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Opinion Three quick and easy tips for strengthening your relationship over Christmas

Relationship expert Beth Wallace offers some helpful tips to maintain your communication over the holidays.

CHRISTMAS AND NEW Year, or indeed whatever holidays you celebrate, are often a time of negative stress.

There’s lots to do, lots of people to see and money to spend. Then you add any pandemic-related stress to that, which we’re all inevitably experiencing to some degree, and it’s a potential recipe for relationship tension, unresolved conflict and avoidable misery.

However, what I want to invite you to consider, as a way to ‘flip the script’, is to use your holidays as a way to consciously strengthen your relationship with your partner.

Try one or more of the following tips as an experiment. If one doesn’t appeal to or work for either of you, try a different one, and above all, try to remember to have fun – fun is one of the most important ingredients in a fulfilling relationship and is one of the first aspects of a relationship to suffer when there’s negative stress in the mix.

The following tips assume that your relationship is in reasonably good shape, that you’re not arguing a lot or feeling deeply dissatisfied in the relationship. Obviously, the following doesn’t apply to relationships where there is any kind of abuse. In those circumstances, I recommend seeking professional support.

1. Share a daily six-second kiss

Most couples, particularly those in long term relationships, fall into a habit of two types of kisses; the hello or goodbye peck or the kiss that signals an interest in sex. While both are great ways to connect there can be something missing – a deeper intimacy without it necessarily being a prelude to sex.

Relationships need physical intimacy that doesn’t always lead to sex in order to build emotional connection and maintain the bond between two people.

The Six Second Kiss releases oxytocin in our bodies, sometimes also known as ‘the bonding hormone’. Oxytocin, among other things, contributes to bonding between infant and mother and makes us feel more connected to another person.

The Six Second Kiss is simply that, a kiss that lasts for six seconds, or more, and, importantly, a kiss that doesn’t lead to sex. Yes, you do need to time it! I suggest using a timer so neither of you is distracted by counting.

It can be a soft, gentle kiss on the lips, there can be tongues if you both want them, or not, the key is simply to kiss in whatever way feels good and natural to you both for six seconds, or more, and for it not to lead to sex. Simple – and it will take you less than 10 seconds!

Try it, at least once, daily for two weeks and see what difference it makes to your relationship making sure to share your thoughts and feelings about it with each other along the way. If you find it helps you feel more connected and intimate then consider it becoming a daily routine after the experiment.

2. Show admiration and gratitude

It’s easy for many of us to focus and comment on what we don’t like about our partner, especially when we feel under pressure such as in the lead up to or the time around a big holiday or important event.

A simple way to reframe negativity and criticism, which can both be wearing on us individually as well as deeply damaging to our relationship, is to find something to express admiration for in our partner or something to feel grateful for. It’s not enough to note it for ourselves, we also need to clearly express this to our partner.

Try a daily practice of admiration or gratitude, it doesn’t need to take more than a couple of minutes at the end of each day, perhaps in bed before you go asleep. It could be as simple as; ‘’I really appreciated today when you took the dog for a walk, I know it was my turn but you could obviously see that I was tired and not in the mood. Thank you.’’

Or it could be something as simple as, ‘’I admire how you’re able to be diplomatic in situations where I can sometimes lose my temper. Thanks for keeping things calm today’’. It’s better if admiration and gratitude are expressed verbally, face to face, but if that’s not possible then maybe a text or voice message could work instead.

Try it daily for two weeks and see how it affects your relationship – it will take some time to have an effect – see how you feel about yourself, how you feel about your partner; the relationship between you. If it works for you both and feels good consider continuing it as something you do every day and, if you like, you can write down your daily admiration and gratitude and look back at them at the end of the week, month or year.

3. Spend time apart

It might seem counterintuitive to spend time apart when wanting to connect more deeply but absence really is needed for the heart to grow fonder! In relationships, if we live ‘in each other’s pockets’ there’s no opportunity to miss our partner, no space for the desire to grow and desire is essential for maintaining, among other things, a good sexual connection in relationships.

So, if you’re a couple who usually spends a lot of time together experiment with taking a night, or more, away from each other over the holidays – spend a night with a friend or family member without your partner.

Give yourself, and each other, the opportunity to feel longing, for the desire to grow, to have something new to share with your partner when you come back together. Having a rich life on our own, away from and outside our relationship, gives us more to share and talk about when coming back together.

If, however, you’re a couple who usually doesn’t get much time together, maybe only one or two evenings per week, please try a different tip!

Beth Wallace is a psychosexual therapist and Applied Psychology graduate who
specialises in relationships and sexuality. You can learn more about her and her
work by visiting her website.

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