What makes a good relationship?
14th February 2019
Trying to have a baby is a major transition in any couple’s relationship, and it can undoubtedly place pressure on your relationship. Lots of couples report that sex can become routine and monotonous while they’re trying to conceive, rather than passionate, spontaneous and fun. With the ‘scheduling’ of sex around the most ‘fertile time’, along with the pressure to conceive, it’s hardly surprising.
So, what makes a good relationship work?
Relationships require work – despite what movies, television series and the romantic novels try to say! In fact, Michelle Obama, much to lots of people’s surprise, recently came out say her and Barack Obama went to relationship counselling.
So, here we share what makes a good a relationship, along with some tips of techniques you can try.
Take time to communicate
The way we communicate or connect with others can have a big impact on our relationships. Understanding how well we are communicating with our partner can help stop small issues turning into bigger problems.
It’s important to take the time to talk. This is true no matter what stage you are at in your relationship, but especially when you are trying to conceive as your relationship may be more fraught or tense than usual. Set aside time to talk when you will not be interrupted. Maybe go somewhere that you both find relaxing, maybe the park or a cafe.
Here are some tips to improve the quality of your communication:
- Take it in turns to talk and allow space for both of you to talk without interruption.
- Using ‘I feel’ statements, rather than ‘you…’ This reflects how you feel about the situation rather than attacking, criticising or blaming your partner.
- Remember that communication isn’t all verbal. Think about your body language, and avoid closed or aggressive stances.
- If you’re talking about a difficult issue, put a limit on amount of time you talk about it. If you don’t come up with a solution within ten minutes, leave it and take some time to think about it separately. Agree a time when you will revisit the issue, then go and do something fun together.
- Consider writing letters to each other. This way you both can express yourself without being interrupted. Many couples have said that by writing, they are able to more clearly articulate their feelings and understand each others’ emotions.
Don’t be surprised if there isn’t an improvement straight away – good communication takes practice!
Get your relationship 5 a day!
Relationship therapist Dr John Gottman studied relationships and made an interesting observation of couples who maintained their relationship – that they have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions.
A positive interaction might be a hug, a shared joke, a thoughtful action or asking questions. And a negative interaction could be a disagreement, hurt feelings, anger, a criticism and hostility etc.
Negative interactions, of course, have more power to negatively impact your relationship, which is why the ratio is not equal. But at the same time, conflict and arguments are also necessary to keep our relationships healthy and strong.
If you’re going through a difficult time with your relationship, try to park your differences for a while and put your focus on positive interactions. Here are some ideas:
- Plan a date night – go out for dinner, go to a museum, go to the movies
- Be thoughtful – has your partner had a stressful time recently? Could you do something to make them feel better? Perhaps you could make the dinner or just give them a hug.
- Show gratitude – the next time your partner does something you are grateful for, can you acknowledge it and say thank you?
- Have fun – laugh and joke with your partner.
- Show them that you love them – What about writing a love letter to your partner, or if that’s not your thing – send a nice text?
Express gratitude for your partner
Research finds that individuals who take time to express gratitude for their partner feel more positive toward their partner but also more comfortable expressing worries or concerns about their relationship.
Gratitude helps you refocus on what you have instead of what you lack. And expressing gratitude to your partner can help you nurture your relationship. This doesn’t have to a big gesture – it can simply be taking the time to say you appreciate your partner or taking the time to thank them for something.
So the next time your partner does something you are grateful for, can you acknowledge it and say thank you?
Focus on your sex life and intimacy
Sex and intimacy is one of the most important parts of a relationship – but it is also one of the areas that gets spoken about the least. A key characteristic of couples who have a happy sex life is that they see sex as a way to have more fun, to feel satisfied, and to feel valued and accepted in their relationship. Here we share our 5 top tips for increasing intimacy.
Make time for each other:
It’s hard to rekindle your sex life if your emotional health and wellbeing isn’t at its best, and you’re focusing much of your life, routine and conversations on planning to get pregnant. The festive period can be busy and hectic, especially if you’re catching up with friends and family – but try and commit to spending some time alone to do the things you love, just the two of you. This will be a great way to connect over the things that brought you together.
Talk about sex:
It can feel embarrassing talking about sex with a partner – but having a conversation about your sex life is an important first step towards change.
Be flexible with the rules:
You’ll have received tons of tips for trying to conceive from both professionals and your own research about what to do to get pregnant. Remember, though, that having a routine doesn’t mean you can’t still have sex whenever and wherever the moment takes you. Be kind and understanding with yourself if you’re not in the mood to have sex on ‘ovulation day’. You may find that by not focusing so much on ovulation and fertility health, your libido will increase!
Invest in foreplay:
Many couples say that foreplay reduces when trying to conceive as there is a need to ‘get on with it’. Without foreplay, adequate time might not be given to arousing each other – and for women this may lead to vaginal dryness and in some cases sexual pain.
There are many different ways to have sex and be sexual and although penetration is the only way to get pregnant – it should be part of a wider package. Build in time for seduction, foreplay and sensual activity. Giving and receiving massages or taking a bath together can be a helpful way to build intimacy ahead of intercourse. Studies have shown that when couples massage each other for 20 minutes, twice a week, it can lead to improved couple relationship and individual emotional wellbeing (which is a great excuse for a massage!).
Mix it up!
Do you always have sex before you go to sleep? Could that be when you’re most tired? Do you always have sex in the same position or place? Make the most of any time off or away that you have over the next few weeks, while you’re feeling well rested, to mix it up and trying something new.
Why focussing on your relationship is important when trying to conceive
Many couples feel a lot of pressure to ‘make this time count’ – as they feel it is their one window for the month to become pregnant. This can make sex a time of high-stress. When our bodies are in this mode – both our bodies and mind respond. Our minds are distracted thinking about ‘how this didn’t work before’ or ‘how this might not work’ and it can be hard to get in the mood.
Our body responds by rushing blood to the major muscle groups and away from our sexual organs. As an erection is essentially blood flow to the penis – this can make it hard for a man to obtain and/or retain an erection. Similarly for a woman, this may mean that she is not as naturally lubricated as usual or can struggle to orgasm. This in turn could be interpreted by a partner that they are no longer sexually attractive – and serve to reduce their confidence. You can see how things can get complicated very quickly when stress gets in the way!
The impact of fertility difficulties
Fertility difficulties can impact your relationship – especially if you both respond to the difficulties in different ways. Many people struggling to conceive experience feelings of depression or anxiety. When you are feeling down there is also a tendency for your sexual interest and arousal to decrease. If you are taking antidepressants, it is possible that they are causing changes to your sexual interest as an unwanted side effect.
If you have a male partner, it’s important to recognise that many men also suffer from mental health problems during this time. Research suggests, for example, that around 5 to 10% of men experience depression during preconception period. There has been some interesting research looking at how men and women respond to difficulties conceiving.
Men report that their greatest concern tends to be the well-being of their partner, but frequently cite fearing they might say the wrong thing, so commonly ‘withdraw’ or ‘avoid’ conversations around it. This lack of partner support and open communication, has been found to be a critical factor maintaining women’s emotional distress, and may further increase distance and conflict. An important first step is to take the time to talk.
If you’re having sexual or relationship difficulties, it’s important you get the right support.
Talk to your GP:
If you are having difficulties with your sex life then talk to your GP and ask to be referred for psychosexual therapy or medication. Psychosexual therapy is available through some sexual health and family planning clinics and from Relate. A range of both private and NHS specialists can be found on the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine website.
Get your medication right and speak up:
If you suspect any changes to your sex life might be as a result of sexual side effects to a new medication you are taking then talk to your doctor about this. Sexual wellbeing is an essential part of your identity as your doctor should prioritise it as he/she does with all other parts of your health.
Check out online resources such as Relate or NHS Choices on the range of ways you can approach your relationships and sex life.
Article written in collaboration with one of our fertility experts, our brilliant advisor Dr. Camilla Rosan, a chartered consultant clinical psychologist and couple therapist.