In honor of Valentine’s day I opted to put on my therapist hat, pull out my couples therapy handbook, and jot down some quick tips on how to maintain a healthy relationship. We all know that this holiday is a day of love and appreciation; A day where you can forget all the arguments and troubles of the past and focus on the moment. You dress up. You plan ahead. You buy gifts for one another and open them during dinner at a nice restaurant that required a reservation weeks in advance. It’s a day solely designed for focussing attention toward your significant other and letting them know how much they mean to you. The question is – why do people need a holiday to provoke these kinds of actions? Why is it so difficult to remember to show our love year round?
All relationships take work. Whether it’s a new relationship or one that’s been around for 50 years, you need to feel confident that your choice to be with this one particular person is for a good reason (and the other person should be reminded of why you chose to be with them too!). If you’re having difficulty keeping that spark alive outside of Valentine’s Day, it may be time to work on building a sturdier support system for your relationship. Here are some tips that may help you and your significant other re-ignite that fire:
Discover Your Strengths. What makes you strong as a couple? Maybe you travel well together, or you are both clean and organized. Do you share similar hobbies? Do you both like to cook or play tennis? Are you the couple that other couples invite over for game night because they know everyone will have a good time? Are you skilled at balancing your daily activities together? Do you communicate well? Try and find at least 5 strengths and write them down on a piece of paper. Keep it in a safe place and refer to it when you need a reminder of why you two mesh so well together.
Go On Dates. Real Ones. Even if you have been with your partner for 20 years, dates are still extremely important to maintaining a healthy relationship. If you haven’t been on a date in forever, then start small. Plan an outing for 2 nights a month just as a couple. Then bump it up to once a week. Assign one person to plan the first date and try to keep it a surprise. The next time, the other person can plan the date. Try not to plan something last minute because it takes away from the anticipation of the date. Set a day and time that works with both of your schedules so you don’t feel stressed or rushed. And don’t feel pressured to spend a lot of money by going out to an expensive dinner every single time. Plan a picnic in the park or take a couples cooking class. Be creative! A good friend of mine planned a “wine tasting night” at her and her husband’s house. They bought a few bottles of wine, placed them on their kitchen table, stuck white paper over the labels, and numbered each of them. Then, they poured a little of each wine into glasses to taste, talked about the different flavors and decided on what wine was their favorite before removing the white paper. She said even though they had been married for a few years, it was one of the most fun nights they had ever shared together.
Use “I” Statements. If you have ever taken a communications course, you know the importance of using “I” statements when conversing over a heated topic. Saying “I feel” rather than “you always” can make a huge difference in settling an argument. It helps make the argument more constructive and less criticizing. Even if you are in the heat of the moment and are tempted to throw some harsh insults at your partner – don’t. Words can leave a lasting scar and creep back up when you least expect it. Also, stay away from saying absolutes. I guarantee your partner doesn’t “always” leave the toilet seat up or “never” take out the trash. Try to stick to things that are true and don’t bring up certain instances just to prove a point. The goal of arguing is to come to a mutual agreement. Relationships require a lot of compromise and both members need to be willing to give a little sometimes in order to keep things peaceful and healthy.
Try Something New. What have you both been wanting to do but never have? Maybe it was your dream to go on an African safari or backpack through Europe. Maybe you want to learn another language or run a marathon. If you want to skydive and your partner wants to learn to sail a boat, make an agreement to try out both- together. Or find a new event or hobby that you both can agree on. It’s important to maintain your own interests and hobbies aside from your significant other, but trying new things as a couple can help keep things fresh and exciting. Another couple I know created a bucket list for the year of activities they wanted to complete together. In January, they made an agreement that every few weekends they would set out to cross an activity off the bucket list. If you are looking for a way to stay in the “honeymoon” phase of your relationship all year round, this is it!
Do Something Thoughtful. Remember when you first started dating and you were surprised with a freshly picked rose on your car window? Or you received a funny email from your partner who was trying to cheer you up when you had a rough day at work? Try to bring those activities back. Leave a little love note somewhere unexpected for your partner to find. In conversation, bring up a memorable moment from when you two first met. These little cues will send reminders to your brain of how much you value your partner. When life becomes chaotic, we need reminders to keep our minds focussed on the positive things in our life because these are the things that help keep us going.
Moral of the story (or post): Simple activities can go a long way in helping maintain healthy relationships. And remember – showing love and appreciation for your partner is not something that should only occur on one day per year (we all know that Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday anyway, right?). Real relationships need to be nurtured and cared for just like anything else. A plant will never grow if you don’t water it and give it a little sunshine. So now that you have the tools, get out there and show some love!
Is there anything unique that you and your partner do to keep your relationship alive? Any fun or interesting date ideas? Post in the comment section below!