When setting your New Year’s resolutions this year, I encourage you to consider a few that are relationship-focused. We can only change ourselves, but the beauty of a close relationship is that we make up ½ of that duo. Changing ourselves in that relationship can make a big difference.
1. Invest in your relationships
A rich history of research has shown the benefits of relationship maintenance. Relationship maintenance consists of behaviors you do to keep your relationship in a desired (usually positive) state. Telling someone you love them, for example, is a type of relationship maintenance called assurances, where you verbally assure your partner, friend, family member, or other person close to you that they mean a lot to you and you care about them. The strategy of assurances can easily be made into a resolution you can check off on a chart: Send one assuring message (could be text, mail, over the phone, etc.) per week to each of your five closest relationships.
Sharing tasks is another relationship maintenance strategy that lends itself to the resolution format. This maintenance behavior is all about helping each other out, for example, helping my sister plan meals over the holidays or helping a friend pack before a move. The activities you help with should not necessarily be expected of you. Another way you can share tasks is to make sure you are investing in the relationship equally. By "investing equally" I mean your best friend shouldn’t always be the one who texts first or makes the plans for you two to get together. If this is the case, resolve to send the first text and suggest plans this year.
Want to do more to invest in your relationships? You can read about other maintenance strategies here.
2. Provide support and 3. Seek support
Like relationship maintenance, research on the importance of providing support to others shows that this behavior is strongly linked to positive mental and physical health outcomes for people on the receiving end of support. People respond favorably to support, especially emotional support, and support givers tend to feel more socially connected to others. There are many ways you can provide support to others. What might jump to mind is helping out a grieving friend after they have experienced a loss or sending money to a sibling or nephew who needs it, but support can be provided in many other (free) forms. Informational support is providing others with advice or other information they need. This could be, for example, showing a grandparent how to use the iCloud. Network support is about connecting people to one another. An example of network support would be introducing a college-aged family member to a person you know who could help them find an internship in the field in which they are interested.
Seeking support is not only good for you (for the reasons listed above) but can also serve to strengthen your relationships. The people you go to for support will know they are valued by you which can be a boost to their ego and self-esteem as well as a boon for the relationship. However, there is a threshold of asking too much of one person. Be sure to spread your support seeking across several close friends and family members.
For this resolution, you could aim to give support to a different person close to you each week and remember to ask for support from others when you need it.
4. Confirm others
Similar to assurances discussed above, people have a natural need to be valued by others. This is partly evolutionary as people who were not valued may have been at more risk than those who conformed to the group and were valued by others. Either way, feeling confirmed is a universal need and knowing this can help us make others feel good. To confirm others, you can speak to them in a warm, friendly way and explicitly tell them they are important to you. At work or at home, you can let others know you value their contribution to the company or to the family. Even when you disagree with someone you can do so in a confirming way by letting them know you disagree with their stance or specific action, but still value them as a person. This year, when you see an opportunity to confirm someone else, take it! It will make them feel good and improve your relationship.
5. Cope together
Coping together as opposed to alone has benefits for all involved including feeling more satisfied with your relationships. Dyadic coping, sometimes called communal coping, involves sharing problems so that neither person feels alone facing their issues. For example, if one person in a couple is diagnosed with a disease, the couple can choose to see the problem as something they are facing together rather than a problem for just one of them. People who cope together join forces to search for and discuss potential solutions, help one another put the problem in perspective, support one another, and engage in active coping together like exercise, massage, or other relaxing activities. People can choose to cope together when facing problems large and small. This year, try to notice when others close to you could benefit from coping with a problem as a team and volunteer to be "in it together."
Self-focused resolutions are important too. People need to take care of themselves so that they have the emotional and physical energy (and motivation) to spend on their relationships with others. While New Year’s resolutions infamously fail as the months wear on, I argue they are worth making. Pausing once a year to evaluate our behaviors, what is causing them, and what we might do differently is always worth the time. Good luck in 2019!
Dailey, R. M. (2006). Confirmation in parent–adolescent relationships and adolescent openness: Toward extending confirmation theory. Communication Monographs, 73(4), 434-458.
Dailey, R. M. (2010). Testing components of confirmation: How acceptance and challenge from mothers, fathers, and siblings are related to adolescent self-concept. Communication Monographs, 77(4), 592-617.
Falconier, M. K., Jackson, J. B., Hilpert, P., & Bodenmann, G. (2015). Dyadic coping and relationship satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 42, 28-46.