Category Archives: The Relationship Couch

New relationship? Watch for these subtle early red flags

You likely know that gaslighting, uncontrolled temper, any form of abuse and contempt are bright red flags when it comes to dating. Because these behaviors are so obvious and toxic, it’s easier to end things before your relationship gets worse.

But what about the subtle red flags when you first start dating someone? 

These are behaviors that you might not like but aren’t sure if it’s worth walking away. In the throes of infatuation and when you start falling in love, it’s easy to overlook or minimize certain behaviors. After all, when you find someone new, your body is hijacked by hormones that push you to ignore your date’s…not-so-stellar actions. 

I want to save you time and heartache from being with the wrong fit, so before you find yourself deeply attached, watch for these subtle signs that show themselves early on:

1. They engage in double standard behavior. This means that their rules and beliefs apply to you—but not to them. They don’t want you to stay in touch with exes, but they think it’s okay for them to text their ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. They expect total honesty from you, but allow themselves to bend the truth or omit important information. They’re allowed to cancel plans if they need a night in, but if you do it, they guilt trip you. They give themselves the freedom to act however they want to act—but try to suppress your freedom. Since you’re held accountable but they rarely are, you’ll feel resentment and distrust sooner rather than later. 

2. They’re critical. You get criticized for even the most basic of things, like the shirt you picked out, how you chop a vegetable, or that you’d prefer to binge a Netflix show rather than take part in an activity. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells like you can’t do or say anything right, and that your every movement is being looked at under a microscope. When you see criticism early on, it can be a sign that they have high anxiety, control issues, or really expect you to be someone else. Whatever the reason, they probably won’t ever be satisfied with you. You deserve someone who will accept you and appreciate you for who you are. It’s one thing if someone inspires you to grow in a better direction, but it’s another thing entirely if they point out your flaws, make you feel miserable, or want to change you. 

3. They refuse to understand your perspective. If a relationship is going to succeed, it’s important that both people feel validated. In other words, they need to feel that their partner “gets them.” However, if you find that you’re sharing your feelings and experiences, and they never attune to your needs, you’ll never feel emotionally safe. If they routinely dismiss, minimize, or ridicule you, it’s simple: they’re not ready to be with you. Inevitably you won’t feel comfortable sharing your innermost thoughts, and then what’s the point? Find someone who wants to hear about your colorful inner world and validates you. This is what makes intimacy happen.

4. They’re unwilling to put in the effort. You’ve expressed your needs—but your new partner isn’t meeting them. They say they’re going to take care of something, and then they “keep forgetting.” You tell them something is important to you but they don’t do anything about it. In essence, you feel like you’re carrying the relationship. If you don’t see effort in the beginning—during the time that most people go over-the-top to impress their new significant other—don’t expect things to change. If they’re not interested in putting in the effort now, they’re not going to put it in later, and you’ll never be able to rely on them or feel like you matter—and you should feel like you matter.

5. They don’t show appreciation. You went out of your way to buy them a thoughtful gift and they responded with “cool.” You worked overtime so you could spend a day with them—and they don’t acknowledge your efforts. You read the book they’ve passionately talked about, and they give a shrug when you share. Appreciation acts as a buffer against negativity, and without it, a relationship can head toward a downward spiral. Appreciation also increases the amount of respect and affection in a relationship. It doesn’t always have to be expressed verbally, but you should be consistently building a culture of appreciation. And again, in the beginning, it should be easy to point out all of the wonderful things about you. Without consistent appreciation, you’ll miss out on the surplus of positivity that’s needed to roll with the inevitable ups and downs of a relationship. 

So here’s the deal. Sometimes, even the best partners occasionally raise a red flag. They’re human. We’re human. Sometimes we forget to compliment our partner. Sometimes we really do forget about something important. We’re imperfect. They’re imperfect. However, these red flags should be few and far between. If these behaviors seem to have taken up permanent residence in your relationship—and they’re the rule, not the exception—proceed with caution, and think about what you’re putting yourself through. You want to be in a healthy relationship that is generally free of these five red flags.

First Date Anxiety—the Do’s and Don’ts 

So you have a date! Maybe you swiped lucky, maybe an awesome friend set you up, or maybe—just maybe—you read my 9-step guide and are now getting more new matches. Whatever the reason, if your excitement is paired with a rush of anxiety, you’re not alone. 

While some of us can roll with dates like it’s just any meetup, some of us can’t. Some of us have so much anxiety that it’s actually getting in the way of a second date.

If this sounds like you—read on. If it doesn’t sound like you—also read on, because when the time comes, you’ll be able to give your friends a pre-dating pep talk. 

First, the Don’ts:

Don’t have a pre-date drink or shot. I get it. A quick one for the nerves, right? The problem is, you don’t want to risk getting drunk. You may think, “Oh, but I’ll only have one or two on the date. I’ll be just fine.” But what if it’s a really good date? What if it’s one of those dates you don’t want to end? You risk over-serving yourself, which brings me to #2…

Don’t over-serve yourself during the date. It’s common to be overly concerned with wanting your date to like you. And, you think, the more you drink, the more carefree you feel. The thing is, people can be super dismissive about drinking habits early on, especially when they don’t know you just yet. You risk your date assuming getting drunk is a regular thing for you, and won’t give you another chance. You’ll be better off telling them you get a little nervous on a first date but that you’ll warm up when you feel comfortable.

Don’t futurize. I know this is a hard one. As conversations unfold, and you’re vibing pretty well, halt that imagination! Don’t start thinking about what it would be like to bring a plus-one to your friend’s wedding that’s happening in two months. Don’t think of finally having a date for Valentine’s Day. And for the love of God, don’t even think about your wedding day hashtags. When you futurize, you can put pressure on yourself to make a relationship work, and this allows us to start falling in love with the fantasy—which usually blinds us to the reality. 

Don’t take it personally. I saved the hardest don’t for last. To put this in perspective, you don’t know the emotional, physical, or mental state that your date is in when you meet up with them. They could be pining for an ex, nursing a bruised ego, bored AF, searching for the ever-elusive spark, hoping to get laid, etc. If you don’t hear from them ever again, don’t overanalyze. This really isn’t about you. Instead, focus on the next first date. 

And now, the Do’s…

Do remind yourself your date is a stranger. Say it with me: “My date is a stranger.” This is a mantra I teach my anxious clients to say to themselves before they walk into a date. Even if you had a strong online connection before meeting IRL, you still don’t actually know your date well enough to know if they’re going to be a good fit for you. Your date could be super charming…but what if they have a temper? Or they have a history of cheating on every partner they’ve had? Don’t get anxious over someone who could be a terrible fit for you. Remind yourself that you’re having a conversation…with a stranger. So say it with me again: “My date is a stranger.”

Do remember that your date is not—and will never be—perfect. Your date may look great on paper, and this might trigger anxiety because “someone like that” shows interest. This is a problem because you’re already putting your date on a pedestal, which puts you in a one-down position. Usually this causes people to work too hard, as they feel like they need to go the extra mile to impress. This also causes people to miss red flags. So ask yourself, “Do I like them? Can they meet my needs?” 

Do be prepared with stories. Common dating advice is to be prepared with questions. And yes, you definitely should have some good questions. But stories are also crucial. Because when people share stories, they come alive. So think about something funny that’s happened to you, so you can show off your humor. Or share something that is meaningful, so your date can see some depth. Some of my clients get the message from dates that they’re hard to read, but when they were prepared with stories, their personalities shined through. Again, questions are great, but make sure it doesn’t sound like an interview. Telling stories is how we connect, and sharing is sexy, so do it. 

Do practice with the maybes. Do you prefer to find someone who is Jewish, but you see a cute Catholic? Swipe right. Have you never dated someone with children, but see a pretty mom? Swipe right. Instead of exclusively going for that hottie who checks every single box on paper, go for the maybe. It’s low-pressure because they may already come to the table with a deal breaker. And one of the best ways of working through anxiety is repeated exposure. You’ll be reminded that you can be engaging, you do have a fun personality, and you can survive a two-hour date…and who knows…maybe you’ll find that your deal breakers aren’t really deal breakers after all. 

A 9-Step Guide to Refresh Your Dating Life in the New Year

Dating can be draining, time-consuming, and just plain horrible. Between catfishing, misrepresentations and exaggerations, and the plethora of emotionally unavailable people on the dating apps, the struggle to put yourself out there is real. 

The almost 2-year long pandemic has been a blessing to some and a curse to others. Some singles have taken a more intentional approach to dating amid Covid concerns, while others have found it even more difficult to meet someone. 

As 2022 draws near, some of you may be getting ready for a fresh start, and “Dating Sunday” is around the corner. 2021 will be behind you, and with a new year comes new hope and a renewed desire for love. If you’re ready to find love, here’s a 9-step guide to maximize your dating potential:

1. Get photos ready. 

2. Pick out your outfits.

3. Download 1-2 dating apps. 

4. Choose your swipe times.

5. Mentally prepare yourself. 

6. Meet IRL asap. 

7. Consider the singles around you.

8. Stay present and engaged.

9. Nix the excuses.

1. Get photos ready. If you’re not getting many swipes, start with your photos—you know, ones filled with good lighting and real smiles. I can’t stress enough the importance of this. Enough with the car selfies, bathroom selfies, group shots, and sunglasses in almost every photo. Have 2-3 pictures with a clear, non-blurry view of your face, and at least 2 full body shots. Keep them recent within the last 2 years. Get feedback from your friends on which pictures they think are best. Hire a professional photographer if you need to. Misrepresenting yourself reflects your insecurity, and deception is a bad way to start off a date—so just don’t do it.

2. Pick out your outfits. Pick out your power date clothes. Maybe it’s a shirt that accentuates your broad shoulders, or a skirt that shows off your killer legs, or nice jeans that cinch your waist at the perfect spot. Confidence is sexy—and one of the main characteristics that singles look for in a partner. Because when you look good, you feel good, and it can give you that added boost against first date anxiety. Get input from your friends or go to Nordstrom and ask for help from one of their stylists. 

3. Download 1-2 dating apps. Clients will ask me what dating apps are the best, but I tell them it depends on each person. Some people have met their spouse on Tinder, others call it a “cesspool.” Others swear by Bumble. Hinge has marketed itself as a relationship app, attracting singles who are ready to find a long-term relationship. So start with 2 apps and use them for a few weeks. Each has their pros and cons, and you can stick with 1-2 that suit you best. 

4. Choose your swipe times. Some of my clients who are single also think in order to maintain a connection, they have to communicate throughout the day—but for most people, this isn’t realistic. Dating fatigue is real. Finding motivation to not only swipe but to engage in conversation and get yourself off the couch can be downright taxing. If you dread something, you won’t do it, so make it manageable by choosing the right swipe times. Instead of scrolling through social media when you wake up or before you go to sleep, connect on the apps instead. If you’re finished with lunch a little earlier, take a few minutes to respond to messages. Play around with your environment and set yourself up for success by finding the times that work best for you. You can even make it a ritual!

5. Mentally prepare yourself. Rejection sucks. I know it’s easier said than done, but do try not to take things personally. You’re meeting all kinds of people in various stages, and some people will not be honest or forthcoming, at least not at first. It can be easier on your mental health if you keep a healthy pipeline of options instead of just focusing on one person at a time (unless you’re avoidantly attached—then don’t do this. For you avoidants, focus on why you should be dating someone as opposed to why you shouldn’t).

6. Meet IRL asap. Once you’ve established a decent connection with a match, meet IRL as soon as possible. An online connection doesn’t always translate to an in-person connection. Picking a partner involves all five senses…how they look, how they smell, the sound of their voice, how they taste when you kiss, whether you welcome their touch or withdraw from it. You can’t make it work with just anybody, even if your online connection is strong. 

7. Consider the singles around you. Although dating apps can introduce you to people you wouldn’t normally meet, single people are alive and well off of the apps. Maybe the cute guy in the checkout lane at the grocery store or the woman sitting at Starbucks. Some people abhor dating apps, so make yourself available to meet someone in person. I’ve worked with too many people who are anti-app but when I ask them, “Oh, so you approach people when you’re out?” They say no. You won’t get a date if you don’t put in the effort. Flirt: make eye contact, smile, and see what happens. Use your swagger, not your swipes. If you’re too nervous, take on the mindset that you’re just having a conversation with a stranger. Who knows what will happen!

8. Stay present and engaged. I’m sure every person who’s used a dating app has experienced conversations that go nowhere, a match who doesn’t respond at all, and has met a ghost or two. If you’re on the apps, stay engaged when you’re on it. Ask questions — and answer them (as long as they’re reasonable). It really fucks with people to connect over and over again with zero results—so respect people’s time, and don’t go MIA. If you can’t commit enough time on an app to get to know someone, then find another hobby until you can. 

9. Nix the excuses. I’ll date when: I lose 10 pounds, when I get a better job, when all my friends are married and I’m actually alone. You may never be fully ready to date because no matter what, dating requires vulnerability. Acting perfect is a façade—and no one should expect that perfect reality. Life is messy. Love is messy. Relationships are less about being perfect and more about handling the inevitable missteps along the way. Don’t waste time waiting for the ideal time when opportunity could be passing you by.  

Despite what Hollywood and Hallmark tells you, love doesn’t just fall into your lap when you least expect it. You have to put in the time and the effort to find the love of your life—which will make a wonderful story worth telling.

7 Dating & Relationship Tips for the “Emotionally Unavailable” Man

When I wrote about the “21 Subtle Signs You’re Dating an Emotionally Unavailable Man,” I was overwhelmed with the responses. But they weren’t the responses I was expecting.

My inbox wasn’t flooded with ex-partners telling me how validated they feel, questions about whether or not a partner is emotionally distant, nor suggestions on signs that I missed.

Rather, the responses were predominantly men who realized that they were ‘emotionally unavailable’ once they read the article. The list resonated with them personally. They felt seen. 

And, well. They didn’t like what they saw. 

They told me they didn’t want to feel that way. It was apparent that many wanted to change, but they didn’t know how to fix themselves. They didn’t want to be stuck in the dating world, forever exchanging one shallow relationship for another. They saw their future as lonely and gloomy—and they didn’t want that. Many of them did in fact yearn for a strong connection with a partner, but just didn’t know where to start.  

The good news? Wanting to change is a necessary first step. Changes like this only happen if it’s a real desire. Of course, it won’t happen overnight, but building this ability for intimacy is crucial to having a rewarding relationship. 

And I promise you, it will change your life. 

So without further ado, here are seven tips to making yourself more available to your partner:

  1. Identify your distancing strategies. First things first: know yourself. Your distancing strategies are ways you create emotional or physical distance between you and your partner, which suppress intimacy. It’s likely you do this so often, that it’s become natural. You might not even be aware of what you’re doing when you create sudden uncertainty, and pull back in a relationship. Some examples include: You focus on your partner’s imperfections, you keep future plans fuzzy, and you ignore or diminish your partner’s positive qualities or behaviors. (Check out the blog for more). Do anything of these sound familiar? It might be tough to look at yourself so critically, but remind yourself that despite your discomfort with intimacy, you need it for a fulfilling relationship. You need to for a happy future. 
  2. Speak up for your need for space. Let’s make one thing clear: You will always have a need for space. The best relationships are made by two independent people. So the problem isn’t your need for space, rather it’s how you’re going about seeking this space. So, speak up. The earlier you do this the better, so they’ll be less likely to take it personally. Ideally, you’ll bring it up after the first handful of dates and you’re starting to get to know each other. Some ideas include: “If we spend a whole day together, I might not text you as much the next day or two,” or “I don’t like to text daily when I first start dating someone.” Be kind, but honest.
  3. Do an activity when you bring up important topics with big feelings. You’re not crazy. It’s been shown that it’s far easier for you to let your guard down if there’s a bit of distraction—and you’re both engaging in an activity together. Getting into deep conversations can seem overwhelming when you’re just sitting on the couch looking at each other. So bring up important subjects while you’re cooking dinner together, going for a walk, or cleaning the house. When you’re not hyper-focused on an intimate moment, but rather on the activity, it can help you access your loving feelings instead of repressing them.
  4. Envision secure people and how they behave in their relationships. You know who I’m talking about. Secure people are warm and loving, comfortable with closeness, communicate issues well, and work toward common ground during conflict. Pick 2-3 people (they can be fictitious or real) and write down how they would act and react in various situations. Consider how they interact with their partner. How do they respond to them? What are their overarching beliefs about relationships? Then, channel what you’re imagining. Strive to engage with others the ways that emotionally-secure people do. Don’t overwhelm yourself and try everything at once; pick one behavior to try every week or so, and slowly incorporate them into your daily life. 
  5. Tell people what they mean to you. This will be easier if you start with a non-romantic partner. At the end of a phone call with a friend, just say something simple, such as, “Hey, I really appreciate you listening to me today. You’re a good listener and I always feel like you understand where I’m coming from. It means a lot.” When I give this task to my clients, their reaction is always amazement. They’re often surprised at how much the kind words meant to their friend, and how often the sentiment was reciprocated. So little by little, you will see the positive results of this practice. It will pay off dividends as you strive to become more emotionally accessible to your romantic partner.
  6. Challenge your negative interpretations of your partner’s behavior. If you struggle with intimacy, you might ignore positive behaviors, or at least diminish their value. This viewpoint, whether internally felt or externally spoken, can overwhelm your relationship with negativity. Once you begin to stay on this loop of negativity, the relationship won’t be fun for either of you. So, start by giving your partner the benefit of the doubt. What if their intentions were positive? What if they were just trying to do the right thing? 
  7. Challenge your catastrophizing beliefs. Let’s say your new girlfriend invites you on a romantic weekend getaway—and your brain can only think that this means you’re one step closer to marriage and a life in the suburbs. Or maybe she invites you to hang out with her nieces and nephews, and you assume you’re practicing for parenthood. Pump the breaks. It only means she wants to spend quality time with you for a couple of days, and it definitely doesn’t mean she sees you in her future forever. Bring yourself to focus on the moment at hand, and try to avoid applying meaning that doesn’t exist.

It is possible to become more emotionally available. But it will take effort and intention. Over time, these little changes applied consistently will give you the kind of relationship that deep down, you’ve always wanted.

21 Subtle Signs You’re Dating an Emotionally Unavailable Man

Let’s get this out of the way: Dating an emotionally unavailable man doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s abusive, manipulative, or a jerk. 

More often than not, these men can be good guys. They can make you laugh until your abs hurt. They can be polite and treat you with respect. They listen. And over time, as conversation flows, it can start to feel like you’ve met a new best friend.

On one hand, you’re having a good time. The relationship is exclusive and things seem like they’re steadily progressing, which keeps your hope alive. Yet then he pulls away very suddenly. Maybe you can’t put your finger exactly on how he’s pulled away, but you feel it. Sure, you’re still seeing him, which keeps your candle burning for him. And you convince yourself that he’ll be able to give you that emotional intimacy needed to build a meaningful relationship, if you give him a little more time....

Sadly, here’s the hard truth. Many of these men may never be able to meet your need for closeness (at least not without months or even years of self-initiated serious self-work). If he’s showing several of the following 21 signs, chances are, he’s emotionally unavailable — and, sadly, probably no longer worth your time. 

  1. He won’t contact you every day. Do you go days without hearing from your man? If you’re in a serious relationship, it’s normal to touch base every day. Not connecting with a text or phone call isn’t good manners—it shows that he’s not all that worried about your emotional needs.
  1. You feel excluded from his life. He may attend a wedding without you, despite your request to go with him. He requests time to hang out with friends without you—and not just a “guys’ night” but includes co-ed instances too. Do you feel like his friends would even know who you are? 
  1. You haven’t met the family. You’ve been dating for months and you haven’t met one single family member yet. You may rationalize it as he’s just not ready — but this isn’t normal. 
  1. He won’t leave any of his things at your place. Leaving things at your place makes him uneasy. This is because this just means too much commitment. He likely won’t give you a drawer at his place either unless you ask.
  1. He won’t go on vacation with you. Getting away together can transform relationships and bring you closer. This makes him wary. He doesn’t like the idea of traveling just the two of you. 
  1. He’s a penny pincherbut only with you. He’ll spend money on himself and be generous with others, but will make comments when you’re with him about not wanting to spend too much money.
  1. He talks about how much he values his independence. He says he’s always been independent and values being self-sufficient. And more often than not, this is code for: “I don’t need you.” In tandem, he’ll probably say you’re “too needy” or “dependent” — for simply asking for basic relationship interactions. 
  1. He avoids physical closeness. He won’t hold your hand in public. As far as others around you are concerned, the two of you are just friends, because there are no signs of affection between the two of you. He may also walk ahead of you. Sure, you may be a slow walker, but walking ahead of you creates distance, and that distance will make him feel comfortable.
  1. He won’t put up photos of the two of you. You’ve been dating for months and he crops you out of his profile picture. He’ll post a picture to Instagram to take a pic of his food and show off his dish—but won’t include the babe sitting across the table from him.
  1. He takes more than he gives. Good relationships are about give and take. Not in a tit-for-tat way, but both of you want to meet each other’s needs. If you’re with an emotionally unavailable guy, you feel like you’re doing way more for the relationship than he is.
  1. He doesn’t consider you. He gets dinner for himself but doesn’t pick up anything for you. He decides to apply for a job out of state without asking how you would feel about it. When it comes to his decision-making, it just doesn’t feel like you’re in the equation. 
  1. He changed. When you first met, he was charming, swept you off of your feet, and let you know that you were the only woman he wanted to be with. And now, he does the minimum to keep the relationship going. Gone are the declarations about his feelings and your future. Sometimes you may wonder why he’s even still with you since he doesn’t seem to care.
  1. He avoids talking about the relationship and your future. He gives you just enough to think you do have a future, but you’re not 100% sure where you stand in his life and what his intentions really are.
  1. He avoids difficult talks in general. Emotionally unavailable men will avoid difficult talks. Working through conflict can bring a couple closer together, and closeness is exactly what he wants to avoid.
  1. You have sex but you don’t make love. When you’re together physically, you feel like he’s still not fully present or connected. You may still have fun having sex, but there’s still a part of him that he’s holding back. You may even be the one who wants sex more often than him.
  1. He has unrealistic views of a relationship. Maybe he believes in the Hollywood I-always-want-to-take-your-clothes-off kind of relationship. Or maybe he believes good relationships should be effortless. Or that the fun feelings should just always be there. Basically: he wants the “X factor” and doesn’t realize he needs to do the work. 
  1. His exes’ descriptions say it all. If you were to talk to his ex-girlfriend, you might hear words like, “emotional zombie,” “human popsicle,” or “iceberg,” or they’ll describe hitting a “wall.”
  1. He nitpicks. He focuses on small things like the way you talk or dress. You feel criticized over things that don’t matter and don’t feel accepted by him. Nitpicking is a way for him to diminish his feelings toward you, to assert his independence, and ultimately create emotional distance. 
  1. He’s hot and cold. After a particularly intimate time spent together, he distances for a few days. It’s as though the man he was when he was with you is gone, and you’re left thinking: what the heck is happening? 
  1. He won’t spontaneously say those three little words. He rarely, if ever, says “I love you” unless you say it first. And if you’ve been dating your guy for years, spending more time with him won’t increase the frequency. 
  1. You’ve become anxious. You’re normally confident, happy, and have a positive attitude. But with him, you’re over-analyzing, spending time wondering about your relationship, and your friends are sick of getting screenshots to help you decipher his texts. Likely, you’re experiencing more anxiety and uncertainty than you do when you’re single. 

So, what should you do? 

My advice? You either need to lower your expectations because he can never give you what you need (at least not without that serious self-work), or just cut him loose so you don’t waste your time. You’d be better off finding a man who has the ability to be and give you what you need. 

17 Ways to Improve Your Relationship Without Counseling

Are you or your partner resistant to relationship counseling? 

Are you short on time? Money? Accessible therapists?

Or, maybe, your or your partner are just wary of the idea. And I get it. I hear from many clients that going to counseling is akin to admitting failure. 

But as a relationship therapist, I’ve seen over and over that going counseling is the opposite of accepting failure. I also believe it’s better to go sooner than later. Far too often worn-out couples end their sessions telling me, “Wow…I wish I knew all of this sooner!”

Yet, for all kinds of reasons, counseling is not always an option. Still, the fact remains: there are no short cuts in a happy relationship. 

It’s true that some couples intuitively know how to connect naturally. Most, however, stumble and fall and need some outside help. As we live in a world that increasingly makes maintaining intimacy harder and harder — I’ve come up with a on how you can help each other without having to walk into my office. 

Note: It would be ideal to have you and your partner both try the following tips so share this list with them. But if they’re unwilling, you can do them yourself. Sometimes one person changing a pattern can have a positive domino effect on the other partner and relationship!

1. Turn toward each other. The Gottman Institute’s research shows just how important it is to acknowledge when your partner is trying to get your attention. But it can be easy to miss their signals, especially if you’re out of the habit. Try to pay more attention to when they’re wanting your attention and respond warmly. And if you give a bid for attention, and your partner misses it, you can gently point out, “Hey honey, that was a bid...I need your attention.” 

2. Kiss passionately. I’ll ask my couples when was the last time that they kissed passionately or made out. Too often, they can’t remember. Get back into those times of dating. Make out. Kiss spontaneously. Kiss just because. It doesn’t always need to lead to sex. (But it can.…)

3. Meet your partner’s top Love Language. Take the quiz and share your results. Define your top love language in as many concrete ways as you can think of. Here are some ideas to help you get started. 

4. Keep away your stressors. Non-relationship stressors can spill over into your relationship and cause problems. Have a gripe fest where you each spend 10 minutes griping about your day and any stressors you’re dealing with. (Note: your relationship is off the table for discussion!)

5. Manage your differences. Your differences won’t go away. And everyone is going to have differences. Couples can get stuck because they dig in their heels and try to make their partner change. It’s a lot easier on you both if you accept your differences and compromise. Identify what is most important to you for each topic, and where you can be flexible on the rest. 

6. Have integrity. Trust is so important in a relationship, and one of the ways to build and maintain it is to focus on having integrity. Do what you say you’re going to do.  One of the sexiest things you can do for your partner is to consistently follow through.

7. Become pros at de-escalation. Sometimes a communication problem is really an emotional management problem. Learn to sooth yourself and each other, especially during a conflict discussion. You can practice deep breathing exercises, counting to 10 before responding. One of my clients says, “Can I have a pause?” Take time a time out with a distraction — a 5-minute breather, a quick glass of water. Find out what works for you. 

8. Check your assumptions. We are bombarded with so many thoughts a day that making assumptions are crucial just to survive. But when it comes to relationships, it’s important to challenge them for their accuracy. One of my favorite tools to do this is Brené Brown’s The Story I’m Making Up. Try and understand what is actually happening before listening to the narrative in your head that might not have its pulse on reality. 

9. Learn the art of zipped lips. If you’re going to say something unkind, it’s better to say nothing at all. When an unkind comment pops in your head, consider using good ol’ Socrates’ triple filter: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” 

10. Keep the ‘Four Horsemen’ at bay. Dr. John Gottman’s research has found that 4 behaviors – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling – are toxic and predict divorce. Work on stopping these behaviors immediately if they are present in your relationship. 

11. Validate, validate, validate. It’s important that your partner feels validated in their feelings. It makes them feel like they’re not taking crazy pills. So if your partner is sharing something unpleasant going on, don’t jump to solve their problem, nor assume they’re criticizing you. You don’t even have to agree, but you do need to understand. This makes your partner feel heard.

12. Pan for gold. It’s easy to focus on the things about your partner that frustrate you. Maybe some of those quirks that you found charming and cute in the beginning you now find annoying. To avoid a negative narrative, do what I call “pan for gold.” Actively look for the best in your partner. Remind yourself of the traits and characteristics that you love, cherish, and adore about them. Bonus: voice these great qualities to them. They’ll likely do more of them. 

13. Rekindle your friendship. Being best friends with your partner makes for a more satisfying relationship. If your friendship isn’t as strong as it used to be, work on becoming good friends again. Take an interest in their activities — and ask questions. Push yourself to examine how you catch up with a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Then, do that. 

14. Make time for fun and play. One of the first things that deteriorates in a relationship is the ability to have fun and play. All too often, routine and inertia set in, and couples stop courting each other. To combat this, create a list of activities that you and your partner consider fun and others that you are willing to try. Put it on the calendar. Talk about how you’re looking forward to it. Keep it a routine and keep it consistent. Bonus: have a double date with another couple.

15. Include novelty. Novelty kicks up dopamine, which is a key chemical in passion. Engage in new activities or put a new twist on old routines. Even comedy shows are a great way to increase dopamine (it’s that surprise of the punchline that is a novel experience). 

16. Make your partner feel desired. Who doesn’t want to be wanted? Feeling desired is a potent emotion. In fact, not to scare you, but it’s a common allure of an affair. I’ve seen way too many clients get pulled into an affair because the affair partner made them feel desired, and their current partner did not. So let your partner know you find them sexy and irresistible — and they’ll likely return the favor. 

17. Have sex once a week. Yep, you read that right. If you rarely take the tumble, just do it once a week. Make your focus on quality, not quantity. Set the mood, and make it count. Stay flirty. Give compliments. Make it passionate. 

And remember that you chose each other.  

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