Whether you’re single or in a relationship, don’t leave your love life out of your New Year’s resolutions.
“I find a lot of us don’t come up with relationship goals until the relationship is broken,” said Toronto-based relationship expert Nicole McCance.
“We’ll make a fitness goal, we’ll make a work-related goal. But for whatever reason, once we get the relationship we assume it’s going to stay stable and happy.”
Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how things work. Relationships take work, regardless of what stage they’re at.
Every couple should have goals, McCance argues, along with good habits to reach them. She explains goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely).
Oftentimes people will complain they “want more romance,” McCance says. But that’s neither specific — as it can mean different things to different people — nor measurable.
A better approach would be to break “romance” down into something like more quality time, compliments or gifts (depending on what your love language is).
Then, just as you would hit the gym three times a week if you wanted to lose weight, you have to work on that goal.
Life coach Lauren Zander likes to think of it as keeping a promise to yourself and your partner. For instance, she and her husband of 20 years have committed to having sex twice a week. If the mother-of-three breaks that promise, she doesn’t get to watch HBO, Netflix, or “whatever show she’s binging on.”
Her hubby’s New Year’s resolution has been to cut out screen time in the bedroom, which has already improved their intimacy levels.
Here are five other tips to help spark your love life this year.
1. Date yourself.
This one applies to everyone, regardless of relationship status.
Toronto relationship expert Natasha Sharma tells her patients they’ll never be able to get everything they need to be happy solely from their partner. There’s also a tendency to sometimes spend a little too much time together.
“People who are in relationships for a while, they kind of blur the lines of where the self begins and the relationship ends.”
She encourages people to schedule alone time for themselves and do things they enjoy on their own. That could be anything from a yoga class to maybe even a trip without their partner.
Singles should be experts at dating themselves, but some haven’t quite mastered the joy of spending time alone.
“We’re often socialized to believe we need a relationship with someone else to be happy. And that’s just not true,” Sharma said.
“When you do reach that place where you’re happy with yourself and consciously decide you want to get in a relationship… then you choose people who will only elevate you and bring the best out of you.
“You’re motivated by that conscious decision to share your life with someone, not by fear of desire of being alone and lonely.”
The positive energy and outlook you’d likely exude may be way more appealing to a prospective mate.
2. Limit complaints to two minutes per day.
It’s important to communicate with your significant other about what’s going on in your life. If you feel the need to vent, however, sexologist Jessica O’Reilly has a two-minute rule.
Once you exceed that limit, time’s up and you have to move on.
“Negativity sucks the life and eroticism from your relationship, and complaining makes you less attractive,” she explained.
In the grand scheme of things, O’Reilly adds, complaining about things like traffic, weather or customer service to your partner isn’t worth the energy. Plus it can be draining.
“Most couples report that time is their most precious commodity, so why waste it complaining?”
The only exception would be if you’re “talking through challenges and problems with the goal of identifying actionable solutions.” For O’Reilly, that “doesn’t qualify as complaining.”
It’s the venting about encounters and behaviours over which you have no control that should be curbed.
McCance agrees and points out if you’re going on about “that annoying person” from work, it’s like you’ve brought them home with you.
“Try to share the good,” she said.
3. Stop bringing up things from the past.
Dredging up the past is one of the most toxic habits for a relationship, according to Sharma.
It causes you to keep score, which isn’t healthy. You shouldn’t feel the need to “win” in your relationship.
“I find that happy couples let things go,” McCance said.
They do that by focusing on the positive, she explains.
When you’re stuck in that “same argument,” try to think of something you love about your partner, like the way he makes you laugh or that nice compliment he gave you.
Don’t get sucked into the negative zone.
If you can’t seem to get beyond a certain issue, you may want to set up a couple’s counselling session.
4. Practice seeing things from your partner’s point of view.
Another way to cruise through disagreements is by putting yourself in your other half’s shoes.
“I feel I’d be out of business if more people practiced seeing their partner’s point of view,” said McCance. “If they did it on their own there wouldn’t be a need for a couple’s therapist.”
Once you step back and take your partner’s viewpoint, you’ll probably realize he or she didn’t mean to hurt you.
The next time you start to feel upset, take a moment and consider what might be behind the upsetting comment or action. Could your partner be hungry? Tired? Stressed because of work?
If you’re able to — in a gentle tone — voice how you think your partner feels to him or her (a “mirroring” technique McCance trains her clients in). This will help your partner feel more understood and will likely de-escalate things.
For example, you could say something like: “I can imagine you feel frustrated and hurt when I am on my phone during date night. I want you to know you are important to me, sometimes I just check my phone without even thinking of the impact on you.”
WATCH: O’Reilly on long-term relationships and fighting
When you share your own feelings, couples therapists say to use as many “I” statements (like “I felt sad when…”) as possible. Avoid “you” statements (like “you made me feel…”), as those will only put your partner on the defensive and fuel the flames of the fight.
“We often blame others for making us feel the way that we feel, but that’s just not true,” Sharma said. “We are responsible for our own emotions all the time.”
Most importantly: lose the eye-rolls and big sighs, even if you disagree with your partner is saying. Replace those with strong eye contact and a soft caress, which releases endorphins.
And get ready for more loving.