How To Give Yourself A Quick "Relationship Checkup," From An MD

OB-GYN By Susan Hardwick-Smith, MD
OB-GYN
Susan Hardwick-Smith, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified obstetrics and gynecology physician. She received her medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine. She is the founder of Complete Midlife Wellness Center and author of Sexually Woke.
This MD Recommends Couples Give Themselves This "Relationship Checkup"
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With Valentine's Day on the horizon, there is no better time to check in with yourself and your partner to assess if your relationship and sex life are healthy and where there is room for improvement. Chances are, with the chaos of the past year, your relationship and your own physical needs have been pushed to the back burner—and now it's time to reignite the flame.

No matter how long you and your partner have been together, or how old you are, you can have your best and sexiest year yet ahead of you. I can tell you this with confidence based on my research, patient stories, and personal experience: Sex and relationships can get better over time, even at 40, 50, 60, and beyond. It just takes a little introspection and effort.

Here's a quick checkup any person in a relationship can do to get their relationship back on track and in better shape than ever before:

1. Are you holding on to any unspoken feelings?

Before you can assess your partner or relationship, take an honest look at yourself. (I know, it's not always our favorite thing to do.)

How are you doing emotionally, spiritually, and physically?

What I've found through my research, which I conducted specifically with women in midlife, is that in order to have a fulfilling relationship, you have to come from a place of wholeness so that you can be fully present for your partner. You can't be fully present if you're harboring unspoken feelings or resentments, which tend to build up over the years and could have escalated over the past year from stresses related to the pandemic.

To move toward a place of wholeness, start by making a list of resentments and things you need to let go of in order to be fully present with your partner. Commit to leaving them behind and discussing any points of tension or conflict together so that you can both move forward and grow stronger.

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2. Are you taking the reins?

So often, whether out of pride or lack of motivation, we wait on our partner to initiate change—and it's crucial that we shift this mindset. We are all responsible for our own pleasure, sexual and otherwise, and we cannot put the blame or onus on our partner for the relationship being less than ideal. If you've been waiting for your partner to make the first move, I encourage you to step up to the plate and initiate.

This requires letting yourself be vulnerable and being bold enough to let your partner know that you're ready and willing to reignite your relationship without knowing how they will respond. You can articulate this through a conversation, as well as through a series of intentional actions, such as planning a date night, buying an unexpected gift, taking a task off of their plate, or affectionate touches. The most important thing is to be clear about your intentions so that your partner knows without a doubt that you are wanting to commit to strengthening your relationship.

3. Are you prioritizing connection?

We tend to measure a relationship's health by our sex life—frequency, passion, etc.—when simply connecting with our partner is the root of intimacy and a healthy relationship.

While sex is a wonderful expression of intimacy, it's important to prioritize quality time together and being intentional with one another. This could be scheduling a recurring weekly date night, making a list of things you love about your partner for them to read, or even being mindful about how you greet one another when you come home for the day. These intentional acts foster a deep, loving connection, which will ultimately revive your physical chemistry as well.

4. When's the last time you tried something new in bed?  

If you're feeling less than jazzed about the current state of your sex life, spend this time of reflection as an opportunity to try something outside of your comfort zone.

I recommend that all women invest in a vibrator—partner or not! Not only will this spice things up for you and your partner, but it will also help you have a more pleasurable experience. Especially for women over 50, my research has found that the most reliable way to achieve orgasm is with a vibrator or toy. As we age, we need more stimulation, and oftentimes vaginal intercourse is no longer pleasurable, so it's important to be open-minded and explore your and your partner's bodies in new ways.

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5. Have you dedicated time and space to nurturing your relationship?

Couples often benefit from having a structured or dedicated space for nurturing their relationship, such as attending couples' workshops, classes, or sessions with a relationship therapist.

Your relationship doesn't need to be in dire straits to invest in couples' therapy, by the way. In fact, it's much better to seek therapy before huge problems emerge to avoid going down a long road of resentment or misunderstanding that could end up making a relationship unsalvageable. Seeing a therapist now will help set you and your partner up for success in the long term.

6. Are you giving your partner and yourself grace?

No matter what your personal experience has been over the past year, you have been affected in some way—every single person has been. The adjustments, sacrifices, and stress of dealing with so much uncertainty have absolutely affected our relationships as well, whether or not we can clearly see the direct connection.

It's likely that you and your partner have been handling the events of 2020 (and ongoing) in different ways, and that may have brought you closer together or pushed you apart. Either way, give your partner and yourself extra grace and love—we all deserve it right now.  

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