Can I share a New Year's resolution with my spouse?

By Maren Voss, ScD, Professional Practice Extension Professor of Health & Wellness

Couple running

We typically think of personal achievement as something, well, personal.  I have my own dreams, I set my own goals, I set personal deadlines, and I accomplish what I set out to do. But team-based approaches to goal setting are turning out to be wildly successful.  Perhaps you have heard of workplace strategies like Agile and the SCRUM which have lit a fire under task accomplishment.  Applying similar team-based strategies at home can lead to similar out-sized performance for a relationship.

Shared goals are healthy in a relationship.  One study found that having underlying relationship goals was a key factor in how responsive partners could be to each other, and we know that the right kind of emotional responsiveness predicts relationship success. So, do not be afraid to set goals together.

Getting Started

The “how” of setting your shared new year’s resolutions is up to you.  Any goal setting starts with defining the desired outcome and the scope.  You might choose resolutions that build closeness (learn something new about each other every day, schedule regular intimacy, commit to emotional honesty), resolutions that create shared experiences (set date nights, exercise together, save for vacations), or resolutions that eliminate annoyances (stop arguing, stop technology multi-tasking, let go of little things).  It always helps to follow the rules of SMART goals, making them specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. 

Accountability is Key

Thinking about time-bound goals brings us to the next secret of success and the beauty of shared goal-setting.  With couple goals you have a built in accountability partner, someone who can hold your feet to the fire if your goal attainment is lagging.  As a couple you might want to imitate the SCRUM that is so popular in workplace settings. SCRUM’s are daily standing meetings, 15 minutes or less, to quickly report what has been done and define next steps. It is also used to identify issues that need to be resolved.  A daily SCRUM with your partner can keep you energized, focused, and on track as you work on your shared goals.

Connection is a Bonus

One last beautiful thing about shared goals is the opportunity to work together in a coordinated way.  We connect with people we share with. Coordinated movements, shared time, and joint projects create a feeling of closeness and connection that emerges naturally out of joint action. It isn’t forced and it doesn’t feel artificial.  It feels spontaneous and can re-spark a relationship. Shared goals this new year are a great way to reconnect with a loved one.

Resources

Goal Setting at PositivePsychology.com:  https://positivepsychology.com/goal-setting/

Agile Alliance:  https://www.agilealliance.org/agile101/12-principles-behind-the-agile-manifesto/

References

  • Lin, WF., Gosnell, C.L. & Gable, S.L. Goals, emotions, and the effort to be responsive during couple interactions. 
  • Motiv Emot 43, 313–324 (2019).
  • Wolf, W., Launay, J., & Dunbar, R. I. (2016). Joint attention, shared goals, and social bonding. British Journal of Psychology107(2), 322-337