The beginning of a new year naturally seems to make us all a little more reflective, and hopefully, a little more optimistic. This year, we say, is the year we will finally focus on our health, our wellbeing, and our relationships. Of course, life often gets in the way, but there’s nothing wrong with setting goals and prioritizing parts of your life you want to improve.
To do that, you need to start someplace. If one of your new year goals is to strengthen your relationship, figuring out where to start may seem difficult—you can reflect and set all the goals you want, but there’s another person in the mix whose own reflections, goals, not to mention their willingness to participate, will also factor in. The key lies in starting with yourself and working from there. Here’s how to conduct an annual relationship check-in as you start another year together.
First, conduct a personal review
According to Alyssa Mancao, a licensed clinical social worker and a contributor to The Knot, before you involve your partner, you must ask yourself a few questions about the relationship:
- How do I feel with the way things are going?
- What are some things in the relationship that I need to see more or less of?
- Is there anything I can shift within myself to improve my satisfaction with the relationship?
- How is this relationship supporting my growth as a person?
- Is there anything I need from my partner to feel supported in my own growth?
- How do I feel about our quality time together?
- What has been the best part of our relationship over the last year?
- What has been the hardest part of our relationship over the last year?
Also, consider your emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical needs, and identify how satisfied you feel in terms of having each of those needs met.
Obviously, this is quite a checklist, so some journaling might help you organize your thoughts. It will definitely help to write down your answers before bringing them to your partner. Then, send them the questions too, and ask them to answer honestly and thoughtfully. The next step: Finding time to sit down together to discuss your answers.
Have a discussion
Scheduling a discussion to talk through the the answers to the questions posed above is a great way to start off the new year—but the world “scheduling” is key. You don’t want your partner to feel ambushed, lest this seem like les of a conversation and more of an airing of grievances. You should by all means continue to communicate with one another bout the state of the relationship over the next 12 months, but a more structured conversation now will help guide those talks, too.
“This should be done anywhere where you can talk with some privacy,” Mancao said. “It’s best to do [set] a time where you both feel regulated, calm, and collected, so having a conversation like this right before a stressful meeting or immediately after a stressful day is not a good idea.”
Mancao advised choosing a time when you know you’ll both both rested and nourished, which will help reduce stress and irritability. Consider breakfast or lunchtime, and maybe doing it in the kitchen—but whatever you do, don’t have this talk in the bedroom. That space “should be solely reserved for intimacy and sleeping,” Monaco said.
Make a plan
Mancao stressed the importance of being prepared for your new year’s check-in and bringing concrete discussion issues to the table (or couch). Don’t be afraid to refer to your notes, which should cover problems as well as your proposed solutions, whether your goals are to improve closeness, foster intimacy, find more quality time together, or something else. (If you need help getting started, here’s a guide on how to get over a sexual dry spell, and one on how to decide if you need a couple’s therapist.)
You need to be open and honest during this process, which is easier said than done, of course.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to answer ourselves honestly when we’re struggling with discovering what our personal truth is,” Monaco said. “During this meeting, get curious about your partner’s needs by asking them questions to help them explore what they are experiencing internally.”
Be kind, but firm, and focus on solutions more than problems. (That’s what new year’s resolutions are all about, after all). Don’t forget to highlight the good stuff, too—positive feedback and reinforcement are just as important, and will be much better received than a list of complaints.