Relationships

New Year's resolutions, for couples

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the movie "Dirty Dancing" remind us to be present with and focused on your partner as a resolution for the new year.

(CNN)Heading into the new year, I find myself working with so many couples that are burned out, fed up, and feeling that their relationship isn't as good as it could be. They don't like their partners as much as they used to, they've lost the thread of the relationship with so much else going on, and some wonder if they should still even be together. No wonder the current movie "Marriage Story," about a couple embarking upon divorce, has struck such a cultural nerve.

In his book and TED talk, "The Element," Sir Ken Robinson explores when people feel most themselves and most inspired to achieve at their highest levels. He draws on stories from a wide range of people, from former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney to Matt Groening, creator of "The Simpsons," and many others who figured out how to get in their "element" -- the point at which natural talent meets personal passion.
Robinson looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in our element and those that stifle that possibility. While Robinson is talking about personal and professional success, there's something to be said for getting into your "relationship element."
    I've been thinking and, talking to some of my colleagues about, good relationship resolutions for the new year to get you to your relationship element.

    Have sex once a week

    There's no right number for how often couples should have sex, but I always encourage them to aim for once a week. Studies have shown that couples who maintain their sexual connection once a week are more satisfied overall in their relationships than couples who do not.
    Sex produces a positive "after-glow" that lasts for up to two days, which is linked with relationship quality over the long term.

    Make time for each other

    It's easy to have a good time at the beginning of a relationship, when things are new and exciting. "When we get comfortable in our relationships and all of life's stresses come in to play, that tends to fade," said sex therapist Rachel Needle. "Continuing to play around with and have fun with your partner will keep you happier and more satisfied."
    Needle also recommended doing meaningful things together, like volunteering. "Spending time giving back can create a deeper connection and can strengthen your bond with your partner," she explained.

    Be present

    "Many of my couples talk about their relationship a lot to the point that they forget to be in it," said sex therapist Sara Nasserzadeh. "Put your intention and efforts where it matters most so you're doing preventive work on the 'cracks' rather than waiting for them to become 'canyons' and then seek help."
    That work can include paying closer attention to your partner's nonverbal cues and subtle shifts in their emotional state, said sex therapist Emily Jamea. "Notice what the shifts in your own body and emotional state tell you about what is happening around you. This will enhance the relationship bond and cultivate a deeper level of empathy resulting in a deeper connection to yourself, your partner, and the world around you."

    Practice presence with compassion

    "Be mindful and stay present when engaging your partner, or when they are trying to engage you on anything -- from coordinating schedules, to finances, to kids, to needs, to desires," said Yvonne K. Fulbright, a sexologist.
    That means stepping away from your computer, putting down your phone, and becoming totally present in the moment. "Consider where your partner is coming from in how information is being communicated, versus simply jumping to how you're being impacted by your partner's style of engagement," Fulbright said.
    "How can you alleviate your partner's concerns or distress, or simply acknowledge the situation and emotions in a way that fosters connection, compassion and support?" she added.

    Argue respectfully

    Whether you're single or in a relationship, try to approach conflicts from a place of curiosity rather than judging and blaming. "Making the choice to redirect stress into friendly curiosity" -- instead of black and white thinking and judging -- "is the quickest way to improve communication during conflict," explained sex therapist Heidi Crockett.