Heading into 2011, I thought it apt to revisit some of the themes I wrote about in 2010.
Starting the new year off with a “bang” is more important than ever and with that in mind, here are five relationship resolutions to consider for your list:
1. Get into the 5 to 1 Zone. A satisfying sex life requires a strong relationship to support it, and there’s an intense dynamic between what happens in the bedroom and what happens outside of it. But the last few years of economic turmoil have taken their toll: Stress and anxiety are at an all-time high, and it’s no wonder that the American libido is at a low. Therapist John Gottman has spent a lifetime working with married couples, researching what makes some marriages succeed and others fail. Says Gottman: “It’s the balance between positive and negative emotional interactions in a marriage that determines its well-being–whether the good moments of mutual pleasure, passion, humor, support, kindness, and generosity outweigh the bad moments of complaining, criticism, anger, disgust, contempt, defensiveness, and coldness.” Those couples that succeed in their marriages enjoy an overriding proportion of positive over negative sentiment. But, how do you ensure that? “All couples, happy and unhappy, have conflict, but the ratio of positive to negative interactions during arguments is a critical factor,” and Gottman proposes that this ratio should, ideally, be 5 to 1. And while it’s impossible to go through life tallying positive versus negative interactions, it is possible to determine intuitively whether your relationship is generally in the positive, or tending more toward the negative.
2. Engage in choreplay. With all the economic pressure, there are more dual-income families than ever. And while it often takes two incomes to support a single family, one thing that hasn’t changed is that many women still come home feeling like they have a second job: doing all the housework. That’s why it’s important to engage in choreplay. One recent study from the University of Western Ontario found that wives are happier when their husbands pitch in with housework. Another report from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago even suggests men who help clean, take care of their kids, and do other domestic chores may see the benefits of their labor pay off in the bedroom. Also, stress works against female desire on a neurological level: brain scans have shown that for women to fully engage in the process of arousal, parts of the brain associated with stress and anxiety need to deactivate. So if a woman is worried about everything that still needs to get done around the house, those parts of the brain that need to deactivate are going to remain active.
3. Turn off to turn on. Once upon a time it was easy enough to advise couples not to put a TV in their bedroom, and there were plenty of studies showing that people were falling asleep with the remote in their arms, instead of in each others’ arms. But today, it’s not enough to just turn off the TV; our quality-time is besieged by technology. Couples are frequently spending more time Facebooking with friends than “face-timing” with their partners. At its worst, technology can enable emotional infidelity, but even for the most well-intentioned couple it can create a digital black-hole that sucks up all of our quality time. Couples need to tone down the tech, and put their sex lives at the top of their to-do list. At minimum try to have sex at least once a week.
4. Discover new pleasure paths. But it’s not enough to just do it. Sex is like food – if you eat the same thing over and over, not only will you get bored, you’ll also end up depriving yourself of vital nutrients. And just like the food-pyramid, there are different categories of sex that you should be consuming from regularly: there’s sex that’s loving and tender and enhances emotional intimacy, and then there’s sex for the sake of sex: because it feels good and relieves stress. There’s sex that taps the power of fantasy and proves that the mind is the biggest sex organ and there’s sex that plays to all of our various senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Indulge in all of these basic sex-categories, with the goal of giving you a healthy, balanced, (and ultimately hotter) sex life.
5. Don’t live a life of quiet desperation. According to a recently published National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior in the U.S., 85% of men said that their partner had experienced an orgasm during their most recent sexual event, while only 64% of women reported actually having had an orgasm. The implication: Lots of women are faking it. More women are still faking it, as are men. I once counseled a couple in which both partners were faking it, but neither had wanted to hurt the other’s feelings. Talking about sex isn’t always easy. But in the end, not talking about sex is even harder.