Lynn Thompson, M.S., LPC, NCC, CAMS
Certified Imago Relationship Therapist
With Valentines fast approaching couples may be thinking about how to spend this very commercialized holiday. However, the rest of the year could prove to be just a stagnate relationship.
When couples come to see me I often use the analogy of a car that has never or rarely received maintenance. For some reason this example seems to be easier for couples to understand, then just simply saying that they have not maintained their relationship. So, here is the example, if you never take your car for service, oil change, brake pads, change air filter, etc. Then eventually you have a broke down car that needs a lot of repair, which will take time and money to get it back to where it needs to be to run smoothly and sometimes unfortunately it is determined that if the owner is not wanting to invest the time or money, the car is just junked and the owner moves on to buy another car. However, if the owner does not recognize that he/she will need to change their behavior, than patterns repeat and you continuously have a broke down car. So, if you do the routine maintenance your car will continue to run smoothly. Now, this is a simplistic analogy to a relationship, but very similar in that you MUST do maintenance on your relationship to keep it running smoothly.
Now, you maybe be asking what maintenance on a relationship looks like- – well I am going to tell you. First you must realize that romantic love, (this is the, I can’t stop thinking about you syndrome and the world is a better place) only last a few months: This is very important to understand because I often hear couples say, “Well, I am not in love with him or her any longer.” After the romantic love phase passes, loving someone becomes a choice and effort. So, sorry to disillusion those of you who feel that loving someone is just natural and should be blissful most of the time. What you feel from a relationship in the early months of dating may be quite different from what you are feeling after you have been together for some time. Anticipate that both you and your partner will change over time. Feelings of love and passion change with time, as well. Respecting and valuing these changes is healthy. Love literally changes brain chemistry for the first months of a relationship. For both physiological and emotional reasons, an established relationship will have a more complex and often richer type of passion than a new relationshipThe first step in this process is to recommit to your spouse/SO and realize that being in a healthy and happy relationship is work.
Now I am going to give you some helpful tips to get your relationship re-energized:
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate—this is not just simply talking about the semantics of the day (childcare, work, household responsibilities, etc). It is connecting on a deeper level, really checking in about the relationship and focusing on needs. This means being vulnerable to the other person, and it is important to keep the conversation centered on the relationship. You should be checking in at minimum once a month. Now, please know this is not always an easy task. You must feel safe to your spouse/SO for them to open up.
Plan Date Nights and Getaways—I often hear couples say we don’t have a lot of time. I am not buying that. YOU are not choosing to make time. You must schedule and plan the date night or getaway or it will not happen. Also, it does not have to cost money. You can take a bubble bath or plan a romantic picnic in front of the fire place, just to name a few examples. Yes, this will require you to have your children on a bedtime schedule (topic for another blog). You should always make sure that something is on the calendar for at least once a month, at minimum. This way you will have something to look forward to as a couple.
Be spontaneous with you intimate time and make sure it is scheduled. Yes, I know this is a contradiction but let me explain. Find ways to spice up your sex life and not make it routine (staying inside the relationship). Ok, this is one that couples never like to hear but if having a healthy sexual relationship is important, it must be scheduled. Now, this does not mean that you can not be spontaneous when you have extra time (but remember- I often hear couples say we are so busy). However, scheduling will help you stay connected, and you will be grateful you did schedule sex. Yes, I said it schedule sex. This is just the reality of living a busy life. If it is important you must make time, which means to schedule or it or it often does not happen.
Gift Giving—since we are talking about re-energizing your relationship at Valentines Day, I know some of you are going to run out and buy a gift. Ok, but remember-though gifts and getaways are important, it is often the small, nonmaterial things that partners routinely do for each other that keep the relationship satisfying. So, give your gift some thought and make it creative.
Get Help—Even though I saved this step for last, it should never be considered the last option. We go to the doctor, and we go to the dentist for check ups but sometimes we wait until it hurts. Don’t wait until something hurts to get help. If you are feeling distressed about a relationship, you may wish to consider individual or couples counseling. Counseling can help you identify problematic patterns in your current relationship and teach you more effective ways of relating. If you are grappling with a relationship problem please consider counseling.
I hope that you have found these tips helpful and most of all I hope that this has motivated you to do what you need to do all year long for your relationship and not just on Valentines day.