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by Nina Westbrook


Collective

Beyond Valentine’s Day: Strengthening Your Relationship for the Long-Term


 

by Nina Westbrook


Beyond Valentine’s Day: Strengthening Your Relationship for the Long-Term

by Nina Westbrook


Most of us have felt the gradual shift that occurs in romantic relationships, when the initial infatuation begins to wear thin and you start to merge your day-to-day reality with the person you want to be with. Sometimes being with your partner can begin to feel ordinary. This is where the emotional, relational “work” begins, as you weather the inevitable ups and downs of life and both of you inevitably make mistakes along the way. The fact is that sustained romantic partnerships require self-awareness and emotional investment.

Most of us have felt the gradual shift that occurs in romantic relationships, when the initial infatuation begins to wear thin and you start to merge your day-to-day reality with the person you want to be with. Sometimes being with your partner can begin to feel ordinary. This is where the emotional, relational “work” begins, as you weather the inevitable ups and downs of life and both of you inevitably make mistakes along the way. The fact is that sustained romantic partnerships require self-awareness and emotional investment.

Let’s explore a few strategies that can help strengthen your relationship for the long haul so that you can build a strong partnership that makes your life richer over time.

COMMUNICATE HONESTLY AND AUTHENTICALLY

If you’re experiencing frustration or hurt because of your partner’s behavior, talk to your partner calmly and respectfully. Try not to wait too long and let hard feelings fester. When we stuff anger and pain deep within ourselves, we can become resentful, which may ultimately damage our partnership. Relationship experts John and Julie Gottman suggest holding a weekly “State of the Union” meeting, a check-in that creates space for discussing what’s working—and what’s not working—in your relationship, and what you both need from one another to help things run smoothly at home.

Consider how often you express appreciation to your partner. Over time, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of expressing criticisms or regularly complaining about (or to) your partner. Remember the attributes that initially attracted you to your partner, and know that every time you make the effort to show affection, or express appreciation and support for your partner, you’re strengthening your relationship. And when your partner comes to you with a request, complaint, or just the desire for some feedback, listen with an open mind and go into difficult conversations with intention.

LEVERAGE ONE ANOTHER’S STRENGTHS

Take time to consider your and your partner’s individual strengths. Strategize together about how to harness your individual strengths to make the day-to-day aspects of your lives run more smoothly. These conversations may not be sexy, but they help minimize conflict around who’s doing what. Is one of you better at managing the budget? Who excels in meal planning and prep? What about tidying your house? How do you split up the never-ending cycles of laundry? The more transparency and open communication there is around tasks and responsibilities, the more you can efficiently work together as a team, instead of wondering, arguing, and even resenting your partner for not doing more.

HAVE FUN TOGETHER

Spending time together just for fun is vital for maintaining a strong relationship. Studies show that playful couples are generally more satisfied with their relationship, deal with conflict more effectively, and feel closer to each other. There’s a wide range of ways to engage in play—it’s all about finding the ways that bring you and your partner the most joy. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

· Laugh together – through shared humor, watching comedy, or reading something funny

· Play a sport together (racquetball, squash, tennis, pickleball, golf, and basketball are excellent choices!)

· Read the newspaper or your own books side by side

· Plan a special date night

· Go on a walk or bike ride together

· Take a vacation (staycations work too!)

· Take turns choosing a book for you both to read and spend time each week talking about what you’ve read

NURTURE YOUR OWN INDIVIDUAL HAPPINESS

Ultimately, your joy must come from within yourself. Yes, your partner can contribute to your life satisfaction, but we can’t carry around the expectation that our partners are responsible for making us happy. Cultivate habits that nourish your body and feed your soul. When you truly take care of yourself, you can show up more fully and authentically in your relationships with others.

KNOW THAT RELATIONSHIPS EBB AND FLOW

Accept the fact that every relationship, no matter how strong, will hit rough patches, and these rough patches occur for a wide range of reasons. First, as we age, our needs change and our personalities evolve, and it takes time for our partners to adapt. Second, life’s hardships—such as death, job loss, mental illness, health challenges, and spiritual uncertainty—are inevitable and often out of our control, and these hardships impact our relationships in very real ways. Finally, even outside of life’s circumstances, romantic relationships hit lulls and can start to feel a little dull at times.

Yes, we all know these things about life and relationships, but when we’re actually in a difficult phase, navigating through as a couple can feel incredibly challenging. The most foundational step in weathering a season of difficulty is to mutually acknowledge it, so that together you can strategize how to adapt and equip yourselves to get through it together and end up stronger as a result.

SEEK SUPPORT

If you’re feeling anxiety or a lot of uncertainty about your relationship, don’t wait to seek help from a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional. Both individual and couples therapy can be groundbreaking as you seek clarity about partner-related decisions, conflicts, and challenges.