How to improve your relationship and when to pull the plug: sexologist

Here's some advice for a healthier and happier relationship. Scott Olson/The Canadian Press

Dr. Jessica O’Reilly is an expert on everything to do with sex and relationships. She and five others are giving seminars all weekend at Toronto’s Everything To Do With Sex Show. If you can’t make it to the event, we have you covered with a little Q & A that can hopefully spruce up your love life.

Q: What are five key components to a happy and healthy relationship?  

1. Laughter/Sense of Humour — There’s a reason this characteristic is one of the most commonly mentioned in dating profiles.

2. Appreciation —  You need to genuinely like and delight in your partner so that you can get through the rough patches.

3. Consideration — This includes the willingness to be flexible (change and novelty is also elemental to happy relationships) and attempt to really understand your partner’s point of view.

4. Effort — You never get to stop trying. Relationships take work and they’re worth it. You have to put effort into yourself physically, emotionally, psychologically and practically to remain appealing to your partner.

5. Communication — This includes a willingness to engage in disagreements.

WATCH: Conversations that can save your relationship

Q: What are two of the biggest issues you see couples struggle with? 

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1. Resentment related to ongoing conflicts

  • Accept that you cannot solve every problem you encounter. Research shows that happy couples do not resolve over half of their conflicts, but focus on those that are solvable.
  • Allow yourself to be vulnerable. When you turn to your partner and admit that you’re feeling sad, scared, frustrated, jealous or insecure, they’re more likely to respond in a caring manner.
  • Practice gratitude. Even if you’re still working on expressing appreciation, take 30 seconds every morning to remind yourself why you’re thankful for your partner. Gratitude is the antidote to resentment.

2. Struggles related to time management 

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

Who has enough time these days?

  • Set aside one weekend per month for the family (as a couple or with the kids).

When your “family weekend” conflicts with something else, shift it to ensure you get twelve per year.

If you’re already coming up with excuses as to why your situation wouldn’t allow for this (without identifying viable alternatives), you are a part of the problem.

I work with some of the busiest couples in the world — executives who run multiple companies, travel regularly and have packed schedules, but they still make time to invest in their relationships. I’ve even worked with presidential candidates, and if they can make time…you certainly can too.

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  • Spend time alone.

Take one hour per week just for you — not for the two of you, but just for you. Take a class, lock yourself away with a glass of wine or a hot tea or go for a walk.

You need time alone (away from kids and friends) in order to be a good partner and acknowledge the complexity of your identity beyond being a spouse and/or parent.

Q: What advice would you give a couple who’s found themselves in a rut?

For those who fight a lot:

I suggest booking one or two sessions with a solution-focused counsellor. Just one facilitated session (I won’t even call it therapy) can help you to more effectively identify the core issues that trigger conflict.

For those in a sexual rut:

  • DIY. Masturbate. It changes lives and is associated with a whole host of health benefits from improved circulation to improved sleep and mood.
  • Flirt with one another. Most couples struggle to get things going in the bedroom because they wait until they’re in the bedroom to get started. Foreplay that begins at breakfast is always more effective than foreplay that begins once the lights are out. Your flirtation need not be complicated. Just let your partner know when you’re looking at them and don’t be afraid to treat them like a piece of meat once in a while.

Q: How do you keep the spark alive if you’ve been married a long time?

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  • Change anything: The way you look. Where you eat. How you speak. Where you have sex. When you have sex. Novelty is of paramount importance to keeping the flames burning.
  • Push your comfort zones together. Whether you go bungee jumping or attend an adult event like The Everything to Do With Sex Show, activities that result in the chemical changes associated with optimal anxiety intensify your connection, deepen intimacy and boost physical attraction.
  • Engage in new activities together. Dating a new person is exciting because you’re constantly learning something new and anticipating the unexpected. As you settle into a relationship, new experiences are often replaced by habits and predictability. You need to break this pattern in order to bring back the physical changes associated with new/passionate love (e.g. increases in adrenaline and dopamine).

WATCH: Sexologist Jessica O’Reilly on how to have a healthy marriage

Q: How do you know when it’s time to pull the plug? And when can a relationship still be saved?

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If you both want to save a relationship and you’re willing to invest time to formally work on it, you can likely revive the connection. However, there are some challenges that are particularly difficult to overcome:

  • If you recall/reimagine positive relationship memories as overwhelmingly negative, it can be challenging to get back on track.
  • If you or your partner has withdrawn from the relationship for a prolonged period of time (e.g. you avoid engaging in conflict, you avoid physical intimacy, you avoid being a part of your partner’s triumphs and struggles), it can be difficult to save the relationship.
  • If you often feel disgusted by your partner’s behaviour, it’s time to seek professional help.

Do you have any relationship questions that you’d like answered? Send them to us through the form below (and don’t worry, we won’t use your name):

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