Does the phrase "relationship goals" make you want to barf a little? It's a bummer, because in theory every relationship should have goals, but the 4 million and counting photos on Instagram tagged #relationshipgoals can skew your perception of what exactly those goals should be. Some are ironic memes of people doing decidedly not-goal-worthy things. And others are earnest couples holding hands on beaches — which is fine, but doesn't have to be the goal of your relationship.
"Goals are what you envision for the relationship; how you'd like it to look based on your shared values, not what you see in social media," says Kristin Zeising, PsyD, a relationship therapist in San Diego. "It could be a certain level of commitment, a feeling you'd like to have, or experiences you'd like to have." And there is no set formula for what those things should be, because every couple is completely different, she says. "A relationship goal is something that you think will bring your relationship greater satisfaction, intimacy, and connection," says Samantha Burns, LMHC, a dating and relationships expert.
Having goals can be healthy, not hokey, and allows you to set intentions to move forward in your relationship, while keeping you from stagnating, Dr. Zeising says. So swallow your pride, and check out what these experts consider healthy relationship goals.
Taking care of yourself.
Why it matters: Like the oxygen mask metaphor, before you can tend to your partner's needs, you have to make sure you're comfortable and situated yourself. "If neither person is taking care of his or her physiological needs, you’ll both suffer," Burns says. When you and your partner commit to taking care of yourself (meaning: you get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise every now and then), you both win.
Communicating your desires.
Why it matters: Without actually verbalizing what it is you want or need, you can't expect to mesh with your partner, Zeising says, and being able to communicate with compassion and openness is a real skill. "Any expectations using the words 'always' or 'never' are unrealistic," she says. If you and your partner can share important information from a grounded place, and you are also able to calm yourself down so you can hear what your partner has to say, that's the sweet spot, she says.
Showing gratitude toward your partner.
Why it matters: Tell your partner one small, specific thing you are grateful that they did every day — even if it's just a funny text they sent you, Burns says. "Passionate partners in long-term relationships have the skill of overlooking what they don't like about their partners and hyper-focusing on what they cherish," she says. In a new relationship, expressing some form of gratitude can make you feel more connected, loving, peaceful, and satisfied with the quality of your relationship, Burns says. "Those who express appreciation for their partners on a daily basis also have a more positive perception of their partners, and feel more comfortable voicing concerns about their relationship," she says.
Acting like a team.
Why it matters: You and your partner should feel like you operate as a unit in some capacity, Burns says. That doesn't mean you have to drop everything for your partner, but there is power in making decisions together. If you consult with your partner about big decisions, they'll feel like their opinion is valued, and like you both have important things to bring to the relationship.
Being honest about your feelings.
Why it matters: The concept of "relationship goals" might conjure images of a couple that never fights or gets into arguments, but if you feel like you can be honest and authentic with your partner, it helps you both grow as a partnership, according to Zeising. "This means you're not hiding in a relationship or avoiding the truth, and are able to handle the difficult talks for the sake of personal and relationship growth," she says. The alternative would be pretending like everything's fine, which isn't always true, and can lead to resentment down the line.
The goal: Staying open to trying new things.
Why it matters: You don't have to travel to beaches or go bungee-jumping together to just try new or different things, Burns says. "Healthy relationships are built on consistency, reliability, availability, and predictability — but these things kill desire," she says. Mixing up your routine — even if that's just watching a standup show on Netflix instead of your usual binge-watch, or trying a different missionary sex position — also allows you to create shared memories, which you can reminisce about together in the future.
The goal: Exercising (even just a little) together.
Why it matters: There's no shortage of couples posting annoying gym pics together, but it's not totally a cliche. When you exercise together, it creates a supportive environment for your relationship, Burns says. "Exercise also releases neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which busts stress, increases happiness, and is the same hormone responsible for that lovin’ feeling," she says. Even if it's just going on a walk around the block, there's something to be said for doing an activity together that gets you moving.
The goal: Having boundaries and communicating them.
Why it matters: You shouldn't be afraid to tell your partner what you want, but you should also tell your partner what you don't want, Zeising says. "Openly discuss what is off limits so that you know what to expect from each other," she says. Let's say you're not very comfortable talking about your relationship with your friends, then your partner should respect that. If they can't agree on the things that are important to you, then it's probably
The goal: Knowing what makes your partner truly happy.
Why it matters: You should know what makes your partner "tick," and you should also know what they like, Zeising says. Sounds simple, but if you know what their style of affection is, it can make your role easier. "Tending to what makes your partner truly happy," is always worth striving for, she says.