These simple steps could work wonders for your relationship
By Jenny Cook
It can be easy to dismiss Valentine’s day as nothing more than an advertising opportunity for big commercial brands but, actually, there’s a lot to be said for taking some time to show your partner how much you appreciate them – and it doesn’t have to cost a penny.
Here, psychotherapist, life coach and couple’s counsellor Hilda Burke talks to us about the simple yet oh-so-effective ways you can show love, and what they could do for your relationship.
Falling in love means to act without thinking in advance – in other words, to act spontaneously. If we thought about it in advance deeply and logically, would many of us even be in relationships? Hilda says:
“The odds are often stacked against many of our relationships- polar interests, differing political opinions, intolerance of each other’s friends and family – not to mention wildly different ideals on where to holiday – and yet we persist!”
“I think spontaneity helps remind us of the feelings we had when we initially fell for our partner. So, if we want to stay in love, keeping spontaneity in the mix is vital. Unfortunately, it’s a quality that many of us let slip once when we settle into a relationship. Routine and complacency are the arch enemies of spontaneity.”
Why it’s important: When we engage in something spontaneously we haven’t invested time in mentally assessing what we think the outcome of the chosen activity will be. Losing our heads in this way (together) can free us up to re-connect with our partner in a more physical and emotional way that perhaps re-ignites the spark that was there in the early days.
Make it happen: For a truly spontaneous idea, try arranging something romantic and surprising for your partner – either on Valentine’s day or at any other time of the year!
- Paying attention to your partner
The most flattering thing in the world is to have someone’s undivided attention. However, since most of us are constantly within earshot and arm’s reach of an array of bleeping, buzzing digital devices, it’s becoming an ever-rarer commodity. Hilda advises:
“Focusing 100% on your partner when you are with them is a serious investment in your relationship and one that can reap dividends. When people complain that they don’t really know what to do to make their partner happy, that they cannot seem to do anything right – I say to them “just listen!” To simply listen with an open heart, to listen for the purpose of learning more about our partner.”
Why it’s important: Focusing on our partner when we’re with them reassures them that they matter to us. It also gives clues on what’s really important to them, the little things that make them happy or unhappy. If you want a relationship to flourish, it’s essential that you need to create space and time to focus fully on your partner.
Make it happen: On a regular basis, make a date with your partner that’s simply about receiving what they want to say – for many of us this will be challenging, and we may need to build up to it! So, perhaps start with just 15 minutes to build up your listening muscle gradually over time.
- Appreciate the positive
Many of us automatically focus on what’s wrong in our relationship, what’s lacking, or what we’d like to change about our partner. Hilda says:
“While it can be useful to acknowledge the things that aren’t working satisfactorily in the relationship and take steps to address that (and this will require work typically on both sides), it can often distract us from what is working, the positive things that our partner does do for us.”
“Often when I work with clients to really recognise the efforts their partner makes on their behalf, it’ll be met with “but they should do that anyway, I shouldn’t need to thank them / tell them I’m grateful.” Often what’s getting in the way here is ego – by showing our gratitude we let our guard down.”
Why it’s important: When we show our appreciation, it reinforces our partner’s feeling that the efforts they make are recognised and they’ll be inclined to do more rather than becoming complacent, which I think is what many of us fear will happen when we praise our other halves.
Make it happen: Take time to reflect on what you appreciate in your partner, whether that’s something as simple as bringing you breakfast in bed, sorting out the bills or picking you up after a night out. Most of us have ideals of how we’d like our partner to be and it’s easy to get trapped into just noticing how they fail to live up to those ideals. Show appreciation for what you do like, even the little things.
- Put your relationship first… Especially if you have a family
There’s no doubt that having children will change the dynamics of any relationship and, Hilda says, things don’t always turn out the way we hope.
“Lots of couples I work with identify the point they started their family as the point at which they drifted apart. They felt that the ‘right’ thing to do was to put the kids first. However, it’s even more important that a couple continue to make time for each other after they have kids.”
Why it’s important: Kids will grow up, become independent and leave – the parents’ role is to support them in that. By investing everything in the kids and nothing in each other, it can lead to a very hollow relationship – one that’s unlikely to endure beyond child raising.
Make it happen: Make time for each other and arrange regular dates. Whether that’s on Valentine’s Day or not, it’s important to invest time in each other without the children.