Do you have a great love life that's just become a bit stagnant? Give me one weekend. Follow my relationship advice, and you can say goodbye to the blahs. With these simple steps, we'll give that love life -- and sex life! -- a boost into relationship bliss.
Okay, I have to start with some very tough love, and you're not going to like it. But this is a fact: Your relationship will have the best chance of survival if you let go of your romantic illusions. I'm not saying relationships can't be romantic long-term, but -- brace yourself -- most of the time they're not. What confuses us is that the same partner that excited us in the beginning can now leave us bored stupid! It's this longing for the past that causes problems in the present.
Most relationships start with a heady infusion of intoxicating hormones: You're in a bubble built for two, and there's a feeling of oneness. Over time this extreme closeness would be suffocating, but at the start it feels bloody marvelous! We want that feeling to continue forever, and when it (inevitably) doesn't, we jump to this conclusion: We've picked the wrong person. But that isn't necessarily true. This happens to every relationship eventually. (Yes, even yours.)
Real love is about leaving this fantasy behind. It might have felt like you were much more in love at the start than you are three, four or more years on, but it's actually a figment of your imagination. Real, long-term intimacy happens when the initial flush of hormones subsides. Only then are you able to see each other as you really are -- and a deeper, more satisfying, realistic love replaces the romantic one.
Find out whom you're in love with
Lots of couples talk to each other. Few listen properly and without judgment. This exercise teaches you good principles for both. It's also designed for you to get to know your partner as he is now, as opposed to how he was when you first met. That was probably the last time you allowed each other to talk uninterrupted, without making a comment or silent judgment about what the other was saying!
I've written the instructions of how it works from the perspective of the person doing the listening. And yes, this will have to be you at some point, so grit your teeth and volunteer to go first! Now, I'm going to be Ms. Bossy Boots for this one and insist you follow the rules, or it simply won't work.
Saturday: Repairing your relationship
You each get a turn to talk to the other for half an hour -- no more, no less.
When you're talking, you can only talk about yourself, not about your partner or the relationship. Focus generally on your emotions, your needs, what you've learned from books or films, your friends, your job, what you like about yourself, what you don't, how you're enjoying life and how you're coping with life's struggles.
You're not allowed to interrupt or even comment on what's been said. Your job is simply to listen and try to understand the person talking.
Watch your facial expressions and body language. Nod supportively. Say, "Uh-huh." Smile encouragingly. Sitting there sulking or with a thunderous expression is going to thwart the whole exercise.
If you really, really, really must comment on something your partner's said, wait a full 24 hours. Then, if you still can't help yourself, you're allowed 10 minutes max. One other catch on replying: The comments can only be positive. If you think there's a problem, for instance, outline it quickly, then spend the rest of the time talking about possible solutions. For example: "Your comments about your close friendship with your female coworker have made me realize we need to discuss boundaries," rather than, "I can't believe you've been spending so much time with Anna without telling me, you miserable bugger."
After doing this exercise, don't be surprised if you both feel a little unnerved. You've probably just discovered things about your partner you didn't know -- and that's why you feel slightly nervous. Who is this person? You thought you knew him inside out! What a shock, eh? But after all, you don't own each other and can't control how you both feel. Relax and go with the uncertainty. Taking your partner completely for granted is what kills most relationships. It does both of you good to not feel 100 percent sure of each other.
Repeat this session once a week for a month, and you'll find you start to listen properly without it having to be a structured exercise.
Talk about this together, then make a pact to not expect the impossible from each other. Once you agree to be realistic about your expectations of each other, the relief is enormous! You'll feel like a weight has been lifted -- I promise.
Get exactly what you want
Another classic relationship mistake: Assuming that because your partner loves you, he knows what you need to be happy. Sadly, love doesn't magically transform us into mind readers, so we rely on the next best thing: We assume that what makes us happy will make our partner happy. That, as you can imagine, predictably leads to unmitigated disasters. He gives you tickets to the playoffs for your birthday along with the latest Nintendo game. You give him an inspirational self-help book and dinner in a romantic (read: stuffy) restaurant.
To completely guarantee a life of misery, we take this warped thinking even further. We assume that if our partner doesn't behave the way we would in a particular situation, he doesn't care about us. Cue typical couple arguments about things like anniversaries (some people place importance on them, others don't) and chatting up your best friend (seen as charming her by one, flirting by another). But happily, there is a way to fix this sorry situation. It's called being clear about what you both want. Sounds easy enough, right? Here's how it works:
For the next month, you take turns having "me" days until the month is up.
On each of your "me" days, you get to ask for something you'd like from your partner that makes you happy. It might be something as simple as asking him to please pick you up on time, massage your shoulders while you're watching telly or hold your hand while taking a walk.
Clearly state what you'd like your partner to do, giving as much detail as possible. The idea is to get into the habit of asking for what you need and want in order to be happy, instead of expecting your partner to second-guess.
Pay attention to what your partner asks for. Write down what he's requested, and you'll have a list of his real needs and wants, rather than what you think he wants or doesn't want.
Don't just maintain -- nurture
When you start a new relationship, your focus is on nurturing your sex life. You're learning about your partner's body -- what he likes and doesn't like -- with beginner's lust fueling your curiosity. If you're like most couples, once you think you've got each other figured out, you move from nurturing your sex life into maintaining it.
Six weeks into your relationship, the proportion is around 80 percent nurturing to 20 percent maintenance. Six years on, it's more like 0 percent nurturing to 100 percent maintenance. To keep sex good long-term, you have to continue to nurture. This means putting thought and energy into sex -- like you did in the beginning!
Sunday: Your Sex Life
Take turns with "sex spoil sessions." Every fifth time you have sex, one of you spoils the other with things you know your partner will enjoy. (Note the emphasis on what your partner enjoys, not what you enjoy.) This might be as simple as giving him a gloriously thorough working over with your tongue -- or involve you packing a picnic to head off for alfresco sex.
Take a sexual inventory. Write suggested sexual activities on two sheets of paper, then each of you rates them from hot (would love to try) to warm, lukewarm and cold. Add your own, but choose from things like spanking, role-playing, semipublic sex, tie-up games, blindfolding, talking dirty, anal sex and watching or making erotic films. When you're done, make note of the activities that scored high(-ish) for both of you. Try one every two weeks or once a month.
Turn your bedroom into a sex den
Sex in your average bedroom is a yawn. Sex in an erotic, exotic playroom is sexier than that recurring fantasy of your favorite celebrity walking into your bedroom just as you're reaching in that bedside drawer... You get the picture. Some essentials:
Soundproof it for kids/roommates/your mother when she comes to stay. Heavy curtains and carpets soak up sound. If you're deadly serious, install sound-insulating board on any adjoining walls. A lazy but still effective option is to put in a sound system or radio. Music masks all sorts of happy noises.
For the most flattering lighting, light from below or at eye level. Dimmers are the next best thing and can match whatever mood you're in. A simple, quick fix in the meantime: Put tea lights on saucers on the floor (keep them a safe distance from bedcovers or enthusiastically thrown bras, knickers or boxers).
The simplest thing is to add mirrors to wardrobe doors so they can be angled to provide good views of the bed. Even sneakier: a full-length portable mirror, which you can move into whatever position grabs your fancy at the time.
Everyone needs a special drawer within reaching distance from the bed. Fill it with massage oil, stockings and scarves for tie-up, sleep masks from your last plane flight to act as a blindfold, lubricant, condoms, erotic books or movies, sexy clothes, vibrators and other sex toys.
A firm mattress makes for better sex. Clean, fresh, good-quality sheets lure you to lie naked on them. Cushions are a must for putting under hips, supporting limbs or making other places around the house sex-friendly.