We all know it is pretty easy to fall in love. The rush of passion and connection you feel with the other person makes it impossible to stop yourself if you are truly falling. But after years of a relationship how do you keep that love alive and healthy? How can you nurture the relationship and let it heal, support and enliven you instead of letting the pressures of life stress out both people involved pushing you further apart? In July, Ray and I will celebrate 11 years of marriage and we knew each other for 2 years prior to our wedding. Our marriage is stronger now than ever and I would like to share ways in which we make sure we keep falling more in love.
MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF
Find things you love to do and make the time to do them. I have 2 young children and I know finding time is not always the simplest thing to do. My kids are 8 and almost 5 now so it is definitely getting easier but for a while I had to be creative to find any time to do things just for "me". When Alex was born I was a new mom in every sense. I was very paranoid about leaving him with anyone else. Even so, I would take the time when he napped to take the baby monitor somewhere and read or do 10 minute Abs. or another quick workout. Whether it's a quick walk around the block while your significant other watches the kids, a lesson of some kind, reading, journaling or even cooking with the music blasting as you sing and dance along -- everyone needs alone time. Especially when you become a new mom/dad -- it is easy to lose yourself a bit in the responsibilities parenting requires. Being alone to reconnect with yourself is a must.
FIND THINGS YOU BOTH LOVE AND TAKE THE TIME TO DO THEM
In the dating process you must have come up with TONS of things you loved to do with the other person. Times and interests change. Make sure you have things that you can still do and know you will enjoy together. For Ray and I, it's playing games, listening to audio books, long walks, dancing and long talks. We hired a babysitter for "date night" once a week from when our son was 1 year old. It ensured we got out, reconnected and weren't just passing lists to each other as we ran into the other person sporadically during the crazy work week. No matter how nuts the week would seem, on "date night" all was well with the world and we allowed ourselves to fall even more in love and reconnect.
"Date night" does not have to be about going out and spending money on dinner. It is about the two of you reconnecting. We have had date nights where we brought sandwiches to the local park and had a picnic. We have had date nights where it was too cold and we locked ourselves in a room with music playing so we couldn't hear the madness of the kids with sitters. Wherever it is does not matter -- it is making that time to set aside and spend with each other that is important. If you have a baby and aren't comfortable leaving them yet -- agree that one night after bed you will meet in the living room for a "date" instead of ignoring each other and watching TV.
DON'T GO TO BED ANGRY
Try and talk out your differences calmly and in the moment. If you are really upset, take a "time out" and go for a walk or sit down and write. You can write or say in your head the reasons you are upset and examine them a bit. That way when you do talk about the reasons for your anger they are clear in your mind. Be sure to examine them and see if they really justify you being as upset as you are or if there are other things you are letting influence you and possibly exaggerate how you are feeling (a "bad" day perhaps?). Then write out a list of what you LOVE about your significant other. I know, "Yeah right -- when I'm mad there's no WAY I could do that". That is what I thought and I used to storm off to write about how angry I was. Yes, it let off some steam but it never helped the situation. Writing about the things you love about your partner and concentrating on all they DO for you and how good they make you feel alleviates some of the anger and will actually make you smile. When you approach a disagreement it is best to be in the moment. Speak clearly so there can be no misunderstandings and don't dredge out last year's fight. Look into each others eyes and let the person know you are upset but you want the conversation to end with some kind of agreement. It is okay sometimes to agree to disagree. You and your mate are not carbon copies of each other and how boring it would be if you were! Do not be afraid to say "I am sorry" or "I forgive you". These three word phrases will bring you closer than ever before!
REALIZE LIFE DOES NOT ALWAYS
GO AS PLANNED
There is a reason when you take the oath of marriage it is in sickness AND IN health, for richer OR poorer, etc. Life changes all the time and you and your partner have made a commitment to be there for each other. Let the hard times draw you closer instead of rip you apart. COMMUNICATE with each other. Share your fears, doubts and concerns with your mate. Be a best friend and treat them as you would treat any other best friend. For some reason a lot of people dump all their negative feelings on their significant other and treat them as they would never ever dream of treating a friend. This is not acceptable. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. If someone is going through a particularly difficult time it is time to be nurturing and ask how you can help -- not insult them and make them feel worse. When I was ill there were times when I truly did not understand how Ray could stay with me because all I felt I was offering was sadness and pain. Ray would tell me that I was always beautiful to him and that it would be ok. He was right -- it is BETTER than okay and I am so grateful he knew that we could make it through anything.
There will times when you need to be stronger and there are times when you will need that extra consideration and kindness. No one wants to feel "stuck" or to doubt themselves or to be sick or depressed. The most important thing is to let your loved one know that you are there for them no matter what and to ask how and if you can help. Try looking at whatever situation and coming up with reasons WHY it happened and how you can both come out of the event stronger for it.
I mentioned this above in "don't go to bed angry" and in "realize life is not always perfect" but it is important all the time . Ray and I have a little "check in" every month on the 26th. (Our anniversary is July 26). On that day we hold each other's hands, look into each others eyes and talk. How was the month? What was GREAT? What are we looking forward to? How ARE you? What do we need to change? What are our goals?
Everything moves so fast nowadays and it is easy to misunderstand the person if you are half-listening or are not clearly forming and articulating your thoughts. If you need something from the other person don't make them guess or figure it out -- explain it and make sure you are on the same page. If need be, write it down. It is a simple way to avoid disagreements later on.
HUGS AND KISSESAND "I LOVE YOU"
It seems so simple but again when life is moving fast it is easy to sometimes forget the little things that mean so much. As humans we crave touch. Touch can relieve stress and tell the other person you love them without saying it. Think about the last time you hugged a good friend you hadn't seen in a while and how good that felt. There should be moments like that with your partner all the time. Yep, my son gives out a huge "yuck" when Ray and I hug and heaven-forbid we "kiss on the lips". ;-) I don't get to see much of Ray now since he is working a lot of hours and that hug at the end of the day communicates 'Hi, I missed you, I STILL love you". A couple that gets out of the habit of hugs and touching can experience doubt in how the other person feels and it sometimes can make the next hug seem further out of reach. We all CRAVE touch from loved ones and if you are holding back because you think your partner might not want to be touched - don't. If you are really hesitant -- ask them for one -- I am sure they will open their arms wide.
Saying "I love you" is also important in good times and in bad. I tell my kids and Ray I love them every day and they say the same. We feel it when we say it and we mean it. It is three words but it helps to let the person know that you do care and you do feel love for them -- no matter what.
HONESTY IS ALWAYS THE BEST POLICY
This one seems like a given but I know it is one that a lot of couples struggle with. There are people I have come across that hide credit cards, friendships and even some that hide addictions from one another. There is NEVER a good reason to hide things from your loved one. Firstly, doesn't lying seem like an awful lot of effort? I don't know about you but I have a hard time just keeping the facts of everything that is really going on straight in my head sometimes. I cannot even imagine trying to hide something from Ray. I think it would eat me up and he would see right through even if I did -- but it is not in my nature to even try. Lies usually come out in the end and there are always repercussions. Lies distance you from the one you are supposed to be sharing your life with and add to stress. If you have been dishonest with a loved one, the best policy is to tell them as soon as you can and own up to it and take responsibility before it comes back to bite you. If you are on the receiving end and your partner comes to you to open up and tell you about a lie the best policy is to let them know how you feel (hurt, etc) but to commend them on their honesty. It might take you a while to forgive them but if you think about the alternative way you might have found out -- it will make the forgiving easier.
DO NOT INSULT AND BE SURE TO SHOW GRATITUDE
I mentioned a gratitude list for your loved one above and it is good not only to make one when you are upset but at any time. Be sure to tell your partner what you appreciate about them. Send out positive messages on how you feel about them. Use your words carefully and say "thank you" even it they did something you felt they SHOULD be doing. I don't know many people that LOVE taking out the garbage or some of the other household tasks but somehow these are not things that get recognized often. If someone doesn't do something you expected and wanted them to do -- talk to them kindly and request it instead of making an off-handed negative comment. These little things contribute to how someone perceives the relationship. Treat your significant other like your best friend -- they are after all, aren't they?
These are what I believe to be the top tips for staying in love. Ray and I have been through tough times and let it make us stronger through constant communication and through facing things as a team. We have nurtured interests we enjoy separately as well as things we love to do together. We love to hug and be affectionate and we are honest with each other. We work out our differences after contemplation and sometimes agree to disagree. We make sure to not only tell each other we love each other but to talk about future goals as well as lessons we have learned from the past. We do and say nice things to show our gratitude and respect for each other. I would like to hear some more ways that you have seen yourself or others stay in love for a long time. There is no better feeling in the world!