Relationship experts share four suggestions for enhancing intimacy and romance with your partner in the new year. Credit…Paola Saliby For many people, romantic relationships have taken a back seat during the pandemic. “Couples fell into routines that became a more casual way to relate to each other,” said Damona Hoffman, a dating coach in Los Angeles and the host of the podcast Dates & Mates. “We couldn’t do a date night out or many of the activities we normally would have done to get us out of a funk or give us a change of scenery.” The pandemic also “accelerated people’s vulnerabilities, their ineffectual communication skills and their ability to disagree successfully,” said Morgan Cutlip, a psychologist and relationship consultant in San Clemente, Calif. Dr. Cutlip, who also develops content for Love Thinks, a company in Orange County, Calif., that offers relationship courses and resources, added that “some couples were more equipped at resolving an argument or were able to communicate their needs successfully. Others were not and that can erode relationships.” To help improve intimacy and romance with your partner in the new year, here are four key strategies to consider, according to relationship experts.

Say Goodbye to Last Year

Before couples can look toward a positive new year, they need to have closure with the one that is ending, said Julie Schwartz Gottman, a psychologist and a founder of the Gottman Institute, a Seattle company that helps couples build and maintain healthy relationships. “People have gone through life-changing circumstances and are shepherding themselves and their kids through situations no one has seen before,” Dr. Gottman said. “They didn’t have a chance to examine the inner landscape of their relationship and build or rebuild connection.” As couples look ahead, Dr. Gottman suggests they ask each other what she calls “big, open-ended questions.” They include: What were the highlights or big moments of joy you experienced? What were the lowest points and what was that like for you? How can we make meaning from what we’ve gone through? What are the lessons we are taking from this year? What changed in your belief system, priorities or values, and how did you arrive at them? “Answering these questions together,” Dr. Gottman said, “will allow the relationship to stand outside of time as a team. It highlights what you have suffered through, survived, triumphed and learned.” The answers will also help each person understand how their partner has changed from a year ago, she said, “and how you can be more supportive to each other going forward, because now you know where the vulnerabilities are.”

Say Hello to the New Year

“Couples need a sense of hope and what to look forward to when navigating through and preparing for the upcoming year,” said Anthony L. Chambers, the chief academic officer and a family and couples psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Optimism and intimacy can be found in list making, Dr. Chambers said, especially for achieving goals. “When couples collectively consider how they want the upcoming year to look, it creates an intentional, shared vision while increasing connection and alignment,” he said, adding that a list of goals can often evolve. “Your list might take several conversations and get-togethers to create.” In considering goals, Dr. Chambers recommended including “big ticket items” that can be determined by answering questions like: How are you going to spend time together? How do you want to reconnect with family and friends you might not have seen because of the pandemic? Are you comfortable traveling? What hopes do you have for your children and for each other? What are you going to do to keep your relationship a priority? What are your financial objectives and purchases? If differences and strong opinions creep in, Dr. Chambers said that both partners should come to the table with an equal amount of compromise and flexibly. “The central task of marriage is the management of differences,” he said. “Acknowledging each other’s concerns and differences is a positive way to start.”

Say Hello to Each Other

“We tend to only talk when we think something is wrong,” Dr. Cutlip said. “That’s why it’s important couples commit to finding time to check in with each other to see how each person is doing and if their needs are being met.” Dr. Cutlip recommended that couples meet twice a month for 20 minutes at the same time and place, ideally in a quiet location at home, avoiding the bedroom because, she said, “If the meeting takes a turn, you don’t want that vibe where you sleep.” Couples should put these meetings in their calendars, Dr. Cutlip added, and “start with something positive, maybe something that went well or how you are thriving at something as a couple.” She also suggested couples ask each other: What are some things you need from me? What would we like to adjust or remove? “Perhaps there’s something you want to incorporate into the relationship that will make you feel closer and more connected,” Dr. Cutlip said. “This helps protect and prioritize the relationship.” She added, “If something larger or problematic is going on, set a specific time to discuss that.” Dr. Cutlip advised ending these meetings with an expression of appreciation, like telling your partner how they enhance your life and showing some affection. “Give them a hug or kiss,” she said. “You want to make them feel valued.”

Say Yes to Rituals

It’s important to have something to look forward to and initiate romantic moments, according to Ms. Hoffman. “They create anticipation, increase endorphins and boost adrenaline,” she said. Ms. Hoffman recommended establishing a planned weekly ritual. Easy at-home activities like streaming a movie, reading together in bed or cooking a meal are a good place to start. A night out, if a couple is so inclined, works just as well — you can explore a new restaurant, nearby neighborhood or museum. “These repeated activities, which are a commitment and an intention you’ve set and scheduled together, create positive emotions you will associate with your partner,” Ms. Hoffman said. “They will remind you why you’re with them while reinforcing the partnership and the romantic side of your relationship.” Falling in love, or even just having a new romantic interest, can be a lot like the visceral experience of joy itself: Maybe you feel like you’re floating through life, or you’re just laughing and smiling more than ever. In this honeymoon phase, finding and sparking joy in a relationship often happens simply by default. But eventually, that happy-go-lucky vibe may start to fizzle into more of a baseline of contentment. While that shift certainly isn’t all bad (real intimacy develops in later stages of a relationship, after all), it can be easy to lose some of the shared joy when the new relationship energy diminishes. And bringing it back is often key to keeping a relationship going long and strong. In addition to cultivating closeness and a deeper sense of intimacy, relationship therapist Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT, says mutual joy in a relationship “also builds a couple’s resilience by giving them something positive to refer back to, which allows them to work together more easily through harder moments,” she says.

“Sharing joy builds a couple’s resilience.” —relationship therapist Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT

But despite the benefits of sustained joy, it’s not so easy to keep up. Natural joy in the beginning of a relationship is largely rooted in the situation’s novelty, and over time, routine and familiarity can be, well, killjoys. “As soon as we know something well and can analyze it in our brain, that quells the experience of it,” says joy strategist Grace Harry. “We begin to discount our partners like we often discount ourselves.” But simply focusing anew on an aspect of your partner that you’ve always liked can re-spark a moment of joy. “It brings you back to that very first voice that attracted you to them,” she says. To that end, many of the best practices for enlivening any romantic relationship with more joy return you to this positive mindset of renewal and rediscovery. Below, experts walk through their tried-and-true techniques for filling up on joy, together with your partner.

7 ways to spark more joy in a romantic relationship, according to joy and relationship experts

1. Build up your personal reservoir of joy

Just like you can’t fully love someone else until you love yourself, it’s tough to find joy with another person if you don’t know how to experience it solo. And when both folks in a relationship can experience joy on their own, they can drop the unrealistic expectations they might’ve had of getting joy solely from each other. To that end, Harry suggests focusing on yourself first. “We tend to wake up in the morning and immediately start othering, like, ‘What’s happening with my boss or my phone or my kid?’ But then we’re not the star of our own show,” she says. “Instead, make yourself your practice, and make your singleness your superpower.” That doesn’t mean to ignore your partner, but more so to prioritize your own joy practices and to find one thing—whether it’s a song, a memory, a dance, or something else entirely—that “reminds you of the juiciest part of who you are,” says Harry. When you’re feeling detached from joy, you can call upon it to bring you back to you. “That’s the person who’s going to be in a good place to experience joy within the relationship, too,” says Harry.

2. Commit to one specific, recurring shared experience

As a couple, start by finding your common joyful ground. “Ask yourselves, ‘When have you felt in sync, alive, connected, intimate, and lighter with each other?’ These are all signs of being in a joyful state together,” says Thompson. Perhaps it was watching a funny movie or taking a walk or going to a performance together. Once you come up with a few things, Harry suggests picking one of them and scheduling it as a recurring nonnegotiable in your calendars. “When couples have something they do together that they know they can count on—for example, every Sunday afternoon, we go on a hike—it takes a lot of the weight off,” says Harry. “It doesn’t have to be once a week; it could be once a month, but whatever it is, it’s an unbreakable agreement.” This ensures that no matter what comes up in life, the two of you will have a shared positive experience on the books. “That allows you to experience compersion, which is the feeling of delighting in someone else’s delight, or experiencing joy by witnessing someone else’s joy,” says clinical psychologist Alexandra Solomon, PhD, expert at emotional-wellness app Mine’d.

3. Don’t push each other to enjoy the same things

If there were an asterisk on this one, it would read, «if you know that they really dislike the thing.» That is, you can certainly suggest that your partner join your yoga class or watch a particular show with you, and there’s always a chance they’ll be into it, too, and as a result, you’ll experience a happy moment of shared joy. But—and it’s a big but—if you know they’re dreading every second of it, you’d bring more joy into your relationship by just leaving them out of it. “Having things that bring you joy on your own is just as important as having things together,” says happiness expert Michelle Wax, founder of American Happiness Project, a company that offers digital programming for corporations and individuals to facilitate happiness.

“Having things that bring you joy on your own is just as important as having things together.” —Michelle Wax, happiness expert

And, in fact, when each of you have that alone time to explore your individual interests and passions, you’re more likely to return to your couple time feeling enlivened and rejuvenated, says Dr. Solomon.

4. Communicate openly

While lack of communication is the often-cited root cause of many partnership issues, it’s also a big robber of joy in a romantic relationship, says Harry. Not saying what you have to say when you have to say it just breeds resentment, which keeps you from being fully present. “I always tell couples, ‘There should be nothing that gets said in your head that doesn’t come out,’” says Harry, “because intimacy is actually just communication.” And that doesn’t just go for the things that are tough to say, either. “If your partner does something or shares something that makes you feel happy, tell them,” says Wax. “We aren’t mind readers, and many people don’t pick up on subtle hints that seem obvious to the other person.”

5. Actively plan things together

If you’ve ever plotted out an exciting vacation weeks or even months in advance, you know the power of anticipating a good thing to spark joy. Planning something together with your partner just means you’ll get to share that joy, says Wax. “It could be as simple as planning out what meal you’ll make for dinner tonight or as big as planning that dream trip to a new place you’ve both been wanting to visit,” she says. “Either way, by creating excitement and joy in anticipation of the shared experience, you’ll amplify the experience itself.”

6. Find opportunities to get silly

If laughter is the pinnacle of joy, silliness is the surest route up there. That’s why Harry always recommends being more silly more often. «I tell my clients, ‘Gamify everything,’» she says. But, to be clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean having an actual game night or adding any particular activity to your agenda that fits some preconceived concept of ‘fun.’ “Let’s be real, we’re all competitive people, and game night could just as quickly turn into a nightmare for certain folks,” she says. “What I’m saying is to just be sillier with each other throughout the day.” In particular, tapping into silliness can dissolve any weirdness or tension almost immediately, which is why Harry also recommends it as a tool in any situation that might feel uncomfortable or extra-vulnerable. “Try drawing a silly card or making a dance performance of what you have to say,” Harry suggests. When you use silliness to be expressive, she adds, it gets easier to feel comfortable being yourself.

7. Be totally childlike

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned pillow fight to knock you out of whatever funk you’re in and get your joy juices flowing, Harry says. “Don’t overthink it,” she says. “Just go into your bedroom, grab a pillow, and hurl it across the room.” Her other playful suggestion? A tickle session. “My partner is 6’4” and 250 pounds, and when he’s acting like a curmudgeon, I start tickling him, and it always works,” she says, laughing. The idea is just to bring out your naturally joyous self. “I don’t like to call it your inner child because many of us are just frozen in the year that we created our survival pattern or built that public-facing avatar that isn’t really ourselves,” says Harry. “But the person underneath that avatar is fun and funny and silly, and sometimes we just need to be reminded of that.” Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cutting-edge wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly. Just because the whole world seems to obsess about romance during one day in the middle of February, doesn’t mean you have to. For happy singles, it’s a good excuse to eat chocolate. But if Valentine’s Day has you thinking about finding love, the holiday could be a good motivation to start. Our experts offered these 12 tips to boost your chances:

1. The ‘You’ll find love when you’re not looking’ approach may be wrong.

That’s like saying, “You’ll find a job when you’re least looking for it,” said Pepper Schwartz, a relationship expert and sociology professor at the University of Washington. It’s possible, but rarely happens. “For the most part, people who wait for a job are unemployed,” she added. “For me, it’s just an excuse for being scared to go and put the effort in. Yes, it happens, but no, it’s not a good strategy.” Schwartz does agree with the underlying sentiment of that saying: Don’t be desperate. Put the effort in to find someone, but don’t act like any breathing body will do. RELATED: How to find lifetime love: 10 secrets from couples married for decades

2. Go where people like the same things you like.

You can skip singles events if you don’t like them, but you have to go where you can meet people, Schwartz advised. Join social groups or meet-ups; be a worker bee in a cause you believe in; get involved in political parties. At the very least, you’re doing something you like and at the very best, you’ll meet somebody like-minded. Bite the bullet and try online dating for a big pool of potential candidates, Schwartz added. If you’re already online, try a different dating site.

3. Look up from your phone.

Good men and good women are everywhere — if you’re looking, noted Bela Gandhi, a TODAY contributor and founder of the Smart Dating Academy in Chicago. She’s amazed people often complain they don’t meet anyone, but then go out and keep their heads down the entire time, staring at their devices. Wherever you are, be present and look around the room to see who is looking at you. Make three seconds of eye contact with the cute stranger and smile — that’s an invitation for him to come over and talk to you, she advised. RELATED: Looking for love? These are the top states for ‘positive relationships’

4. Don’t seek romance, seek partnership.

Romance is for dates, and it’s fun to have on occasion in your marriage, but it’s partnership that will get you through the rough times, said Tina B. Tessina, a California psychotherapist also known as «Dr. Romance» and author of “How to be Happy Partners: Working it out Together.” “Don’t look for someone who sweeps you off your feet. That indicates a control freak, and you won’t like what happens later,” she advised. “Look for someone who likes give-and-take, who seeks your opinion and considers it, who cares about what you want, too.”

5. Happy people attract people.

Maybe the biggest issue in not being able to find love is that you’re not feeling good about yourself. Like yourself and like your life — really work on that, Schwartz advised. You have to be the person that you’d want to meet. “If you’re not a happy, positive, self-confident person, you cut your chances of being in the right space for the right kind of person,” she said. Go to a therapist to see why you’re depressed; get a trainer if you haven’t been exercising, and visit a nutritionist to begin eating right. If you’re shy, realize you could be less shy. “The idea is that you have to train for everything, and you have to train for love as well,” Schwartz said. “You can work on yourself. You’re not a finished product unless you’re dead.” RELATED: Does dating feel like an ‘unpaid internship’? Author’s advice to find love

6. Take time to be by yourself.

It’s important after a divorce or any break-up after a long relationship to take some time to be alone, said Nicole Baras Feuer, a divorce coach with Start Over Smart in Westport, Connecticut. “You will be in better shape to meet the ‘right’ person if you have time to heal, spend time alone to figure out who you are again, reflect on what went wrong,” Feuer said. “So you don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over again.”

7. Instant sexual attraction often fades.

Most good love is a slow burn — it takes a while to develop, Gandhi said. She believes attraction is important, but you don’t have to feel it right away since that instant spark is more about lust and less about the stuff of real relationships. Emotion can change and deepen over time so give people a fair shot, Feuer added.

8. Beware of the ‘opposites attract’ theory.

Opposites attract at first, but they’ll likely face major friction points down the road. Like-minded people actually make for easier and healthy long-term relationships, said Dr. Gail Saltz, a New York psychiatrist. The more you see eye-to-eye on, the less there is to argue and compromise about. RELATED: Opposites attract? Why you should date someone more like you

9. Become a ‘psychotic optimist’.

“That means you believe at any cost that you’re going to find that love; love is meant for you and it will come to you so that you just have to date like hell until you find it,” Gandhi said. You have to embrace the process of dating, so adopting a “psychotic optimist” mindset will make it more fun once you’re convinced true love is really out there for you. Gandhi recommends dating three to five people at the same time until you find one to be exclusive with. Dating means “casually getting to know,” not sleeping with someone. She advises not having sex until you’re in a committed, exclusive relationship.

10. Understand your own needs.

Do you need a lot of space? Desire lots of affection? Have to know what’s going on all the time? “Whatever your style is, it’s OK, but you need to know it and be able to communicate it to your future spouse. You can train each other if you both know what you need,” Tessina said.

11. Know the difference between fooling around and building a real relationship.

“You can mess around with anyone if you’re careful and have safe sex,” Tessina noted. “But before you bring someone into your life, or share money or living space, remember they’re bringing baggage.” The person you’re dating is on their best behavior in the beginning, she advised. It gets worse later, not better, so get to know what’s hidden before going too far.

12. Stop pining for someone who is unavailable.

Make yourself understand that holding on to somebody who isn’t interested or isn’t there for you is harmful, and move on. “You have to see that as a big dark black pit that you have to climb out of or you’ll be buried in it,” Schwartz advised. Follow A. Pawlowski on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Relationship advice is a tricky thing. When it’s unsolicited, it can be annoying and sometimes even insulting (hey, we all have that friend). But when you actually seek it out, it can be hard to find what you’re really looking for—like a definitive answer on whether or not yours is healthy, and what’s truly important. Sure, there’s your go-to advice like “don’t go to bed angry,” and “respect is important,” but we’ve all heard those before. That’s why we consulted expert therapists for the best tips they most regularly share with their patients. preview for The Dating Game | The OG Chronicles

Schedule dates to talk about your relationship.

“Commit to investing an hour—on an ongoing basis—to work on strengthening your relationship, troubleshooting, and making it more satisfying,” says Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona, Psy.D. Set up a weekly or monthly dinner where you only talk about relationship issues or goals. Sure, it might sound drab, but getting your «homework,» or couple’s maintenance out of the way during a designated conversation is better than having it sabotage a perfectly romantic meal. Make sure to cover the things that you’re grateful for as well as use the time to figure out how to solve problems and minimize them in the future, Cilona says.

Be candid about your feelings—the good and the bad.

Regularly opening up can help bring you closer, says psychotherapist Beth Sonnenberg, L.C.S.W. “Once you think that your feelings don’t matter, won’t be heard, or are not worth sharing, you open the door to harbor negativity and resentment.” That includes positive feelings, too, she points out—especially when they’re connected with your partner. “People need to feel appreciated in any relationship,” she adds.

Figure out the recurring issues in your relationship. Then, do something about them.

Every couple has these. Maybe you repeatedly fight about your intense work schedule, or your partner’s spending habits. Whatever it is, not addressing the root of the problem means you’re going to continue to fight. That’s why Cilona recommends that you and your partner identify recurring conflicts, and decide on the solutions. It’s helpful to focus on “specific and discrete behaviors” when you do this instead of labels and interpretations, he says. For example, instead of saying that your partner is inconsiderate when they buy a mini fridge without consulting you, it’s better to say that when they make big purchases without talking to you first, you feel like they’re trying to hide things from you. “Focusing on the issue rather than blame can allow for more effective problem solving and a team-based approach,” Cilona says.

Don’t expect your partner to be your BFF.

“We expect so much from our relationships these days. We want our partner to be a best friend, confidant, co-parent, and companion. Yet, this sets us up to be disappointed when our partner cannot fulfill our needs,» says licensed family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago and author of You Are Not Crazy: Letters from Your Therapist. Obviously, you should expect your partner to meet some of those needs, but the best friend one is complicated. If you feel like your partner just isn’t best friend material for you, Klow recommends finding “healthy, alternative ways” to have that need met through others. “This can free up your relationship to be a source of joy rather than something that lets you down,» he says.

Before commenting, repeat their words out loud.

It’s called «mirroring.» Here’s how it works: When you’re having an important discussion with your partner, repeat back exactly what you heard them say before you comment on it. For example, something like «So what you’re saying is, you think we need more time for just us without friends or kids around?» is more effective. “You will be endlessly surprised at how the simplest statements are heard differently by various people,” Cilona says. “This not only dramatically improves the accuracy and quality of communication by allowing for correction of misinterpretations, but also creates of strong sense of being heard and understood in each partner.”

Remember, don’t just say how you feel…show it.

Sure, it’s a good idea to say, “I love you” often, but “the act of showing matters, because we don’t say those three little words as often as we should,” says psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., author of The Happy Couple. He recommends expressing yourself by doing little things like making coffee for them in the morning, warming up their car, or stocking the freezer with their favorite flavor of Halo Top. “A random act of kindness doesn’t take much, but it can make a big difference,” he says.

Don’t be afraid to talk about money.

It’s so easy to fight about finances but talking about money—the right way—can actually help make your relationship stronger, Cilona says. “A couple that communicates their financial goals, and is willing to work together to achieve them, will likely have a deeper bond,» he adds. So, if you know you like doing your research before a big purchase but your partner is more impulsive, have that conversation before the car lease is up. Or, if you’re more interested in investing in travel than saving up for a vacation home, be up front about your preferences so you can find a common ground.

Choose to love your partner every day.

“My favorite piece of advice is the idea that every day we wake up and decide to feel affection towards our partner,” says psychotherapist Jennifer L. Silvershein, L.C.S.W. The idea behind this is simple, she says: Love is an active daily choice, and you have control over how you’re feeling. “When we wake up and the first thing we notice is a flaw in our partner, it will be hard to feel connected and in love for the rest of that day,” she says. “If we wake up and identify something we love or admire, that sets the tone.”

Fight in a productive way.

Every couple fights, but fighting in a way that moves the conversation forward and clearly explains why you’re feeling a certain way can make a difference. Silvershein recommends being specific about how your partner’s actions impact you. For example, “When you forget to text when you’ll be late, it makes me feel like you don’t care.” “When we begin shifting our language to share how our partner’s behavior makes us feel rather than just telling them what to do, I find that couples become more fluid and more aligned in their daily functioning,” she says. This content is imported from poll. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site. Ask your friends for advice. Sure, you and your partner have your own thing going on, and no one is perfect. But maybe you admire the way your couple-friends seem to navigate conflict or you really want to emulate the united front that your parents have always had. Whatever it is, talk to these people about how they’re able to achieve the aspects of their relationship that you admire, Cilona says. You don’t need to make a huge thing of it. Just say, “I really love how you and your partner seem to share responsibilities. How do you do that?” Then, if the advice seems good and doable for you? Talk to your partner about it. For more ways to live your best life plus all things Oprah, sign up for our newsletter!
Subscribe Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to own a teacup pig and taco truck one day. This content is imported from poll. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

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