Ah, romantic love. When we’re in it, nothing could be more fulfilling. But when we can’t find it or there’s trouble in paradise, it can seem like a lot more trouble than it’s worth.
There is no shortage of expert opinions on the topic—some based in counselling, others in spiritual teachings, and still others who have nothing more to tell us than that the other person is just not that into us. Ultimately, love’s journey is an individual one—and it can be one heck of a bumpy ride. But that doesn’t mean we can’t offer some helpful hints for the many wonderful stops along the way.
The dating game
It’s hard to keep your head while in the throes of a brand-new relationship. It’s uncharted territory, full of emotional intensity and potential hurt feelings. Even when things are going great, sleepless nights and butterflies in your stomach can wear you out. You might also spend a lot of time wondering if this person is the one and how best to proceed.
First off, take a deep breath and recognize that your body and brain are being flooded with endorphins and hormones that could be playing havoc with your ordinarily stellar decision-making. Trust that everything will sort itself out. Enjoy these heady times and try not to overthink it. The only real advice you need is that nugget of wisdom handed out by every mom: “Just be yourself.”
Be honest about who you are, maintain your own friendships and interests, and remember that no matter what happens, you’re going to keep on being the well-rounded, awesome person you’ve always been.
People approach living together in different ways. For some it’s no more complicated than the practicality of getting a roommate; for others it’s a way of making a commitment outside of a traditional marriage; for still others, it’s the last stop before that walk down the aisle. But whatever it means to you, it’s important to have that conversation with your partner before you pack a single box.
Living together can be a lot of fun, but it’s crucial to establish some grown-up rules. It’s good to have a discussion about finances, since the law can treat long-term common-law relationships the same way it does a marriage. This could result in the unexpected division of property and assets if things don’t work out. Romantic stuff, right? Trust us—as time passes and your relationship develops, you’ll enjoy the growing closeness that comes with increased trust and security.
For better or for worse
Marriage is often seen as the conclusion of a successful relationship journey. Most fairytales drop us off at the church with the assurance that “they lived happily ever after.” But marriage is really a beginning, a lifelong commitment to weather life’s storms side by side. Like any precious thing, marriage requires care and nurturing to thrive.
Marriage is an opportunity to plan for a future together and make some big decisions. But it also requires that you accept that you can’t plan for everything. It’s important to maintain a positive view of your relationship and of your spouse, since disrespect and contempt are nearly always contributing factors in marriages that don’t make it.
A healthy marriage is one where both partners can rest assured the other one is always going to be there for them, without taking each other for granted.
And baby makes three (or four, or …)
Becoming parents can bring tremendous joy, but it can often mean radical changes for the happy couple. Kids will certainly change your life, but it’s crucial not to let your identity as a couple fall away entirely. Sometimes loving couples can turn into a parenting team at the expense of their own relationship and wind up feeling completely subservient to the needs of their offspring. It’s not wrong to regard your coupledom as having value and to put yourselves first once in a while.
If finances permit, don’t be afraid to outsource some household duties to make time to go out and have fun together. Talk honestly about the highs and lows you’re going through. It’s not unusual or shameful to experience conflicting feelings about your new role as a parent. Vent your frustrations, but don’t take them out on each other. Most importantly, keep having sex. It might not be at the top of your priority list right now, but it’s an essential part of connection and intimacy—not to mention a great stress reliever.
Leaving the nest
The house is suddenly quiet, apart from the occasional university student showing up with a bag of dirty clothes. For some couples this can be a thrilling stage, full of possibilities for leisure and romance. It’s a good time to sit down together and plan for the future. What are your dreams? What can you do in the short and longer term to help those dreams come true?
For some couples, the empty nest can feel a little too empty. Having no one to look after can leave some loving parents at loose ends. Couples experiencing this grief can consider ways to be of service elsewhere, perhaps by getting involved with a charitable organization or doing some volunteer work together.
If it’s the sight and sound of kids coming through the door that you’re missing most, then you might take this opportunity (and bedroom space) to foster a child or billet an international student.
As they prepare to leave the working world and embark on the retirement years, couples may suddenly realize that they’ll be spending more time together than ever before. This can be a challenging transition. Spouses who defined themselves through their careers may find that they are getting on each other’s nerves.
Patience and planning are key. Enjoy your circle of friends and cultivate your hobbies and interests. If you haven’t got any, now’s your chance to go back to school, take a course, or plan that big trip you’ve always dreamt of. And if you do go on that trip, consider renewing your wedding vows in a special ceremony for your family and friends. What could be more romantic?
Once a relationship gets a few years under its belt, it can be easy to fall into a style of communication that feels relaxed, but might not be the most effective. Unhealthy patterns and habits can result in one or both partners feeling unheard or taken for granted. The following tips can help you find ways to be generous and open when talking to your partner.
- Give your partner your full attention during a conversation, even if it’s just about the events of the day. We tend to share our thoughts and feelings while we’re in the midst of doing other activities and can fall into the “uh-huh” mode of listening, which isn’t really listening at all. Take the time to sit down and have conversations in which you are really attentive and engaged.
- Make your partner someone you confide in. Many of us turn to our friends, family, and work colleagues for support and advice, simply because they’re the ones who are around us for much of our day. Don’t leave your partner out of these discussions. He or she should know what’s going on in your life and feel included in your decisions.
- Treat your partner with the same care as you would your best friend. We tend to overlook our friends’ faults, even if they drive us crazy sometimes, because we recognize no one is perfect. We know that sometimes we need to be there to support our friends through tough times and sometimes we need to just hang out with them, have fun, and forget our troubles. Doesn’t your partner deserve the same?
- Remember that you and your mate are not the same person and will not have the same views on everything. Your role is to be an adult and recognize this, then find ways to embrace those differences and help your mate be the best person that he or she can be. Trying to change another person or quash their ideas is a joyless enterprise that helps no one.
- When things get heated, remember that your partner is most likely acting with what he or she believes are good intentions. Trust in the other person and remain open and honest. Remember the goal is to work toward solutions as a team, not to win or be right.
- Recognize that in conflict situations, much of our defensive response comes from our own fears and insecurities rather than something that is wrong with our partner. Take a mental step back for a moment and breathe before you allow things to escalate. Don’t be afraid to take a break, regroup, and try again when you’re feeling calmer.
- After a conflict or heated discussion, be sure to come back together to acknowledge what has occurred. Apologies aren’t always required, but a moment of kindness and the agreement to move on without resentment is.
- Accept that time and life will change you, your partner, and the dynamics of your relationship. Personal growth, career changes, marriages, kids, and family issues will all rock the boat over the years. Flexibility, compromise, and a “don’t sweat the small stuff” attitude will go a long way toward smooth sailing.
Lust for life
A strong sexual connection can be an essential component of a healthy relationship, but it’s often the one that gets neglected when the going gets tough. Fret not—for just a small investment of time and energy, you can get your mojo working again. Remember how much time and energy you spent on your relationship in the early days?
- You probably fussed over your appearance and made an effort to be the very best version of yourself. If that’s no longer the case, then put in some of that work again by presenting yourself well and being a person who nurtures and values the relationship you worked so hard to build.
- Get out of your rut. Go on a date to a new restaurant, meet some old friends for a cocktail, or just go for a walk around the neighbourhood together.
- If your needs for sex and romance aren’t meshing as a couple, have an honest discussion about each other’s needs and desires and find ways to accommodate them.
- Be brave and try something new in the bedroom. You don’t have to swing from the chandelier, but finding ways to incorporate play and adventure into your love life, while a little awkward at first, is a great way to increase your intimacy.
- Accept that the spark of your relationship will change with time and that the fever-pitch passion you used to experience is usually restricted to those very early days. But every stage of your pairing has its joys. While you might not get stomach-turning butterflies every time you see your lover, with a little effort, you can enjoy a deeper, more loving intimate relationship over time.
- Remember that romance doesn’t have to be about big gestures. A love note tucked into a pocket or an unexpected kiss can change someone’s day in just a few seconds. Never miss an opportunity to tell and show your mate how much he or she is loved.
- Apply the Golden Rule to romance. Instead of waiting for your beloved to read your mind and seduce you or sweep you off your feet, why not try doing it yourself? Act out your desires, enjoy the moment, and then say, “Tomorrow, it’s your turn!”
- Cuddle up together and reminisce about the early days of your relationship. Just remembering and talking about exciting moments you’ve shared over the years can be enough to make those giddy romantic feelings come flooding back.
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