New year - Same you, only different

David Olsen, Ph.D., LCSW and Erin Belanger, LMHC

Did you make some new year resolutions for 2018? Maybe you want to lose some weight, or get in shape… maybe you’re trying to save more money, or read more books… or, maybe you want to improve the quality of your relationships. No matter what your goals may have been - are you feeling stuck or overwhelmed now that we’re officially in the new year and you’re “supposed” to be doing something different? Have you already thrown in the towel and resigned yourself to another year of failed attempts at change (or will you in the next few weeks)?

First things first - let’s pause and reset the new year one more time. We’ll start with no longer pretending that there will be a miracle this year, whereby you become the “most perfect version of you”. Next, we’ll erase those absolutes you told yourself at midnight on January 1st. Then, you won’t have hope for a miracle, get overwhelmed, and crash back into the same old routine three weeks in, only with more guilt and hopelessness. Now, let’s declare this the year of no more absolutes or resolutions. Instead, let’s set our sights on a slower-paced plan that aims toward growth and renewal.

Renewal sounds big and overwhelming…

The beginning of a new year offers us a chance to reflect on our lives; to step outside of ourselves and take a look at what is working and what is not. Resolutions are an attempt at responding to what we see and moving us toward changes that make improvements, but they also tend toward the self-centered, and isolated, side. Resolutions say things like, “I want to lose weight, exercise more, save more money, work less, read more” and so on. Those sound doable when we say them, but the overwhelming data points to this not being the case.

Renewal is different, as it starts from the opposite direction. After that quick life reflection we begin with, renewal says, “What is really important to me?” The late theologian, Paul Tillich, suggests faith is what we are ultimately concerned about. So, begin with that question - what are my top values? That sounds daunting, quite honestly. So let’s break down how to figure this out, because, in reality, this is actually easier to do than those absolute resolutions. Further - it’s far more rewarding!

Other’s needs + my needs + relational spirituality = Relationship Renewal

To begin answering that question of what is most important, think of three areas of life: your relationships, your needs, and your spirituality.

Your Relationships

Focusing on the needs of others is complicated (obviously). On one end of the spectrum, some tend to over-function and focus excessively on the needs of their partners at the expense of what they need. On the other end, there are those who are more self-focused and not as aware of their partner’s needs. Balance is the key here! Take a look at your relationship patterns (read Renewing Your Relationship: 5 Necessary Steps for help with this), and use that as a starting point.

No matter what your relationship patterns are, your partner, child, and close friends need empathy. This means that they need you to accurately understand their subjective experience. Helping around the house or spending time can be nice, sure… but it doesn’t lead to feeling truly understood. Without tuning into your partner’s experience of their world with empathy, all other acts will seem trite and empty. For example, the spouse that cleans the house is doing something helpful, but without recognizing aloud their partner’s depletion, the act of helping is empty. Renewal means not seeing your partner through a rigid lens, but tuning into their world with openness to learn about and connect with their experience in that world.

But, What About Me?

Providing empathy for the significant people in your life is essential. Steven Covey’s suggestion to “seek first to understand” is a helpful standard. But, again… balance is key! Growth comes when we also articulate what is important to us and seek support for that. Sometimes, this is very complicated. Marriage and intimate relationships are crucibles where the balance between tuning into the other and being clear about what we need is in constant negotiation. All healthy relationships need and require this negotiation, which is at times painful and complicated. In the end, however, this is the only path to genuine relationship renewal.


All spirituality is relational! It’s remarkably easy to feel spiritual in isolation. Being “spiritual” in relationship is far more complicated. In the end, intimate relationships are a spiritual journey and healthy partners are able to work out the following spiritual issues:

  1. Together, they answer the question of what is it that provides meaning? Then, they are able to work together toward that answer.
  2. Together, they practice forgiveness. Intimate partnerships provide an endless forum for forgiveness and repair since none of us are perfect.
  3. Our partnerships are an opportunity to work toward redemption. All of us come into marriage with old wounds and injuries from our childhoods. We long for our partners to understand and help us heal.
  4. Finally, intimate relationships are an opportunity to reflect the Divine and see it in each other.

Try this new way of kicking off 2018, and don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a therapist trained in the Relationship Renewal model of couples therapy. Also, keep an eye out for upcoming workshops about relationship renewal this February. Finally, if you’re interested in purchasing the book mentioned above (Renewing your Relationship: 5 Necessary Steps) please find it on, or in one of our offices.

Happy New Year!