As we look to say goodbye to 2020 (hallelujah), many of us will be making a list of 2021 resolutions that can improve our lives, mind, body and soul. Whether it’s working out more or practicing gratitude, there are tons of healthy habits we can incorporate into our daily lives to better ourselves and the people around us. But far too often, we forget to talk about the resolutions we can make with our significant others to strengthen our love lives.
Working to make your relationship healthier not only keeps couples together longer, but studies have shown that people in supportive and healthy marriages tend to live longer. A 2017 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found unmarried people with heart disease were 52% more likely to have a heart attack or die from a cardiovascular problem after nearly four years compared with married heart patients. Another Harvard University study found that people with strong inter-personal relationships are usually happier, physically healthier and they live longer than people who are less connected. Suffice it to say, happy relationships bring more value to our lives than we might realize.
However, happy relationships don’t just happen organically. As anyone who has been in a long-term relationship or successful marriage can tell you, it’s work! Making New Year’s resolutions with your partner is an effective way to ensure its continued success in 2021 – a year where our lifestyles will still be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. PEOPLE spoke to two certified experts in the love arena, relationship therapist Jaime Bronstein and Stronger Than You Think author Dr. Gary Lewandowski, about New Year’s resolutions worth adding to any couple’s list.
Dr. Lewandowski says a simple and immediate New Year’s resolution couples can start working on is increasing physical touch. “Receiving touch from your partner has the added benefit of making you feel more understood and validated,” he says. “Who couldn’t use more of that in the coming year?”
Bronstein agrees, saying carving out time for intimacy is critical in a time where couples can easily feel smothered by working and living together. “After being quarantined, many couples haven’t been feeling the desire to be intimate,” she says. “Be intentional about shifting from being in work and sweatpants mode to being in a romantic mode. You can replicate a restaurant date night at home by dressing up, dimming the lights, and having some wine.”
While “fitness” tends to top many people’s resolutions list annually (only to be forgotten by Valentine’s Day), it’s also a good joint resolution for a couple. The physical and mental benefits of regular exercise are vast — and having a “buddy” can increase one’s commitment and accountability, meaning there’s a better chance of healthy habits forming — but Dr. Lewandowski cautions against getting into shape solely to be viewed as more attractive to our partner.
“A lot of our resolutions focus on body image and diet, each with a goal of being ‘hotter,’ ” he says. “Yet, research shows that we may not really know what our partner wants. Specifically, women overestimate how thin their male partners want them to be. Similarly, men believe their female partners want them to be more muscular than women actually want them to be. Individuals are being more critical and demanding toward themselves in part, because they’re misreading what their partner truly desires. In other words, we’re being harder on ourselves than we need to be.”
Instead, focus on achievable milestones with the goal of staying healthy and fit for a long life together — and see if you can work some friendly competition into the mix as well.
Couples who have been hit by major life changes including job loss, COVID-19 illness, or the loss of family members this year may be feeling especially gloomy and pessimistic about the New Year. Setting up a positive outlook for 2021 may be an uphill battle for one or both partners who’ve been affected by the year’s calamity. Dr. Lewandowski suggests that if you’re looking for ways to support a partner who is feeling down during the holidays, try to lend “invisible support,” or help that’s given without the expectation of anything in return.
“Try helping out around the house without being asked, or finding ways to take things off of their plate,” he says. “We’re freeing up our partner to use their energy to address these issues. Too often we want credit for our support to make sure our partner knows what we’re doing. It’s also important to realize that the best support is the help your partner can’t see.”
Ultimately, Bronstein says that having fun should be at the top of every couple’s list of resolutions. “There is time for work, and there is also time for play,” she says. “If you’re still going to be at home, play a board game, or create a TikTok together. When things start to open up again, play outside in nature, plan a romantic get-away, or go bowling. As long as you are together having fun, being playful, and laughing, it will enhance your relationship.”