Many people feel that romantic relationships have been neglected 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.”
Here are four key strategies that relationship experts recommend to improve intimacy and romance in the new year.
Say Goodbye To Last Year
Julie Schwartz Gottman is a psychologist and founder of the Gottman Institute, which helps couples 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 your lowest moments and how was that for you? How can we make meaning from what we’ve gone through? What are the lessons that we have learned this year? What has changed in your belief system, priorities, or values? How did you get there?
“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.
List making is a great way to find optimism and intimacy, Dr. Chambers stated that this is especially important 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 will you reconnect with family and friends that you might have lost touch with due to the pandemic. Are you comfortable traveling? What hopes do your children have for you and your partner? What are your plans to do to make your relationship a priority. What are your financial goals?
Dr. Chambers advised that both partners should bring a fair amount of compromise and flexibility to the table. “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 suggested that couples ask each others: What are some of your needs? What would you like to change 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 recommended that these meetings be ended with an expression of appreciation. This could include telling your partner how they enrich your life or showing 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 suggested that you establish a weekly routine. It’s easy to do at-home activities such as streaming a movie, reading in bed, or cooking together. 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.”
Source: NY Times