Tips to Keep the Romance Alive
Anyone in a romantic relationship for more than a New York minute knows it takes hard work and perseverance to continue nurturing an established connection. Flowers are wonderful, chocolate might be better, and a fancy dinner on Valentine’s Day can temporarily revive a stale love affair, but there’s no replacement for daily effort.
“Couples have to work to not get complacent in their relationship,” says Monica Mendes, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist with the University of Miami Health System. “You have to make an effort to build a culture of appreciation with one another.”
Dr. Mendes, who specializes in children and families, says no relationship is perfect, but there are ways to make one better if the partners are willing to put in the effort. “It’s easy to fall back on negative patterns of behavior if we’re not careful,” she adds. “Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing that.”
Though Dr. Mendes treats a wide array of concerns among couples in counseling, she also has noted some common problems. She refers to the work done by the Gottman Institute, where clinical psychologists John and Julie Gottman have extensively studied relationships and the difference between happy and unhappy ones.
The Gottmans have identified what they called “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” — destructive behavior patterns that can predict divorce with 93% accuracy.
They are contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
Dr. Mendes uses these concepts to guide couples to better communication patterns.
“The good news is that there are antidotes for these destructive patterns,” Dr. Mendes says.
What’s more, you don’t have to be in therapy to use them to create a healthier relationship.
Here are Dr. Mendes’s suggestions:
The antidote to contempt: Build a culture of appreciation.
Remind yourself of what you love about your partner and practice gratitude. Dr. Mendes also encourages couples to give each other credit for good deeds and kind words.
The antidote to criticism: Try a gentle start to bring up issues.
Dr. Mendes encourages using “I-statements” to express your feelings rather than “You-statements,” which assign blame and leave couples feeling like they are being pitted against one another.
The antidote to defensiveness: Take responsibility for your actions.
We all make mistakes. Recognize that your partner’s perspective is just as important as your own. Apologize and vow to do better.
The antidote to stonewalling: Take a break when an argument gets too heated.
This doesn’t mean you withdraw from the discussion by shutting down and disengaging. Rather, discuss taking a break from the conversation with your partner and use this time to calm down so that you can both return to the conversation with a more rational mindset.
Understand each other’s love language.
A 1992 nonfiction book by Gary Chapman, “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment,” identified five ways romantic partners express and experience love: through words of affirmation (compliments), quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.
The idea is to connect using the “language” (behavior) that resonates with your partner — and vice versa, of course.
One might prefer physical displays of affection, so the other should make a concerted effort to “speak” in that language. It’s also important to be open about what you want, Dr. Mendes says. “Your partner isn’t a mind reader. Be sure to communicate your needs and what behaviors make you feel loved and cared for.”
Prioritize spending weekly quality time with each other – a time when you don’t talk about any sensitive topics.
“I often ask couples to commit to spending one evening or afternoon together between sessions, just relaxing and having fun,” she says.
“Life is challenging enough. It’s important that we are able to disengage from the stress of the day and find comfort in spending time with our partner.”