It’s that time of year when love is in the air. A whopping 220,000 marriage proposals happen on Valentine’s Day. I bet each and every one of them is infused with proclamations of undying love. With half of marriages ending in divorce, it begs the question:
Is love all you need?
For some couples, relationships will last for decades. What sets them apart? They understand that an intimate relationship takes work. You can’t coast through it and expect it to last. Work doesn’t have to mean unpleasant or hard. It simply means as a couple you need commitment and focus. Here are some ideas to help you keep your relationship strong:
• Create a weekly check-in to see how you are doing.
There’s a big difference between minor tweaking and a major overhaul. Most of the big problems couples encounter started out as little things. Without a way to pay attention to and respond to them, they can turn into something bigger to tackle.
Set aside time each week to sit down with each other and talk about how the week went. Not about the million things on your to-do lists, but about how you are feeling as a couple. It can be as simple as asking “On a scale of 1 – 10, how did we do this week?” Be open to your spouse’s answer. Your 8 might have been a 4 for your partner.
Then ask another simple question, “What do we need to do next week to make it as good or better?” It could be something like spending more time together, dropping a commitment, or giving each other some space. Having a positive and ongoing dialogue about your relationship helps to keep you both present to what’s working and what might need tweaking.
• Keep getting to know your spouse.
Once you think you know everything about your partner, you will begin to miss new things to learn. Over time our preferences change and our interests shift. Couples who don’t take the time to keep up to date with each other, wake up one day as strangers.Couples who don't take the time to keep up to date with each other, wake up one day as strangers. Click To Tweet
Keep the same curiosity you had about your partner when you first met. Know each other’s likes and dislikes, current stressors and worries and hopes and dreams. Think of this as a life-long conversation.
• Make a life list together.
People often think a life list, or bucket list, is something that you do near the end of your life but that misses the whole point of it. A life list can be a powerful planning tool and conversation starter.
Begin by creating individual life lists. Write down all the things you would like to learn, experience and try during your life. Then sit down and compare lists. Find common life goals and use them to do some annual or long-term planning. At the beginning of each year, choose a life goal to work on together.
This activity also reinforces that although you are part of a couple, you are still an individual with your own unique life goals. Talk about how you can support each other in achieving your individual goals. Remember that a life list is a dynamic activity. It’s meant to grow and change along with your interests.
• Give up needing to be right all the time.
We all have our preferences and opinions so it’s easy to feel the need to defend our way of doing things. Lots of minor disagreements are about things that are really not important such as the best way to complete a task. Throughout the course of your relationship, there will be lots of things that you will need to negotiate. Save your energy for the things that really matter. It’s okay to let your spouse be right!
• Be aware of the comfort zone.
One of the wonderful things about a long-term relationship is a feeling of comfort and familiarity. That can also be a danger zone. When we become too comfortable, we often begin to take things for granted, especially about our partner. It’s easy to slip into thinking that your spouse knows how much you care and therefore you don’t have to show it as often. By regularly showing your appreciation in small ways through words and gestures, you continue to strengthen your bond.
No question that love is a necessary ingredient to making a relationship work. But with all due respect to the Beatles, it’s not all you need. A mutually enriching and satisfying relationship also takes planning, focus and patience….and love, love, love.