You may be one of the lucky few in a healthy relationship, but thanks to pop culture (and our obsession with binge-watching rom-coms) we tend to see everything through rose-tinted glasses. Thanks to the unrealistic expectations set by Love Actually and Bridget Jones’s Diary, you may have come to find that your relationship just isn’t living up to that. Maybe you can’t stop arguing, jealously is getting in the way, or maybe the fire once in your loins is now just a smouldering pile of ash?
We spoke to Sarah Calvert, psychosexual and relationship therapist, and Annabelle Knight, sex and dating expert at Lovehoney, to bring you a simple guide on how to improve your relationship.
How to improve your relationship
“All relationships go through ups and downs, as do people,” Sarah says, and this is so important to remember. It is completely normal to hit rocky patches in our relationships for a number of reasons.
Annabelle finds that work, money and sex are big factors that contribute to relationship breakdowns. So if any of those things are causing you problems, here are Annabelle and Sarah’s tips on how to improve your relationship.
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The most important thing – despite the fact that most of us dread talking about our feelings – is communication. It’s the ruler of every kind of relationship, whether that’s one with your babe or your boss.
"Talk about what really DOES turn you on"
Sarah says, “I cannot stress enough how important good communication is. Without it, resentment, fear or distrust can build up and there’s nothing like this trio to cause relationship problems.”
A lack of communication can also negatively impact your sex life. Annabelle says, “It is vital you keep the channels of communication open to enjoy good sex … talk about what really DOES turn you on, and allow them to do the same”.
2. Give your relationship an MOT
Sarah says you need to “ask yourself, what state is your relationship in? It’s important to check in with your partner regularly and have honest discussions about how each of you is feeling”. Which also ties into communicating, FYI.
You need to know what direction you want the relationship to go in, or you could be faced with a breaking point. “If you’re struggling to work things out together, seek help sooner than rather waiting for a crisis”.
Annabelle thinks that you need to look within yourself for the answers first, and to concentrate on the fundamentals. “Do you still fancy them? Do you still like and respect them?,” she asks.
3. Support each other through the ups and downs
We’ve all been there: you’re stressed, and you take it out on your partner. Now you’re both arguing about your attitude problem and their inability to listen. Sarah says, “Relationship problems can lead to mental health problems, and vice versa, so maintaining a happy, healthy relationship should be a priority for us all”.
She suggests you “take time to really listen to what they are saying, give them space … and be mindful of what you’re saying and how you’re saying it”.
4. Move forwards, not backwards
Do you find yourself reminiscing about the early days with your partner? Sarah says you shouldn’t, because “it’s natural that you’ve both grown and changed in the time you’ve been together.”
Instead of reminiscing, she says it’s more healthy to think about new interests you can enjoy together. So, why don’t you both catch up on Black Mirror, or take a pottery class together, à la Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Ghost? The possibilities are endless (and fun!) when you put your mind to it and make time to plan.
5. Variety is the spice of life
“Eat the same meal every night and you will soon get bored of it. Why do you think that sex is any different?” Annabelle says. Does routine sex sound like something you do? Annabelle suggests you “mix it up in whatever way works for you … anything which keeps things fun and breaks the routine”.
"Breaks the routine"
And her bonus tip for those couples who consider sex to be really important: “If the sex is right everything else tends to fall into place. Always make sex a priority in a relationship”.
6. Kissing is key
Annabelle has noticed that “a lot of couples underestimate the importance of kissing, which is a shame because it’s the perfect way to establish intimacy, and is arguably the most important act of foreplay”. Before you go in all guns blazing, make sure you’re taking time to find out what your partner enjoys, which is, as Annabelle puts it, “key to kicking things off right”.
How to know when your relationship can’t be improved
Sarah says, “If you find yourself going around in circles not knowing whether to save or end your relationship, it may be helpful to talk things over with an impartial third party”.
But, you should remember that sometimes there are relationships so damaged that not even the relationship experts can help. And that’s okay. As much as you’d want to try and save a toxic relationship with someone you really love, it’d do your sanity and wellbeing a favour to ditch it.
If the cons of the relationship are outweighing the pros, the best thing to do is to let them go.
Always talk to friends and family about your concerns or reach out to experts like Sarah and Annabelle for support.