Dr. Jess on Sex: Kick off 2016 as a new and improved couple

New Year’s resolutions that will revolutionize your relationship

Happy new year! If you’re looking to make 2016 the best yet, why not start with your relationship and set resolutions you can tackle as a couple? After all, the status of your relationship has a significant effect on your health, fitness, income and happiness levels. Here are resolutions that successful couples swear by.

1. Break up with friends who no longer enrich your lives. Almost every couple I work with claims that time is their most precious commodity, so don’t waste time on friendships that do more harm than good. If you consistently feel drained, deflated, disrespected and/or demoralized after hanging out with a friend, it might be time to cut ties, so ask your partner for support and end toxic relationships as a team. 

2. Limit complaints to five minutes per day (right after work), and call one another out when you break the rules or exceed this time cap. Everyone needs to vent a little, but it’s not uncommon for your daily recap to snowball into a prolonged commiseration session. Whether you’re complaining about traffic, workload, family members, friends or the weather, your negativity puts a strain on your relationship and your sex life. Setting a time limit for daily complaints will help to compartmentalize negativity and force you to redirect that passion toward all the things for which you’re grateful.

3. Ditch the phone at dinner. Being present is particularly challenging in the age of digital connectivity. We are accustomed to responding to beeps, vibrations and flashes instantaneously, and this lack of presence takes a toll on our relationships, mental health and sex lives. Weaning yourself off your phone one night (or one hour) at a time may be the most important resolution you make this year, as it will force you to engage in being present — an experience that has become rather abstract as of late. It may be uncomfortable at first (and you may feel you have little to talk about), but eventually you’ll find yourself connecting in new and meaningful ways. 

4. Learn something new together. Break your routine and try an activity (e.g., archery tag, knife throwing, salsa dancing) that challenges you to expand your comfort zones. In doing so, you may find that your feelings for one another shift toward excitement and curiosity as you reactivate the chemicals associated with new love.

5. Revisit your past. Successful couples remain connected and intimate over the long term by bringing positive elements of the past into the present, and those who recall the past fondly are more likely to overcome current struggles effectively. Consider visiting the site of your first date, playing music from your early years or browsing through old photos (e.g., your first vacation or a wedding album) to integrate old memories into the present.

6. Stop trying to resolve every disagreement. Research suggests that many conflicts are unresolvable, and you can have a happy, lasting marriage without resolving every single fight. Once you accept this, you’re more likely to fight less and replace resentment with understanding and acceptance. 

7. Compliment your partner every day. Is he a great father? Is she the perfect role model? Is your partner a great cook or a fantastic athlete? Do you admire his perseverance or her drive? Does she crack you up? Does he make each day exciting? Don’t hold back! Gush and let them know just how wonderful they are. 

8. Talk about sex. Are you getting enough? Would you like to try something new? Are you nervous to initiate or would you like your partner to take a bit more initiative in the bedroom? It’s time to talk about it. Doctor’s orders. 

9. Plan to succeed. Schedule a relationship check-in. Do it now. If you have time to read this column, you have time to talk about your relationship. It’s simple. Sit down for 20 minutes and talk about what is going well and what you might like to change over the next three to six months.

10. Sweat together. Couples who work out have more sex, and those who set fitness goals together are more likely to follow through. Schedule your coupled workouts weekly and copy your administrators or assistants so that they can add them to your calendar. 

11. Get help. If you have an issue or serious fight that recurs year after year, make 2016 the year you break the cycle. Book an appointment with a couples’ counsellor who specializes in dealing with the present and future. You don’t need to rehash your childhood memories or relationship history to make positive change today. You may only require a few sessions — especially if you prepare some notes in advance: write down two issues you’d like to address, your feelings and concerns with regard to each issue and an acknowledgment of how you are partially responsible for the conflict. Be prepared to work your way through the list in-session, and ensure that you leave with a list of action items to promote behavioural and cognitive change.