mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor’s in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
December 29, 2021 — 14:24 PM
For couples who’ve navigated the past year successfully, consider that a major win. Just like 2020, the year 2021 was another case of unpredictability, trials, and tribulations. Without recounting everything that’s gone down in the past year, the point is, there’s no doubt it put relationships to the test.
With buzzwords like “gaslighting” and “codependency” hitting the mainstream, it would appear more and more people are waking up to unhealthy relationship dynamics–and healthy ones–in an effort to improve their relationships.
So, we rounded up some of the best pieces of relationship advice we heard from experts this year so couples can continue to flourish in 2022.
Never stop dancing with each other.
“Dancing is attunement. With dancing, there’s a nonverbal attunement to the rhythm of another, the body of another, the motion of another. It is the one thing you cannot do and be [sad] at the same time. You can paint and cry; you can write and cry; you can listen to music and weep, but you can’t dance and weep. It energizes you. It enlivens you. I’ve spent hours watching elderly couples dance together, and it is grace; it is elegant; it is erotic; it is alive.”
—Esther Perel, psychotherapist and world-renowned relationship expert
One of the best things you can do in your relationship is find the balance between connection and autonomy.
“The two central drives for human beings are autonomy (control of our individuality) and attachment (urge for relationship). Healthy maturation means that we are able to achieve both of these and balance them in our lives. The ability to balance our needs for autonomy and attachment is called differentiation. Differentiation is a biological process that occurs in all species. For humans, it is about becoming more of an individual and a solid person through relationships with others. It is the ability to separate ourselves from others. Differentiation allows us to feel our own subjective reality–bodies, emotions, and thoughts–as separate from another person while being in relationship with another person.”
—Jordan Dann, MFA, L.P., CIRT, licensed psychoanalyst
Yes, there are some instances when you can be friends with an ex–but not always.
Great relationships start with great sleep.*
“Being friends with your ex can be a good idea when other aspects of the relationship were valuable to your growth, development, or life goals. If you and your ex identify that you make better business partners, workout buddies, or friends, and you are able to maintain healthy boundaries with each other, then creating an authentic friendship could work. If you discover that you or your ex are unable to maintain boundaries with each other, then you should cut ties. If you truly want to move on and find that your ex is still occupying the romantic space that your future partner should have access to, then it’s a good idea to cut things off completely with your ex.”
—Weena Cullins, LCMFT, licensed marriage therapist
Stop stressing about how much you have sex, and focus on how much intimacy you have.
“The point of sex, from my point of view, is to share pleasure with your partner and to feel connected in the process. Spend intimate time together, without pressure to hit a goal or do a certain thing. Sex is like going to the playground. It’s the outing that counts, not whether you go down the slide. We don’t need an agenda; we can get inspired in the moment and do what we feel like doing. The truth is that you literally cannot fail. Any shared outing like that is a success.”
—Jessa Zimmerman, M.A., certified sex therapist and marriage counselor
Cultivating “aperture awareness” can help deepen your connection and resolve arguments faster.
“The problem with all of these ways of dealing with conflict is that they lack an awareness of what’s actually happening for you and your partner in the present. That’s where aperture awareness comes in. During conflict, begin to pay attention in each moment as you interact with your partner. Notice your sense of openness, or closedness, also known as your emotional aperture. Aperture awareness is a felt sensation. Just as we do not ‘see’ by consciously thinking about the information our eyes absorb, we do not become aware of our emotional openness through thought and analysis. Rather, we learn to feel it, to become aware of it, and then to pay close and careful attention. Simply asking yourself, ‘Do I feel open or closed right now?’ directs your attention to this felt experience. With practice, the experience of aperture awareness becomes more accessible.”
—Kathryn Ford, M.D., licensed psychotherapist
Understand the difference between love and limerence.
“With limerence, you may find yourself hyper-focusing on the subject of your affection (the limerent object) and their positive characteristics to the point of ignoring existing flaws and directing your intense, irrational emotions toward the idea of what they represent for you instead of who that person actually is in reality. Love is rooted in connection, intimacy, mutuality, and reality, whereas limerence is rooted in possession, obsession, jealousy, and delusions. The version you may have built about the person is simply a glorified and exaggerated fantasy made specifically to represent the fulfillment of [your] unmet needs. The preoccupation with them can result in a significant decrease of functionality in your other relationships and responsibilities.”
—Silva Depanian, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Show appreciation for each other every single day.
“Every successful company has a foundational commitment to ensuring that the people who are part of the culture feel seen, heard, and valued. People choose to continue to work in an environment where they know they have an impact, and the only way they know they have an impact is because someone told them so. In relationships, a robust appreciation practice is a tremendous way to ward off resentment and criticism. Making daily deposits of appreciation into the bank account of your relationship will also develop a culture of goodwill and high regard. The daily appreciations you offer your partner will create a reserve of generosity and trust, which will serve your partnership during inevitable moments of conflict.”
—Jordan Dann, MFA, L.P., CIRT, licensed psychoanalyst
If you struggle with codependency, focus on releasing attachment.
“Releasing attachment to outcome requires a willingness to tolerate the unknown and live with uncertainty. It’s critical to practice this regularly when you’re trying to overcome codependency. Part of what maintains the cycle of codependent behaviors is the fear of disappointing someone whose opinion matters to you, or of being ‘disliked.’ Releasing outcome simply means learning to tolerate the possibility of disappointing important others in your life. Yes, you may disappoint people. Yes, they may temporarily have negative feelings toward you. You don’t have to be happy about this possibility, but you do need to practice tolerating it, so you can be freer to be you.”
—Alicia Mu?oz, LPC, certified couples’ therapist
Make a conscious effort to stay curious about your partner and continue getting to know them.
“We have this almost conceit that we know exactly how they’re going to behave in a given situation. There’s some beauty in accepting the ‘unknowableness’ of somebody and priming yourself to look for what’s different about that person rather than retreating into, ‘I know what they’re going to do, I know the end of this movie.’ Instead of looking for what you know, look for something that’s different about them in some way.”
—Samantha Boardman, M.D., positive psychiatrist