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Six Good Habits
How to keep your relationship healthy and your connection strong
It's tempting to rely on love as the magic potion to protect your relationship from harm – after all, the pop songs constantly tell us 'all you need is love' and 'love will build a bridge' or variations on that theme.
However, love is like a living thing that needs to be fed or it will wither and die. Here’s how to keep it nourished:
1. Check in regularly with each other
Ideally this should be on a daily basis. Perhaps set aside five minutes at the beginning of the evening, or decide to eat together (at a table, with TV and mobiles switched off).
Chat about what you've been up to and flag up anything that is causing stress – otherwise your partner might think it’s all about them, when actually you’re preoccupied with work.
I recommend having a relationship ‘board meeting’ at least once every six months when you spend at least an hour discussing dreams and aspirations. You could even make an evening of it and go somewhere nice together.
2. Be curious
When you first started dating, you'd want to know everything about each other. If he or she loved Canadian ice hockey, or something equally obscure, you probably even chose a team to support.
Now you assume you know everything that’s worth knowing about each other, and don’t often make much effort to walk in your partner’s shoes.
But if you find your partner’s enthusiasms boring, it's probably because you don't know enough. Ask for a guided tour of their workplace, ask lots of questions about how things are done and get introduced to all the work colleagues.
Why not go along to her tennis match and cheer her along? Or sit in on his choir rehearsal and go for a drink with his friends afterwards? You’ll find that giving 100% attention to a “boring” hobby (rather than tuning out and nodding) will most likely be lots of fun, and will definitely draw the two of you closer together.
3. Go the extra mile
It's human nature to take what we have for granted, so although the everyday stuff is important –like washing, cleaning, gardening, maintaining the car etc – it blends into the background.
What we notice is something beyond the call of duty. You'd be amazed how many marriages have been turned round by a partner taking a day off work to cover the primary parent’s childcare emergency.
And don’t be fobbed off by your partner saying 'I can manage' because this 'failure' to help - for example letting your partner take a taxi home after a minor operation instead of collecting her yourself, as one client of mine did - will be remembered long into the future.
4. Share an interest
My mantra is the couple that play together stays together. It could be joining something that your partner enjoys (like cycling) and developing this into a joint challenge (cycling through the French Alps) or starting something together from scratch (like scuba diving or dancing lessons).
Don't worry if this is going to stretch you because research shows that overcoming obstacles and adversity is more bonding that just sharing nice things together (like a luxury spa break).
5. Make sex a priority
I am often shocked to discover both halves of a couple have been lying on their separate side of the bed wishing the other would make the first move. Sex is important because it is not only bonding, but it repairs the damage caused by arguments and creates a sense of “you and me against the world”.
If you’re stuck in a low-sex or no-sex rut, start investigating therapy or online resources that might help the two of you start a conversation. You could start with my podcast conversations with Irene Fehr on “Why Desire Disappears in Committed Relationships”, or with Dr Cheryl Fraser on How to Stay in Love, or my book Have the Sex You Want: A Couple’s Guide to Getting Back the Spark.
6. Build on your strengths
Think back to when your marriage felt great, rather than just “chugging along” – perhaps three to five years ago.
What did you do THEN that fed your marriage? Maybe you ate out somewhere nice each week, or perhaps you had a babysitter booked for a standing fortnightly evening out.
Then, think about your marriage TODAY. What activities exhaust or stress you out and deplete you and your marriage? Are you putting in overtime at work you don’t really need to? Have you booked your children in for lots of unnecessary and expensive extra-curricular activities no-one is really enjoying, and which are creating outsize amounts of stress?
Write it all down. Seeing everything on a piece of paper provides a clearer perspective. Put what fed (or still feeds you) down one side and what depletes on the other. What could you do less of? What could you do more?
Now you've remembered how great things can be between the two of you, you can think of what you can do to keep building on a partnership that meets both your needs.
As always, if it feels like the right time to start marital therapy, send an email to Tricia (firstname.lastname@example.org) or use this contact form for a virtual or in-person appointment with one of my team of therapists in London, or with me here in Berlin.