Gym memberships. Strict budgets. Project lists. Yes, it’s already time to put New Year resolutions to the test.

Most people start the year with admirable goals based on what they’d like to do differently from the previous year. According to a 2011 Virgin Mobile Canada survey, the top 2012 resolutions for Canadians included staying in touch with family and friends, falling in love, quitting smoking, earning better grades or getting a promotion at work. Clearly, Canadians have good intentions to make good on new opportunities.

You and your spouse can apply this "resolution rule" to your marriage, setting goals like communicating more effectively, starting a family, purchasing a home, setting aside a certain amount of savings, going on more dates, travelling the world together or learning more about one another.

But how can two people work together to achieve these shared goals?

According to Focus on the Family Canada counsellor Karin Gregory, it starts by opening up channels of communication. Couples may want the same things, she says, but their time frames may look different. "Both spouses may want children when they’re ready," she says, "but ‘ready’ can mean very different things to each spouse."

Another possible hindrance to achieving or identifying new resolutions is getting stuck on an unfulfilled past goal. "If the couple hasn’t figured out a new goal, either they haven’t achieved [an earlier goal], or they haven’t put an old one to rest," Gregory says.

Want to make the most of your marriage in 2013? Learn how to identify the ways you successfully worked through past challenges, accomplish last year’s unfulfilled goals and make plans to replicate joyful memories.

Celebrate past successes

Before coming down on yourselves, take this opportunity to celebrate your joint achievements from the past year.

"It is extremely important to reflect on your triumphs because that will help fuel you as you apply these victories to other areas where you may have failed," say marriage experts Dr. Daniel and Penny Loosenort, authors of We Promise: 18 Foundational Stones for an Unshakeable Marriage.

These triumphs can range from overcoming significant obstacles (e.g., restoring intimacy after an affair) to managing day-to-day struggles (e.g., balancing your household budget). Regardless of the challenge, the Loosenorts recommend looking at each scenario and identifying areas of compromise that helped you reach a resolution.

"You will know you have gained victory in an area if it no longer taunts you or comes up when other conflict arises," the Loosenorts say. "You will realize it [was] a positive experience and [see] that the results were implemented into your daily routines and traditions."

Accomplish unfulfilled goals

Write down any unfulfilled goals so that you can look back and identify why they weren’t accomplished, Gregory advises. For example, if you wanted to have a certain amount of money for a down payment but didn’t meet that goal in 2012, what factors contributed to not reaching that goal?

Ask yourselves a bigger question: Are these goals actually shared? Are you both excited about it, or has one of you not fully bought in to it? "Check in to see if you really understand the goals you’re working at," Gregory advises, "or determine if you need to go back to the foundation. When evaluating new goals, clarify whether it is a new goal or a continuing goal based on successfully completed goals."

When you’re working to accomplish these goals, don’t just find any solution to the problem: find the best solution, Gregory says. "For example, if your goal was to feel better about your body, do you go to the gym to lose weight, or just buy clothes that are the next size up?"

If you and your spouse have unresolved areas of conflict, you may find a wedge between you in your relationship. "Chances are, unrealistic expectations have clouded both of your minds," the Loosenorts say. "You will need to come together as a team and lower the bar to achievable goals that can be met in an acceptable time frame. Each of you should make a list of what you think it will take to resolve conflict and achieve the goal you have set. Come together and make adjustments to both of your lists that will be conducive for success."

Replicate joyful memories

Don’t get bogged down in conflict and struggles. Remember to celebrate the fun parts of your marriage as well! Look back on 2012: Did you go on dates? Did you work to keep the spark of romance alive?

"All work and no play will make for a very mundane marriage," the Loosenorts caution, recommending you reflect on the past year and identify positive experiences that enriched your marriage. "What [memories] bring a smile to your face? What causes you to laugh again as if it happened yesterday? What did you really want to do, but were not able to?"

Need creative inspiration for the future? Check out our list of great date ideas.

Need more?

If you feel you need more guidance on this topic, you can request a one-time complimentary consultation with one of our trained and qualified staff counsellors. If you need assistance finding a registered professional Christian counsellor in your region, Focus on the Family Canada has a listing of therapists who have been thoroughly screened. You can contact them Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.

Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.

© 2013 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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