Romantic relationships / Category / Emile Du Toit / May 9th 2014
In this article we discuss some practical tips on how to maintain a healthy romantic relationship, particularly when you have been together for a while!
No, I do not mean throwing it out there every 20 minutes in the face of incongruous actions. But don’t be THAT version of the ‘strong, silent’ type who says it once when they propose and once on their death bed! And when you do say it you need to stop time, look in their eyes and be sincere.
When I throw this out to clients I am often confronted with all sorts of come-backs about how different people like to demonstrate or indeed receive different levels of affection. This is indeed true, and hopefully you have paired up with someone who is at least in the same half of the draw as yourself! But when I talk about demonstrating affection I don’t mean hanging on your partner’s arm 24/7 till they start developing additional poker nights!
Some couples may hold hands a lot, and joyously embarrass their friends by snogging in the restaurant. Other people are less demonstrative, but equally in need of love. Sometimes a simple affectionate hand on a shoulder or caress in the passage is enough. Either way though, tactile contact is really important.
Recognize what your partner needs and when they need it, and demonstrate affection physically, but in a way that they can relate to.
Take the time to connect with your partner and tell them why you like them. If you find that this is difficult for you (as it is for many of the couples that I see in couples therapy) then you need to give it some real thought. If you cannot get beyond how hot she looks in those jeans then you might want to do some re-thinking! Focus on specifics. The more you look for them, the more you will find them and the better you will value your partner. And when you express these things authentically you re-affirm your connection in a way that is not needy and codependent.
One of the common assignments that I give to couples somewhere in the process of reconstructing their relationships is to begin to go on ‘date nights’ - that may or may not be romantic up front - where they get to spend quality time together. They are forbidden from talking about their work or (if they have them) their children. Your mind would burst asunder at how many of them cannot think of a single thing to say to each other. Awkward!
Communication is often something that happens fairly early on in a relationship, and then falls away with the advent of kids and other major, ahem, stressors! This is an absolutely vital thing to do. Most relationships that fail can be traced back to a decline in meaningful communication. And the less we communicate the less we know our partner and more likely we are to project all sorts of negative intentions on to them in times of stress and strife.
Communicate! Talk about how your day went, how what happened in his, what your hopes and dreams for the future are, what insecurities you are holding, and (especially) that silly, idiosyncratic little thought that you had in your head somewhere during your day.
The idea here is that you should not only be capable of the grand gesture – sitting through the night with her after her dog dies. We need to be able to support each other regularly, through the worst and through the not-so-bad. This demonstrates true affection. You need to be able to make someone a cup of tea when they are on the way home after a bad day, or hear them out when they moan about the new work colleague. Of course this needs to work both ways, or life could be draining indeed!
There is a reason that I added on the caveat at the end of this heading. Sometimes we are guilty of not letting our partner’s just offload. We end up not offering support to them, but rather support to ourselves, when we attempt to solve all their problems to make ourselves feel more comfortable. Generally speaking us guys are worse at this, but it is actually common on both sides of many relationships.
Know your partner! Are they looking for emotional support or for a supercomputer that can crank out a list of possible solutions without really being emotionally present at all?!
Demonstration of affection builds love, safety and continuity in a relationship.
Sometimes it can be as simple as a quick call or sms to tell them that they are special to you. Sometimes a small gift is also a great idea. I suggest that you make sure you are not just throwing in the grand gesture. Regular, tiny acts of love are actually far more important. Run her a bubble bath or put a chocolate under her pillow. Or invest a bit of actual effort in giving him a massage or building that little water feature she always wanted when she is away for the weekend.
Nobody says no to a diamond ring or a Ferrari, but let’s face it this is not what keeps people in love with each other.
One of the big bonuses of demonstrating that you have been thinking about your partners is that it generally means that you have to actually consider them! Too often with the couples that enter my doors the relationships has reached a point where both parties can tell me exactly what they don’t like about what their partners does or does not do. However, they are no longer aware of the myriad of considerate and helpful things throughout the day that the other person actually does do.
Now I am very aware as I write this that it is easier said than done. People are like Microsoft Windows software packages: they are buggy to start with and as time goes on more and more bugs keep creeping in and foiling your superior plan for life! You need to realize though that, also like Microsoft, the other options tend to be even less fulfilling.
I strongly recommend that you truly get to know your partner before you marry them. Too much time before a wedding is spent on guest lists and pretty speeches and not nearly enough on soul searching and marriage courses! You need to decide if you are going to spend your days in internal and external conflict over your partners little peccadillos’ or choose to embrace them as a part of what you love and what makes them interesting.
If you choose the former path then neither of you is looking forward at a life of happiness together, and you should probably have upgraded to version 2 before you got married!
Initially in a relationship one spends quite a bit of time together. This is important up front as the foundations of the relationship are being created. Joint memories are being created and a relationship ‘culture’ is established. When kids come along the amount of time together is often greatly reduced. But either way what is vital is the quality of the time that is spent together. When one or both parties are already tired at the end of as long day then television, social media, computer games and the like can be a great distraction from quality time.
Sitting together on a couch watching series is not quality time, no matter how you spin it!
Quality time involves focused interaction with your partner, where there is a sense of shared experience.
Take your time and get to know each other. Understand each other’s desires. The better the understanding and communication is in the bedroom, the more that this will foster romantic connection, and vice versa.
Please realize that physical intimacy does not begin and end in the bedroom (or shower, or on kitchen table!). Sexual intimacy begins with communication, safety and small physical gestures of caring.
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