Do I Stop Making Resolutions With My Spouse?

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Dear Miriam,

Every year, my spouse makes a big deal of creating New Year’s resolutions together. We come up with our own resolutions and discuss accountability tactics for helping each other stick to our plans. Then, every year without fail, sometime around February, he finds whatever he’s chosen too difficult, or decides that I’m being too bossy about accountability, and he decides to drop out. But he still expects me to stick to my resolutions! With New Year’s around the corner, I would like to opt-out this year, but I can’t figure out how to get out of this without explaining the unflattering reasons why and likely starting the New Year with a huge fight. Help!


Resigning from Resolutions


Dear Resigning,

There’s an extremely useful parenting technique from psychologist Ross Greene that assigns letters to different kinds of approaches when facing a roadblock with a child: A) The parent gives in to the child completely, C) The parent draws a hard line and insists on compliance, or B) In the middle, the parent and child work together to find an acceptable compromise. While I don’t want you to approach your relationship with your spouse as you would with a child, I actually think these guidelines could be very useful. 

A) You can go through the same process as in past years, knowing that the system will fall apart shortly, but never discussing any of the problems. C) You can blow the whole thing up and refuse to participate. Or, as I’ll encourage you to try, work towards B) where the two of you discuss your goals and priorities – not for your resolutions but for the process around them – and come up with a workable solution that both of you feel good about.

When your spouse brings up your resolutions over the next couple of days, be ready to say, “I’d like to try something a little different this year. Can we talk about it?” Share, without judgment or criticism, that you haven’t found your New Year’s Resolution process fulfilling over the past couple of years and that you’d like to explore a different approach. You can talk gently about noticing that his resolutions seem hard to keep. You can say that you’ve tried to follow his lead in promoting accountability, but your style doesn’t seem to work for him. You could also say that you feel alone trying to keep to your resolutions after he’s stopped focusing on his goals. 

If he is defensive or dismissive, you can say, “Let’s talk about this another time,” and drop it. Then, since it sounds like you don’t care about resolutions nearly as much as he does, wait for him to bring it up again in the future and try again to discuss, calmly, what a different process could look like. If he seems open to the conversation, try really to listen to him describe what’s important to him about New Year’s resolutions, what has derailed him in the past, and what you might both be able to do this year to get to a different outcome. Consider getting something in writing, not for a later “gotcha,” but to have a shared reference point if the process derails.

If he seems open to trying something new but doesn’t know where to start, have a few ideas of your own ready to go. One idea to consider is setting shorter-term goals. Rather than looking at the whole year, propose trying to stick to something just until Tu B’Shevat. The “New Year of the Trees” is Feb. 6 this year and could be a fun way to celebrate your successes (or mourn your failures) sooner than a year from now. The next “new year” on the Jewish calendar is Passover, this year starting on April 5, which could be another reasonable chunk of time to stick to a goal.

If he’s not willing to try something new or to acknowledge the problems in your shared resolution system, feel free to tell him you’re sitting this year out, or that you’re going to be your own accountability partner this time around. Avoiding a fight is great if you can do it, but starting the year feeling confident in your own choices is even better. Hopefully, you can find option B where you can do both.

Be well,