with love.
4. Accept influence
One of the best predictors for a long, happy marriage is mutually accepting influence from each other, especially husbands accepting the influence of their wives. This means sharing in power and decision-making, and it means treating your spouse with respect. If someone could look at your marriage and identify who “wears the pants” then you have some work to do. This is easiest to spot when disagreements or arguments arise. Equal partners seek out each other’s opinions, respect each other’s opinions, compromise, and when necessary say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.” If accepting influence is a struggle for you, try this exercise once a month during 2016: ask for your spouse’s opinion on a matter in your marriage that you have a strong opinion about, really listen and understand their view, and then decide on a compromise with them that requires adapting your behavior. If you need to, schedule it in your planner. (This planner/calendar is super cute aaand is perfect for the job!) When each spouse accepts influence from the other, you will have a truly equal partnership.
5. Be more kind and generous
Stability and happiness in marriage can be boiled down to this: couples who treat each other with kindness and generosity want to be together and stay together, so they do. Don’t think of kindness as a trait you either do or don’t have; think of it as a muscle. Everyone has the kindness muscle, and though some are naturally stronger than others, strength is built by repeatedly and consistently using it. Although it is hardest to be kind during disagreements or stressful moments, that is when it is most important for the health of your relationship to show kindness. Be generous with your kindness, your love, your forgiveness, your money, your time, your hugs, your words of praise. Not only will your spouse love you more, but you will grow to love your spouse more.
2016 is the opportunity for a fresh start in your marriage! By living these resolutions for your marriage, you will have a stronger friendship, closeness, romance, and love. Happy New Year!
Ashley LeBaron is a Family Studies graduate from Brigham Young University. She is preparing to be a professor, marriage & family therapist, and mom. Ashley has published and presented research on topics such as emotional reconnection between spouses and how parents teach their kids about money. In her observation of families in 22 countries, she has found that family is where the greatest happiness and success is cultivated.
Gottman, J. M. (1999). The marriage clinic: A scientifically-based marital therapy. WW Norton & Company.
Gottman, J. M. (2015). Gottman Couple Therapy. Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy.
Gottman, J. M., Gottman, J. S., & DeClaire, J. (2007). Ten lessons to transform your marriage: America’s love lab experts share their strategies for strengthening your relationship. Harmony Books.
Gottman, J. M., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting marital happiness and stability from newlywed interactions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 5-22.
Smith, E. E. (2014, June 12). Masters of Love. The Atlantic.