One of the best “side effects” of working as a sex and relationship educator is the regular opportunity to reflect on my relationship. As my clients share their sex and relationship struggles, I’m given the gift of looking at my own relationship and seeing both how we successfully navigate them and where we can improve as a couple. Appreciation is one of those areas for reflection and improvement.
Appreciation helps you create the right context for great sex
Most of what makes your sex life great has nothing to do with what goes where. Intimate, exciting, and fulfilling sex happens when you create the right context. For most womxn* this context means:
- Low stress
- High trust
- High affection
Expressing appreciation is relevant to all of these, especially the affection piece.
Appreciation counteracts criticism, bickering, and taking advantage
Most of the couples I work with take each other for granted. It’s common in committed relationships—you get into your rhythms and routines and overtures of love and appreciation fall away. Along with this often comes increasing criticism and bickering. Both destroy intimacy.
While this is common, it isn’t necessary or unfixable. The solution? Show your partner you appreciate them.
How to show your partner you appreciate them
Showing appreciation—like expressing love—works best when you do it in a “language” they understand. If you and your beau(s) haven’t already taken the Love Languages test, stop and do that now.
Here’s how to best show your beau(s) you appreciate them.
Practice warm hellos and goodbyes.
This idea comes from Gretchen Rubin. My clients who implement it see an immediate change in their intimacy, stress levels, and relationship. It goes like this:
Whenever you part ways or reunite, take a full minute to hug and kiss. Why a minute? It’s long enough that your brain releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone that gives you those “awww, I love you so much!” feels, and makes it feels special. It’s short enough that you can squeeze it into the busiest of days.
Words of Affirmation
Send texts, emails, letters, voice memos, videos, social media posts, and verbal thank you’s.
Just. Keep. Telling. Them. Use any and all the modalities, especially the ones that they’re on (so they’ll see it) or ones that are outdated (because it’s special and took extra thought and care). You can also send them articles that remind you of them.
Oh and when fighting, don’t use sarcastic “oh, well thank you!” as ammunition.
Acts of Service
Look at their calendar and surprise them with something nice on a busy day.
Do extra housework (e.g. cook and do the dishes; bring their car in to be serviced; etc), give them a back or foot massage without expecting anything in return, or run an errand for them (just make sure to communicate so that they don’t then waste their time doing the same errand only to find out it’s been completed).
Buy or make them a token of your appreciation.
These gifts can be grand or simple gestures, experiences or goods. Spa days are great, and so is cleaning the tub and making some at home bath bombs. Going on a trip rocks, and so does receiving cozy socks in the winter. Bonus points if the gift helps you create even more of the right context like reducing stress or increasing trust as well.
Block off time to spend, sans phones, just the two of you.
This can be daily for 30 minutes at the dinner table, weekly for part of a designated time and day, or sporadically taking a full day to bask in each other’s company. During this time, relish being together and having to say, “I don’t know!” when you don’t know something and can’t rely on your hand computer to look it up.
Appreciation changes how you act
You know that your thoughts influence your actions. But did you know your actions also influence your thoughts? It’s a two way road!
The more you express warmth and gratitude, the more you’ll feel connected and affectionate. The more you think grateful, loving thoughts, the more you’ll act that way too. And so the cycle goes.
This doesn’t mean you’ll never argue, get into rut, or take each other for granted again. It does mean both that those things are less likely to happen and also that when they do, you navigate them more easily.
*Alternative spellings for “woman” were created as part of the feminist movement to promote women’s independence from men. This current spelling encompasses a broader range of gender identities than “woman,” including trans women and non-binary femme individuals. For more information, check out this great piece in the Boston Globe.