Ask anyone who is married or in a committed relationship what their number one priority is, and the majority of people will say, “My relationship.”
According to social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary in a groundbreaking report, humans have an inherent motivation to belong with others in close and intimate relationships.
They theorize that we are “naturally driven toward establishing and sustaining belongingness.”
Belongingness is more than a superficial connection or casual sexual relationship. It is a need for deep and meaningful bonding with another person. Baumeister and Leary argue that this bonding is essential for our well-being, and without it, we can suffer mental and physical illness.
But as important as our love relationships are to our health and happiness, it is curious how little time we spend taking care of them.
We'll spend hours at our jobs, pursuing our hobbies, shuffling children to various activities, and hanging out on social media. But how much time do we spend nurturing and improving our love relationships?
If you are married or in a committed relationship, stop for a moment and consider the amount of time you spend actively working to strengthen it. If it's not much, you certainly aren't alone.
When we enter a romantic relationship, it feels like the intoxicating fuel of infatuation will power the relationship forever. But over time, that fuel runs low, and the relationship begins to hobble along on vapors.
This is the time when miscommunication, conflicts, frustrations, and boredom can sabotage the relationship and undermine the intimacy and joy of both partners.
Many couples aren't sure what to do at this point, so they don't do much of anything to revive their connection.
How can couples immunize their relationship from the inevitable stresses and strains of life? How can they enjoy the profound satisfaction that is possible in a committed, long-term relationship?
The answer is by sharing and setting mutual goals for the relationship and committing to daily actions to reach those goals.
Just as you have personal or professional goals, you and your partner can mindfully consider what you want for your relationship and how you're going to achieve it.
Here are 10 relationship goals that will nurture and protect your bond:
1. Prioritize your relationship.
Let's be honest — most of us talk a big game about the importance of our marriage or love relationship, but when the rubber meets the road, we aren't really putting the relationship first.
Over time, you begin to take one another for granted. You get busy and distracted with your own stuff and neglect to tune in to the needs and desires of your partner. You view the relationship as a given, something that's just a byproduct of your connection to this other person.
But the relationship is an entity on its own. There's you. There's your partner. And there's the relationship.
Read Related: 10 Ways to Cultivate Emotional Maturity
Of these three, the relationship should be in first place. In fact, it should be in first place over everything else in your life, including your children, work, hobbies, or extended family.
So the goal here must be a mutual one. You both must embrace the relationship as the centerpiece of your life. How do you do that? It's a commitment you have to reinforce every single day in all of your decisions and actions.
It requires constant recalibration based on the needs of each partner and what is going on in your lives. Take a moment every day to ask yourself and each other, “Are we putting our relationship first today? What do we need to do today to nurture it?”
2. Create a couple bubble.
In a previous post, guest writer and relationship therapist Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW, wrote about the importance of creating a “couple bubble.”
A couple bubble reinforces the goal of prioritizing your relationship by thinking in terms of “we” rather than “me.” This is hard for most couples because it requires viewing yourself as part of a team first, above your independent needs and habits.
But rather than this inter-dependence weakening you, it strengthens you because each person feels safe and cherished. You know you have each other's backs, and you create a space of reassurance and protection that keeps the relationship healthy and strong.
Creating a couple bubble is a goal that requires some time and dedication, but the payoff is enormous, as you are building a protective sphere around your relationship.
The first step toward reaching this goal is making a series of agreements together that reinforce your care and protection of the relationship. An example of this might be stating, “I will never intentionally frighten you or leave you,” or “I will treat your vulnerabilities with dignity and care.”
A couple bubble also involves becoming experts on each other's needs, desires, and fears; repairing damage to the relationship quickly; building up a reservoir of happy memories to counter any difficulties; and being each other's rock during difficult times.
3. Have daily connection time.
An important daily goal for your relationship is spending one-on-one time together to reconnect.
If one or both of you works outside of the home, it's especially important to carve out this time without distractions or interruptions (from children or otherwise). Try to do this both in the morning before the work day begins and in the evening before you are pulled away to chores and responsibilities.
The most important element of this connection time is that you are fully present for each other. This means you aren't looking at your phone, doing a task, or watching television. You are fully focused on each other.
This is not the time to work through conflict or discuss the relationship. It is a time for talking, sharing, embracing, and simply enjoying each other's company. Look in each other's eyes. Hold hands. Listen attentively as the other is talking.
In the morning, you might share some time talking in bed before you get up or over a cup of coffee. In the evening, you might take a walk together or send the kids outside to play while you sit and catch up on your day.
This connection time doesn't need to be hours long. Even fifteen or twenty minutes is enough to reinforce how much you care about each other and the health of the relationship.
4. Communicate with kindness.
Have you ever noticed how couples can speak to each other with such cruelty and unkindness? They say things to each other that they'd never dream of saying to a casual acquaintance or even someone they don't like.
When we feel hurt, angry, or frustrated, it's so easy to lash out and say hurtful things. Sometimes we employ passive-aggressive words and behaviors, using subtle digs, manipulation, or stonewalling to express how we feel.
Both overt and covert words and behaviors like these are deeply wounding, and over time they accumulate enough to cause serious problems in a relationship. You lose trust, mutual respect, and eventually love.
Make it a goal in your relationship to be kind in all of your communication. Being kind doesn't mean you have to agree with each other or even feel loving during a challenging moment.
It does mean you agree to avoid attacking, insulting, or intentionally wounding each other. It means you speak forthrightly without using passive or manipulative behaviors.
It means you step away or count to ten when you feel like lashing out, knowing that you don't want to say or do something you'll later regret.
We are all human, and of course there will be times you fall short of your kindness goal. But make it a goal to apologize quickly, offer forgiveness quickly, and reset your kindness goal as soon as possible.
5. Embrace vulnerability.
Each partner enters a relationship with past baggage, insecurities, feelings of shame or guilt, and tenuous hopes and dreams. We have vulnerabilities that we want to hide from others so they don't think less of us.
As trust and intimacy grows within a relationship, you share some of your vulnerabilities and inner pain with your partner. You expose your soft underbelly in hopes of finding a place of safety and security where you can be yourself completely.
Nothing is more wounding to a relationship than having your vulnerabilities disparaged, disregarded, or worse, thrown back in your face in order to make you feel bad about yourself.
The ability to safely be vulnerable with one another can strengthen the bond between you and foster a deeper love and intimacy than you thought possible.
When your partner embraces your vulnerabilities and treats them with dignity, it can heal wounds from the past and make you feel more confident in who you are.
Make it a goal to be completely open, vulnerable, and real with each other. But more importantly, make it a goal to always treat one another's vulnerabilities with tender loving care.
6. Plan for fun together.
Life is already serious and stressful. Your days are spent working, caring for children, running errands, dealing with problems, and worrying about future problems.
Your relationship should be a place of peace and respite from the tribulations of daily life. In fact, your relationship should provide an outlet for enjoying life to the fullest.
Think back to the time when you first met your spouse or love partner and how much fun you had together. In that early stage of your love, you didn't have to work to hard to have fun. Everything was fun, and you delighted in finding fun things to do together.
As your relationship has matured, you may need to work a bit harder to create fun times together, but it is still possible.
Playing and having fun together as a couple increases bonding, communication, conflict resolution, and relationship satisfaction according to several relationship studies.
Make it a goal to schedule time for fun and play every week. Sit down with your spouse to discuss what you both consider fun activities. Be open to trying new things that might differ from your initial ideas of fun.
Allow yourselves to be silly and act like kids again. Even small, spontaneous moments of fun can enhance your relationship and bring you closer.
7. Learn and support your love languages.
In his book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, author Gary Chapman outlines five ways that people express and experience love. They include:
- gift giving
- quality time
- words of affirmation
- actions of service
- physical touch
Chapman asserts that each of us has a primary and secondary love language that is expressed in the way we show love to others. But by showing our own love language to our partner, we are revealing our deepest needs within the relationship.
For example, if you are especially affectionate with your partner, it shows that you crave physical affection from him or her.
You and your partner may not have the same love language, and that's why it's so important that you both learn and support each other's love language.
You can do that by observing how your partner shows love to you and by analyzing what he or she complains about within the relationship. Another way to learn about your love languages is by taking Gary Chapman's quiz and sharing the results with each other.
Once you and your partner are aware of each other's love language, you goal is to offer your partner more of what he or she needs in the relationship.
8. Maintain a satisfying sex life.
No matter how great your sex life was in the beginning of your relationship, it is inevitable that it will grow boring or even burdensome from time to time.
If you are fifteen or twenty years into a marriage, maintaining that romantic spark can take real effort and commitment. But a healthy sex life is vital to a healthy relationship.
Maintaining a satisfying sexual relationship involves understanding your partner and their needs related to sex, as well as acknowledging your own needs.
Women need to feel secure and comfortable with their partner in order to be willing to try new things and be sexually adventurous. Men need more visual stimulation and variety than women do.
For women, sex can become a stressor if they see it as yet another chore they have to accomplish. Men see sex as a stress reliever and need this physical connection to feel closeness.
The key to bridging these differences in sexual needs is regular communication. Talking about your sex life may feel uncomfortable at first, but communicating your needs and concerns will protect your relationship from potential problems that can further damage your intimacy.
Make it a goal to discuss your sex life on a weekly basis. Be honest with your spouse or partner about what you desire, what isn't working well, and what you fantasize about.
Work toward both partners feeling safe, comfortable, and connected, and try to negotiate compromise in areas of differing needs.
9. Support one another's goals.
As important as it is to create a couple bubble in your relationship, you are two individuals who have goals and dreams of your own.
Having your own goals and dreams doesn't undermine your connection as a couple. On the contrary, it should enhance your relationship as each partner has something unique and interesting to bring to the relationship.
Both of you need to feel that the most important person in your life — your spouse or partner — supports and admires your goals and wants to celebrate your achievements.
Supporting one another's goals is more than just offering praise or verbal encouragement. It might mean making sacrifices of time, money, or commitments in order to show you are fully on board.
Make it a goal to discuss your individual goals and dreams and how you can make those goals happen within the context of your relationship. Ask each other the question, “What can I do to support your goals?”
10. Have a yearly review.
If you and your spouse take the time to set relationship goals and work toward achieving them, then it's important to measure the success of your efforts.
At the end of the year, sit down together to discuss each of the goals you have defined for your relationship.
What have you done in the past year to actualize those goals?
How successful have you been?
What do you need to keep working on?
Use this time to set new goals for the coming year that build on what you have achieved and what you've learned about one another in the previous year.
Your marriage or committed relationship will continue to grow and evolve over time. You and your partner will change and have different needs as the years go by.
Setting relationship goals encourages both of you to set the bar high for your relationship, rather than allowing your connection to wither and erode.
Having goals for your relationship should be a life-long endeavor — one that brings you closer and strengthens your love year after year.