Like most things in life, relationships require attention and care for them to flourish—no matter how long you've been together. So, if you've been cruising on autopilot in this part of your life, the start of a new year is the perfect time to recommit to giving your relationship a little more intentional TLC. As you're starting to formulate dreams and plans for 2022, consider adding at least one action item related to your relationship that you want to commit to doing this year.
To give you a little inspo, we reached out to marriage therapists to share what they recommend to couples who are looking for ways to nourish their relationships. Here's what they told us:
"Express appreciation often," recommends licensed psychologist and AASECT-certified sex therapist Lauren Fogel Mersy, Psy.D., LP. "Everyone needs to know that they are appreciated, both for who they are and what they contribute to the relationship."
Research studies have found that partners who feel more appreciated tend to be significantly happier in their relationships, according to Holly Richmond, Ph.D., LMFT, AASECT-certified sex therapist and author of Reclaiming Pleasure.
Both she and Fogel Mersy recommend trying to give your partner an active appreciation at least once a day. According to Richmond, that might sound like:
Richmond adds, "If your partner isn't a great appreciator, model it for them or be direct in expressing how you would like to be appreciated more."
If you know you and your partner can sometimes slip into heated arguments, consider going into 2022 with this mindset shift recommended by Richmond: giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
"When most couples argue, the misunderstanding isn't based in malice but rather mindlessness. Almost no one wants to deliberately irritate their partner, and none of us is perfect and often forget or overlook some of their key needs," she explains. "Giving your partner the benefit of the doubt allows room for a productive conversation rather than an argument that immediately turns defensive.”
That might look like rather than assuming the worst about your partner's intentions or actions, simply telling them about how a situation makes you feel and trying to actively listen to their perspective. If you can empathetically understand each other's feelings, you can then figure out solutions to avoid similar hurt feelings in the future.
"If your partner is consistently misattuned and hurts your feelings, that's when you should initiate a serious discussion about expectations, or even enlist the help of a therapist to support constructive communication," Richmond adds.
Rituals can help couples routinely create moments to connect and bond with each other. One fun one to consider? A couple's book club. "Do a mini book club with your partner, choosing a relationship self-help book each month," recommends Jessa Zimmerman, M.A., AASECT-certified sex therapist and licensed couples' counselor.
This way, you can spend some quality time together while also learning and growing as a couple and as individuals.
Another ritual to consider for this year: a relationship check-in. Zimmerman recommends couples schedule a check-in weekly, where they can talk about both what's going right and what could be better in their relationship. "Lead off with gratitude and appreciation, but also be willing to bring up concerns in a spirit of addressing them as a team," she says.
Making your check-ins into a standard part of your week allows you to make sure that any issues, tensions, or unspoken feelings from your day-to-day don't just get swept under the rug. You'll both have a dedicated, agreed-upon space to bring such things up without feeling petty—or to simply reflect on the highs and lows of the week, to make sure you're both aware of each other's latest emotional topography and keeping up with shared agreements.
"A healthy sex life is an integral part of a healthy relational life, and to have great sex you must talk about it," Richmond says.
Ask your partner if they'd be down to have an evening dedicated to talking about your sex life—what you love about it, what you want more and less of, and how you can make sure each partner is feeling satisfied and supported.
And one helpful reminder from Richmond: "'Healthy' doesn't necessarily mean having a ton of sex or engaging in extraordinary positions or even having orgasms. Having healthy—hopefully great—sex must be defined by each couple as they actively work together to create a supportive and erotic space to engage."
"Being intentional is the new being sexy for 2022," says licensed marriage therapist Beverley Andre, LMFT. "Intentional means doing the mental work, aka planning. If you want to nurture your relationship, you have to think ahead and figure out all the pieces and parts of what it will take to actually improve your relationship."
Andre recommends setting an "intention challenge" for the year. The challenge is simple: Create a list of 12 gestures to do for your partner, one for each month of the year. To determine these gestures, she suggests learning about your partner's love language so you can deliver gestures that speak to them personally.
And remember, the key here is intentionality, she adds. "Being intentional helps relationships because you're making it a priority instead of an afterthought. You won't have to worry about the grass being greener on the other side if you're intentional about watering your own on a schedule."
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