When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of flowers, chocolates, love notes and dates. There is so much preparation that couples go through in order to have a special Valentine’s Day. What if we used the same preparation every day to help keep and nurture a loving marriage all year long. Here are a few tips to help strengthen and maintain a loving marriage from Talli Rosenbaum, who is an individual and couple’s therapist and a certified sex therapist.
- Be nice and respectful. It may sound obvious, but one of the most basic things we look for in friendship is for them to be nice and respectful. Treat your partner at least as politely as you would a friend or colleague. Remember to say please and thank you. Saying things like “That’s stupid,” “I don’t care what you want,” or “You are a liar” are likely to trigger your partner negatively and distance them.
- Don’t take one another for granted. Providing acknowledgment and appreciation to one another goes a long way towards creating positive energy in the marriage. Don’t make assumptions that your partner will make lunch, provide a ride, etc. without asking or inviting the. Also, remember to express appreciation for even the most mundane tasks.
- Be curious, not defensive. If your partner seems upset, anxious or depressed, and snaps at you for no apparent reason, you may become re-active and angry, and assume he/she is angry with you. While this may be an understandable response, your partner’s mood may have nothing to do with you. Staying non-reactive and curious, even when the other is upset, annoyed, or anxious, will allow you to provide the space to really listen.
- Provide empathy. When your partner is feeling down, you may be tempted to judge, analyze, provide a solution, or try to rid your partner of his/her negative emotions. If your partner comes home from work upset because of a conflict with his/her boss, we may say something like, “I know you feel bad that you boss was upset with you, but you may have deserved it,” or “You shouldn’t be upset, just look for a new job.” The best thing to say may just be “I am sorry you’re upset” followed by “What can I do?”
- Fight fair. All couples fight, but it’s how you fight that matters. Do not threaten or blame. Take time away from one another to calm down then come back together to discuss your feelings. Use “I” statements and talk about your feelings rather than blame your partner. Try to be specific rather than use words such as “always” or “never.” Express remorse authentically and make sure to recover from the dispute with a concluding hug or words of affirmation.
- Be honest and authentic. To engage in the type of fair fighting described above, you need to be able to be vulnerable and honest with what you are truly feeling. When you express your feelings openly and without defenses, your partner is more likely to hear you, as no one can disagree or refuse to accept what it is that you feel. This helps to create safety and security in the relationship.
- Be direct. As the Irish poet Thomas Moore said, “Intimacy begins with oneself.” Bring yourself and your needs to the relationship and don’t hesitate to invite your partner to hear what you want and what you need. If you are passive and not assertive, you may end up becoming passive-aggressive in ways that can subvert positivity and vitality in your marriage. It is far more effective to say “I would like it if we can have a meal together without looking at our phones” rather than “I’m sure you didn’t even hear what I said, since you are always on your phone ignoring me.”
- Be aware of each other’s triggers. Be sensitive to your partner’s sensitivities and what may make her/him reactive. For example, if your wife’s parents divorced and her father moved away, she may be particularly vulnerable to feeling abandoned. Therefore, you should make sure to call her if you are running late. If your husband’s parents were particularly critical of him, be aware of how you sound when you comment on how he has washed the dishes or set the table.
- Stay un-enmeshed. Remember that you are two separate people and you don’t have to share emotions, or opinions, or always want to do the same things. Healthy boundaries, autonomy, and the space necessary for developing outside hobbies and friendships keep the relationship infused with vitality and interest.
- Spend quality time together. Turn off your devices. Take walks, hold hands, make a weekly date, and go out to a movie or concert, and talk. Make sure that your conversations are not only about who is picking up the kids or this week’s shopping list, but engage in the type of discourse that made you interested in each other in the first place.
Intimate relationships thrive on compassion, caring, friendship, and basically just really liking each other. I invite you to share your tips as well.