What are your New Year resolutions? We may have hopes of changing what we know we should, such as losing weight, exercising more, or eating healthier. Or have dreams for greater success, either at work, school, financially or with a project.
Certainly, making more money can solve some problems, and having more nice things and adventures can make you feel good for a while. But at the heart of a worthwhile life is the quality of one's relationships. When we belong to a healthy community comprised of loving people, we do better in life. And so, what kind of a resolution would have the most impact on your life this year? How about a resolution to love better?
Take your marriage for example. Life is so much better and you are so much happier when you and your spouse are getting along. You know what it is like to be at odds with your spouse. Your day just doesn't go as well. You feel burdened, as though a grey cloud follows you. And if days turn into weeks and months, maybe years, and nothing gets resolved, resentment builds and distance between the two of you grows.
Arguing and unresolved conflicts can easily fill your lives with stress, anxiety and even hopelessness, which often flows over into your work, parenting, and projects. Marital stress can make you more irritable, draining you of energy and making it difficult to concentrate. And when you ruminate over all that isn't going well in your marriage, you can find yourself impatient, grumpy, and wondering whether or not you should be together in the first place. Life just feels heavier.
By contrast, when you and your spouse are able to enjoy each other, talk through issues and resolve conflicts, you feel more connected. This enables you to face the difficulties of life together. You find the courage to do the stressful projects at work, or parent the teenager, or tackle the chores of the day. The well-known "hand holding" research project by Coan and Johnson found that simply holding the hand of a spouse you perceive as a safe haven is a buffer to pain. Life is just better together if you can love better.
Another example is friendships. When you have someone you can turn to and share the joys and struggles in your life, you don't feel so alone. Knowing someone is there for you provides comfort and strength.
A 2017 study in the journal Personal Relationships looked at 270,000 people in about 100 countries and found that as we get older, it is friends, even more so than families, that we associate with happiness and better health.
Research repeatedly shows that relationships are good for our emotional well-being and the quality of our lives. So, it would do us well to put 'fostering friendships' and 'loving well' at the top of our list of new year resolutions. The quality of our life depends upon it.
Three "resolutions" for your new year:
1. Foster at least 3 three close friendships. Start with the people who know and care about the small and big things in your life; friends who enjoy life with you, motivate you to make wise choices and help you be a better person.
Building these core, life-giving friendships will take time and energy. Every week, get to know what these friends are enjoying or working through or stressing out about—and not just through social media. Nurture these relationships in-person, face-to-face, or over the phone. Every month, invite one of these friends to join you in a fun activity.
You will be a better person and have a better quality of life if you have a few good friends. You'll feel happier and have the courage to face the difficulties of life when someone is there for you.
2. Enjoy your spouse. I know you spend much of your week working and taking care of kids, pets and household responsibilities. And then sometimes spend the weekend arguing with your spouse. But even in the midst of conflict, try to make time to talk with your spouse about a fun topic, or play a game, put together a puzzle, or keep a weekly date night.
Research by John Gottman shows that it is not the arguing that deteriorates a marriage, but the lack of repairing and bookending conflict with good "connecting" time.
In other words, try and let go of the resentment of the moment and make time to enjoy each other. The more positive experiences you can share with your spouse, the more loving and kind feelings you will have toward each other. Then you will begin to see your spouse's intentions more positively, which will allow you to repair hurts and let go of nonessential issues.
Double up on household chores to free up some fun time. Or take a chore and find a way to turn it into a fun activity. Light a candle, put on some music, dim the lights and cook or do the dishes together. Or pump up the music and clean the house together. But whatever you do, bookend your days and weekends with kindness, laughter and good times.
Take the time and energy to make you marriage a relationship you enjoy. If you are in a rough season in your marriage, if resentment has accumulated and you are both disconnected, take steps to unravel your stuck places and heal your hurts. Life is too short to live emotionally disconnected from your spouse.
3. Remember that God is always there. Every moment of our day, God is with us. All we need to do is to slow down, look up and see God in the midst of our situation. Our relationship with God becomes a source of wisdom, guidance, and comfort. God is there for us, no matter what.
God also knows the importance of living life in relationship. We are created and wired to live not alone, but in community. Jesus' friends were vitally important to him. Likewise, healthy relationships become for us a 'safe haven' to which we can turn knowing we are not alone—that someone will be there for us, no matter what.
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" John 15:13
"A sweet friendship refreshes the soul." Proverbs 27:9
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgiver one another if any of you has a grievance against someone..." Colossians 3:12-13