January is the month for making changes.
We vow to eat less, exercise more, change our jobs, ditch the cigarettes.
All great resolutions to make – but there’s another part of your life that could probably do with an overhaul.
Your love life.
The start of a new year is the perfect time to cast a critical eye over your relationship and sex life, confront long-standing problems or iron out glitches.
Here’s some simple ways to rejuvenate and reset, so you can start the year refreshed and ready to face the next decade.
Relationship expert Tracey Cox reveals how you can freshen up your relationship and your sex life in the new year (pictured: a loved up couple in bed, stock picture)
THE DATING DETOX
Ditch your ‘friends with benefits’
You know, the ones you go to when you’re drunk, lonely or need an ego boost.
Yes, it’s nice to have someone you know will give you a cuddle or sex when you fancy it, but if you want a long-term relationship, they’re stopping you getting it.
You need incentive to get out there and look seriously for a life partner.
Turning up at your friend’s, every time you crave love or sex, satisfies your urges without finding a long-term solution.
Too fussy or not fussy enough?
If you’ve been single for ages dating forever, it gets confusing.
It’s difficult to work if you’re not in a relationship because you’re being too fussy – or not fussy enough?
Aim way above your pulling power and you’ll get no dates at all. But setting your standards too low won’t help either.
Tracey advises to stir clear from friends with benefits, because they are keeping you from pursuing a serious relationship
All that does is leave you in sub-standard relationships: the ones where the person is perfectly nice but not lighting any fires.
Good friends are usually very perceptive about other friend’s love lives.
Ask a friend you trust to answer the ‘Too fussy or not enough’ question.
They could be handy to have around for this as well…
Make a partner list
Write down 10 ‘must have’ qualities and 10 ‘would like’ qualities you want in a partner, basing them on things that matter (personality and behavior, not looks and money).
Each new person has to tick at least 7 on the ‘must have’ list and 5 on the ‘would like’ before you start seeing them seriously.
Have sex on your terms
Just because sex doesn’t seem like a big deal to other people, doesn’t mean it isn’t a big deal for you.
Don’t be scared to say, ‘Actually, I want to get to know you before we have sex – and that’s going to take more than a few weeks’.
If they scarper, they weren’t for you.
Don’t spend all your time worrying about whether you’ll meet someone and don’t drop everything and everyone the minute a potential partner comes into your life.
Spend at least one night and one day a week with people you aren’t involved romantically with.
Seeing people who know and love you regularly, makes you feel supported and loved.
You’ll be far more likely to then choose partners who you’re genuinely compatible with rather than grabbing for any warm body to stop you from feeling lonely.
THE RELATIONSHIP DETOX
Get out of that toxic relationship
There’s a very simple way to tell if you’re in a healthy relationship.
Answer this question: Do your friends and family like your partner?
Assuming you don’t have the world’s most dysfunctional family and frenemies, the answer should be yes.
One or two people who don’t get on with them is fine: that’s just a personality clash.
But if your partner genuinely makes you happy, most of the people who love you will recognize that and give their seal of approval.
If you seem to be the only person who can see what a treasure you have lying beside you, look again.
See how others might see them.
If you don’t even need to do this test to know your relationship is toxic, make plans to leave.
Same goes for emotional vampire friends: the ones who drain all of your time, energy and money without ever giving back.
Sweat the small stuff
One important, sizeable study that followed married couples over almost three decades found it wasn’t the big, grand statements of love that made people happy but small, frequent loving gestures.
Sending a little ‘I love you’ text, bringing your partner tea in bed – this is what’s important.
Make yourself happy first
You’ll be a much nicer person to be around if you do.
Find 30 minutes a day just for you and spend it doing things you love. Read, do some yoga, have a bath, take up a hobby, listen to music, play sport.
Does your relationship need detoxing?
It’s hopefully obvious that if your partner hurts you (physically or emotionally), cheats on you, keeps secrets, treats you badly, has addiction issues or is simply not a nice person, you should end your relationship.
These are subtler signs it’s either deteriorating or already in desperate need of a detox.
You fight constantly. Arguments now and then are normal and healthy. It shows you both care and aren’t afraid to speak up if you’re not happy.
Regular arguments – once a week or more – are a sign there are underlying issues that need addressing.
You never resolve arguments. At the end of an argument, both of you should be clear on exactly what went wrong and have an idea of how to avoid it happening again.
If your arguments are just screaming matches, with each of you hurtling insults, rather than calm, reasonable problem solving, your relationship is in trouble.
You don’t communicate well.
If every attempt to fix problems ends with one of you shutting down or becoming defensive and angry, your communication skills need improving.
Fix it yourself through self-help books (Try Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work by John and Julie Gottman) or see a therapist (find a good one through the websites for BACP, BPS, UKCP, COSRT or Relate).
You’ve stopped having sex or sex is unpleasant.
If both of you are happy not to be having sex, there isn’t a problem.
But if one of you misses being intimate and the other refuses to discuss it, it very much is.
Ditto a partner who forces sex on the other or makes you do things you don’t enjoy.
If sex has become something that’s making you fraught with anxiety, you need to talk honestly about it together.
You feel happier when your partner isn’t around.
The whole point of a relationship is to be around someone you look forward to seeing and spending time with.
If you’d prefer to be alone, it’s time for therapy or an honest discussion about how you feel.
You feel anxious and unhappy when you think about your relationship.
US therapist John Gottman has a magic formula for relationship happiness.
For every one negative feeling or interaction between you, there must be five positive feelings or interactions.
If thinking about your relationship always makes you depressed or unsettled, you’re in the wrong one.
Take care of your health: exercise, eat healthily and stop to smell the roses.
The healthier you feel, the happier you’ll be.
Keep your secrets for your partner
We are closest to the people who know the most about us. If you’re telling someone other than your partner about the intricacies of your life, you’re creating distance not growth. It’s all too easy for all partner conversations to revolve around work, chores and kids.
You need to be talking about your frustrations, dreams and feelings as well.
Go for a walk together three times a week
Yep. That’s what I said.
Head for a park or a field: the closest thing you have to nature near your house.
Walking outside doesn’t just clear your head and make you feel better, it forces you to put your phones down and talk to each other.
Walking side by side, rather than facing each other, also makes tackling those hard issues easier.
Start a relationship book
Put a notebook and pen somewhere easy to access.
In it, write notes to each other.
Thank you notes for nice things you’ve done for each other.
If you’re angry, write down why and what your partner can do to fix it.
If you want something to change in your relationship, write down what you’d like more or less of.
Feeling really happy and in love? That goes in there, too.
It’s a great way to get couples who aren’t good at talking face to face, communicating their needs.
If writing isn’t your thing, try recording voice memos and sending them to each other.
Get into the habit of checking the book daily (if you both write in it often) or weekly (if you only do it now and then).
Talk about what still works and what doesn’t
What did it for you at the start of your relationship, might send you to sleep now.
Our tastes change. You can’t expect to be aroused by the same things throughout your life.
Do you want more oral sex and less intercourse? Is their technique the best it could be?
Give feedback. Show them how you want things done.
Confess your ‘thing’
We all have some private sex quirk: something you’d really love to try but are nervous suggesting.
Dare to share.
Test the waters by saying you had a dream you were both doing that thing and see how they respond.
If they look intrigued, it’s not too hard to then say ‘Do you want to try doing it in real life?’.
Decide on a clear ‘up for it’ signals
One of the biggest problems couples face is mismatched libidos: one wanting sex more than the other.
This has a rather unfortunate spin off for the relationship: expressing affection becomes a source of anxiety.
If you’re the person constantly rejecting sex, you’re scared to make any physical contact in case it’s interpreted as a sexual come on.
If you’re the person who wants sex more often, you’re on high alert for any sexual cue your partner might be sending you because you don’t want to miss an opportunity.
Avoid all this by agreeing on obvious signals that say yes, no or maybe I want sex with you now.
This might mean asking outright, it might mean putting your toothbrushes in a cross shape, it might be stroking their arm in a certain, specific way or kissing their neck.
When there is no guesswork going on, you can both relax and enjoy affection for what it is.
Stop using sex replacements
For men, this usually means porn. For women, ironically, it’s children.
Children (obviously) don’t provide us with sexual stimulation but they do a damn good job in the affection and love department so reduce motivation for sex.
Be honest with each other about what’s going on and make changes.
Lose the guilt
Intercourse feels fantastic but penetration alone is usually doesn’t get women past the finish line.
Study after study shows only around one quarter of women orgasm from that alone.
Why are they the lucky ones?
It could be luck of the draw biologically: women who can climax via penetration appear to have less distance between the clitoris and the vaginal opening.
If this isn’t you, join most of your girlfriends by accepting it and letting your partner know you need extra stimulation.
Visit traceycox.com for more info about sex and relationships or to see her product ranges. You’ll find Tracey’s new Soft Feel product range at lovehoney.co.uk