Everyone wants to be part of a happy and stable couple. But, with the divorce rate so high, creating emotionally intimate couplehood is a considerable challenge. Here are 6 crucial insights about how to maintain a thriving, romantic relationship:
1. Nurture each other. One overriding rule: intimate relationships are nurturing relationships. Everyone realizes that children need to be cherished and supported for healthy development. Well, your romantic partner needs you to encourage and nourish him/her everyday as well. Paying careful attention to your partner, and giving yourself in this way to him/her will create a very powerful bond of love and trust between you.
2. Actions speak louder than words. It’s easy to say, “I love you.” If you’ve got the money, it’s easy to buy gifts. But the best gift of all is your focus and attention.
What’s going on in your partner’s day, week, or month? Is his mother sick? How did the meeting with the school go? Is she still upset with her boss? If you forget to ask about important events and feelings, your partner will assume that you’re not interested in connection, and that something or someone else is more important to you than they are.
If you know that you are a forgetful person but you want to remember the details of what is important to your partner, it’s kosher to write a little note to remind yourself to ask about x, y, or z. Writing the note shows your intent to be involved in their life.
3. Give the ultimate gift. Loving someone is not giving them what you want to give them, it’s giving them what they want to be given. Sometimes this is a very tall order. When you are trying to be caring and affectionate, be honest with yourself. Are you actually attempting to meet the person’s stated needs?
If you are giving them what you would like yourself, or what you wish they would want to get, don’t be disappointed at their reaction.
4. Show appreciation. Give honest thanks and acknowledgment. When you see your partner trying to nourish you, show your love and appreciation. Everyone likes to be recognized for their efforts, even if they miss the mark.
5. Be positive. Don’t say every negative thing you think. Imagine criticism is like toothpaste inside the tube. It’s easy to squeeze the negative comments out, but once the words are out, it’s impossible to put them back “in.” In my office, it’s not unusual to have one partner bring up a hurtful comment that the other partner made decades earlier. Harsh criticism erodes trust.
When you have to share negative feedback, do it as a kind of “criticism sandwich.” Begin the conversation with a compliment, put the criticism in as the middle layer, and then finish up with a piece of reassurance or a positive feeling.
6. Stop comparing! Don’t compare yourselves to other couples. Most couples who are out in public will try to portray at least an image of harmony. Many depict their union as the paragon of true devotion and love.
It’s not that happy couples don’t exist. They do. But they quarrel too, just like you do. When you view a couple who is lovey-dovey or seems to have it all together, you can’t tell from the outside if what you are seeing is the real deal or not.
It’s easy to project your fantasy that their couple life together is easy and glamorous, while it is so hard to make yours work. Trust me, no couple has an easy time staying together and combining, work, love, finances, kids, emotional intimacy, and sex. (One of the advantages of being a couples therapist is that you get to hear the truth, once the office door is closed.) Be grateful for what’s good in your relationship. Because if you know it’s good in private, it’s real.
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