New Year, New Us: Reaching Joint Goals Together

Happy New Year, and welcome back to our regularly scheduled relationship science programming! This piece will be focused on the topical phenomenon of New Year’s Resolutions, but with a twist – joint, or couple resolutions (i.e., ones you make and adhere to with a partner) have greater success rates than individual ones. And more generally, couple goal-setting leads to higher relationship satisfaction and quality, whether it’s in January or June. Let’s dive into the research together!

One of the more common New Year’s resolutions involves changes to one’s health– such as exercising more, having a better diet, or quitting unhealthy habits (e.g., smoking). In 2015, relationship researchers found that couples who set goals from being “unhealthy” to “healthy” together (i.e., smoking cessation, physical activity, and weight loss) reached them 26-67% of the time, compared to 8-26% when only one partner set the same goals. 

This could reflect the phenomenon of relational health concordance, where couples are just more likely to have similar health behaviors. It also definitely shows how being in a partnership can boost accountability and provide practical and moral support when you’re working on an individual goal, like eating healthier. But such goals are still individual, just more successful when doubled.

Much more interestingly (to me, at least), there exist goals that inherently require coordination with your partner, called joint planning. The idea is that the more interdependent you are with your partner, the more you recognize that your actions affect each other, not just yourself. Joint planning can range from short-term goals, like taking your partner out for dinner tonight – to more long-term goals, like saving up for a trip together. 

The frequency of such joint planning has been theorized to be the key to relationship satisfaction and marital quality. Indeed, couples who regularly engage in joint planning are 19% less likely to divorce over a 10-year period than those who don’t, even when controlling for known predictors of divorce found in demographic, individual, and relationship traits.

So if you’re in a relationship, 2023 might be a good year to finally subscribe to new year’s resolution culture together – research shows that if you set joint goals, both of you can benefit more together than either one of you can alone.