For many people, the New Year is an opportunity to focus on self-improvement. It’s why most will start something new — from a diet and workout plan to a side hustle or hobby. So, Valentine’s day can be a great moment to include your relationship in the resolutions, too. Your romantic connection requires upkeep, commitment, and flexibility to remain thriving and strong like anything that stands the test of time. And if you’ve spent 24/7 together the last two years of a pandemic, it could feel like that lovin’ feeling is waning a bit. That’s okay!
As relationship expert and founder of True Love Knots, Maria Romano says, while relationship woes are not a one-size-fits-all-solutions, there are ways to improve your intimacy and love over the next 12 months. Here are some ways to prioritize one another in 2022:
Set aside five minutes daily to share gratitude.
As with any goal or resolution-setting, it’s vital to be realistic. After all, you would likely love to spend an hour in bed each morning, drinking coffee slowly and having deep, meaningful conversations with your partner. But your job, responsibilities, and perhaps, your children, prevent you from this leisurely a.m. However, chances are high you can set aside five minutes a day to share gratitude.
When you are conscious, aware and open about what your partner means to you and why you feel lucky to have them, you’ll approach your relationship more positively, explains psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. “This interaction needs to be genuine and not just done as a duty or obligation,” she continues. “By engaging in this exchange with each other each day, you contribute to the bond between you and the growth of your relationship.”
Develop weekly rituals of connection.
In addition to those five minutes of thankfulness, challenge each other to integrate a mixture of spontaneous and scheduled opportunities to connect, recommends Jessica Leith, MS, LMFT, a Pepper relationship expert. This will build both your friendship and intimacy and your ability to communicate the good and the bad. “Seizing opportunities throughout the week to do this when there is unexpected space in your schedules can be great for spontaneous efforts,” she explains.
What does this look like? In practice, it can be much simpler and less time-consuming than many couples imagine. As Leith says, instead of grabbing your phone and scrolling through social media, grab your partner and go for a post-dinner walk or take a few extra minutes in the evening to wind down about your days. “These moments can also provide space to share more challenging things that are on your mind and allow you to show up for your partner in a way that says ‘I’ve got your back,’” she explains. “Doing this helps your partner feel supported and makes them more likely to communicate openly and honestly.”
And if your current schedule is a little too jam-packed to allow for spontaneity? Don’t feel guilty about scheduling discussions, date nights, and other ways to remain on the same page. “Taking turns planning these can be a nice way to show your partner that you care and lets you get creative and intentional with planning,” Leith continues. “It’s important to remember that rituals of connection don’t have to necessarily be overt efforts to add something into your life to create shared meaning.”
Throughout the pandemic, everything about life, work and love became blurred. Bedrooms were offices; kitchens were homeschooling classrooms; living rooms became a hub for laundry. And your relationship had to coexist with everything else, making romance a taller order than before. As we start to seek the other side of the mountain we’ve been climbing, take the time to re-establish old boundaries and set new ones, recommends Megwyn White, a clinical sexologist and the director of education for Satisfyer. As she puts it, conversations need to be held to share your feelings and limits and determine your partner’s values and expectations for a healthy relationship.
“The topics can span from financial, work-life balance, intimacy, and beyond, but the best way to navigate these conversations is to do so together by identifying and understanding each other’s priorities,” she explains. “While it can sound intimidating or uncomfortable, lay it all out on the table. Use your differences to deepen your understanding of each other, which in return can help set the tone for a stronger relationship.”
Find, plan and book an adventure together.
When was the last time you tackled a — non-stressful — project as a team? You know, not one that drained your energy and bank account, leaving you exhausted and anxious. Instead, reflect on the times when you learned a new skill, planned a trip, or otherwise worked as a duo to enrich your life. If it’s been a while, resolve to seek new adventures together in 2022. “By discovering and making plans to try new things, you get the benefit of working closely together as a team strategizing, compromising, and being creative,” ‘Dr. Thomas continues. “In addition to coming up with new activities to try together, you get to experience these first-time events together, which builds memories and a deeper connection.”
Whether it’s getting scuba certified and then booking a tropical trip or taking a champagne master class, find something you can both geek out about and enjoy.
Determine what you both want in life and in love.
If you don’t invest in yourself, you can’t bring the best you to your relationship. That’s why Romano says it’s essential to know what you need and what you want from your partnership. “As much as possible, keep your identity, and have things in your life that are only for yourself,” she recommends. Set aside a regular time each month to participate in activities and hobbies that make you personally happier, so your cup will be filled for your partner.
Both of you should also consider what you require out of your relationship and explore if all of your needs are being met. If they aren’t, it’s time to have an open conversation. “A relationship is a work in progress, there will always be a give and take, and the balance may be tipped at times and during these times, and it is important that you know what your non-negotiables are,” she says.
A way to do this is to sit down and write your love language. From there, Romano says you will both have a better understanding of yourselves and your relationship. For example, your partner will now know that you feel most loved when they spend time with you, while your partner’s love language is verbal, so you need to give them lots of compliments when they share wins or have done something for you.
Redefine and talk about sex.
If you’re having less sex than you used to, it’s not an immediate reason to worry. All relationships go through periods of high frequency and ones of lower frequency. However, what’s more, important is figuring out how you both feel about your sex life. Leith says that one of the best things you and your partner can do to update and sustain your sex life is to redefine it. This means going through all aspects of physical intimacy: Do you include flirting, sexting, deep conversations, cuddling on the couch, little touches and squeezes, or taking a shower together as a part of your sex life?
“The more you expand your list of what you consider a part of sex or not, the more you may notice how much more sex you are having,” she says. “Make a list of all the little things you might consider to be a sexy exchange with your partner. Include all the things you do that lead up to sex, and now count each one of those things as a part of sex.”
Tapping into more minor ways of connecting sexually will increase your desire for one another and increase your interest in a full sexual connection. “Think of it as a series of really delicious appetizers that don’t fill you but make you hungry for the main dish,” she adds.
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