I work with several couples who love each other and want their relationships to thrive and grow, but they don’t put much effort into planning quality time together. “Busyness” has become a major rationale for many couples, as they balance the multiple roles of employee or business owner, parent, friend, relative, self-care, and partner.
I find myself telling couples with some frequency that wanted time together won’t just happen on its own when you have a lot on your plate. Wishing for it isn’t enough – you need to be more intentional about making it happen by putting it near the top of your priority list and individually and together planning.
If you’re a bit wary about whether your ideas for meaningful, fun time together will be a hit with your partner then ask them about the kinds of activities indoors and outdoors they’d enjoy. You can each make a list, put the ideas in a jar, and pick from each other’s jars, taking turns. (My “Jar Exercise” I refer to in one of my free articles you can receive by signing up). Don’t allow quality time together to become a one-person job. It’s best to share the labor of connection. You’ll also get more “bang for your buck” by introducing novel places and activities. Neuroscience points out the benefit of novelty to the bonding experience between couples, so try to avoid doing the same old thing every time you’re together. Try to balance tried and true rituals you both enjoy with new experiences and places. You’ll be enriching your relationship in a major way. You’ll be avoiding the big pit of “busyness” and disconnection in your relationship, and you’ll feel better about being proactive about this issue.
Here we are on the eve of another Valentine’s Day. Chances are, you’re running around frantically looking for flowers or chocolates for your honey, wanting to tell them how much you care. If you’ve been remiss and haven’t expressed these feelings in words or meaningful actions then you’re behind the eight ball right now. But, there’s hope!…..
There are thousands of ways to show your partner that your care. It may be a bit late for this Valentine’s Day, but not too late for every day of this year! If you’re lacking ideas about how to express your love in ways that will resonate with your partner, don’t give up by just doing the perfunctory Valentine’s Day stuff. Here are two terrific books I encourage couples to buy and use every single day of the year. Remember, change doesn’t happen in one giant Hallmark moment, but through thousands of choices, large and small, throughout your life.
I could never sit “Indian Style,” so when I spent two weeks in Girl Scout camp at age nine I felt like a total failure next to all the other little scouts sitting like perfect Yogis around the campfire, inhaling their gooey Smores. Imagine my later dismay whenever I attended a cozy, casual group event, or God forbid, a Yoga class and attempted to achieve a Namaste frame of mind in lotus position! So, sadly to say, my attempts at “regular” meditation haven’t been stellar with the posture all convoluted. I also sit in my work as a psychotherapist more than most elders do when they’re confined to wheelchairs, so more sitting as a form of meditative practice is generally out.
I relax and even meditate through movement, often focusing on my breath and gait during speed walks, no matter where I am. But the real deal happens when everything is quiet and shut down, my cat and husband are asleep, the horrible news is off, my laptop has been put to bed, the dishwasher is humming, and I’m in the zone making popsicles. I am the newest member of a bizarre club of mostly young Moms who need some peace and quiet, and find it late at night, concocting all sorts of decadent popsicles, then posting them on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. I call them the Midnight Madness Poppers, and I guess I’m one of them, invited, young and tired, Pinterest addicted – or not. I’ve decided that even though nobody has nominated me yet, that I have an even more exclusive membership in this club, because anyone can invent delicious pops loaded with gobs of sugar, but mine are healthy, untainted by that sweet poison.
I’ve also decided that most anyone can sit in perfect Lotus position, still and silent, noting their breath and invasive thoughts as a path to enlightenment. How many people can go into a total meditative trance at midnight whipping up things with names like “Banana Maple Coconut Rum Pecan” or “Russian Cappucino Walnut Kahlua Chip”? Huh?
As you may be aware from my last post, “Zippy Goes Down,” I had an accident several weeks ago, resulting in a broken ankle. It’s required me to be hobbling around on an aircast when I have to move about, and to be mindful of each step, mindful of how much I rest, and to pay attention to the effects of all of this on, not only my foot, but my whole body. Aside from the lessons I’ve been learning about letting go, relaxing, and resilience, the experience has been teaching me something unexpected – to be more compassionate toward my body as it heals. This is something almost foreign for many women in America, who chronically complain about the size of their thighs, breasts, hips, etc., and compulsively beat their bodies into submission through crazy diets and brutal exercise regimens.
As I’ve watched my ankle grow stronger and seen the x-rays showing the healing bone, I’ve been amazed at the capacity of the human body, my body to bounce back with some TLC. It’s made me think back to the amazement and respect I felt for my body after giving birth to our son without incident. (I did that?!) It’s also made me much more appreciative of all the other things my loyal body does for me, usually without complaint every single day. So, I’ve made it my mission to befriend my body, as I think we all should, by being mindful of treating it with respect every day, appreciating it the way I would a trusted friend, and listening to it and the messages it gives me daily.
For a terrific little exercise about how to do this well, get Rick Hanson’s book “Just One Thing” for all the details. You can find it through the “Store” page of my website, then go to “My Amazon Store” and click on the link to Amazon. You don’t have to wait to break an ankle or an arm to do it. Cultivate compassion for your body (and yourself!) and your body will thank you back for a lifetime.
It’s Fall again, the air is crisp, the leaves are glorious (all those usual notes), and once again my husband and I are sitting on the giant wraparound porch at the Eagle Mountain House in Jackson, New Hampshire. This is one of our happy rituals as a couple – to drive up into the White Mountains in the late Fall, go for walks, meander through the back roads, browse the shops, read with a glass of wine on the porch, and feast on comfort food in local eateries.
Rituals are a perfect way to create soothing predictability, comfort, and anticipation into your life, whether you’re coupled or single. When you hold a memento or picture of the location, and gaze at it, pulling up good memories, you’re ramping up “feel good” chemicals in your brain. If you’re coupled, it tends to rekindle experiences of bonding and connection. If your life feels like a dreary treadmill, a happy ritual can interrupt the depressive feeling, and remind you that life, however hard, is also filled with meaning and joy, if you allow it.
So, if there’s a special experience you’ve had with some regularity either alone or with a partner, take it off the shelf and re-enact it! If there are none in your repertoire, then create some new experiences which can be ritualized. You’ll be doing your mood and your relationship a world of good.
It’s 8:55 on a frigid Sunday morning, and I awoke to a blazing fire in the family room thoughtfully prepared by my devoted “woodsman” husband, Thom. What a way to begin a 35 degree day in November!
It made me think about all the cozy rituals my family embraces, and how centering and comforting they are. I’ll often ask therapy and coaching clients who are facing difficult circumstances if they have a repertoire of cozy comfort activities in their emotional “toolboxes.”
I’m often surprised by the scarcity they report, or by the lack of awareness people have about what comforts them besides booze or meds!
If you haven’t developed an elaborate system of ways to get cozy and give yourself comfort, then it’s time to build it before you need it. Think about activities you could ritualize, like a weekend fire, or a cup of tea in the afternoon, or a bath on a Friday night. Consider this list as your arsenal of protection against overwhelming anxiety, sadness, exhaustion or loneliness. It’s your personal (and partnered) treasure trove of self-care and self-soothing. You can do it alone or with your partner or family. Whatever the case, having benign ways to “get cozy” will help you decrease your trips to the doctor, the liquor store, and expensive shrinks, like me!
It’s been a long, beautiful weekend, and I’m reminded in Spring of a lovely ritual my husband Thom and I engage in during the warm weather. It always brings us closer together, and I routinely recommend it to my clients who live outside cities, especially those couples who want to create more sharing without the labor of words all the time. Here it is:
Get up fifteen minutes earlier in the morning, grab a big cup of coffee, each of you, and head outside for your yard or your land. If you start this routine early in the Spring, notice all the new growth and shoots as you both walk around, and take pleasure in the miracle of nature. Smell the earth at last, notice all the green, and look for all the buds you can find. If you have done any landscaping or yard work together, take some time to enjoy the fruit of your labor as you note the garden beds coming alive again. Do NOT, and I repeat, do NOT start weeding or hauling brush! That’s work, and this is about a few minutes of shared joy in the world you’ve created, so don’t get compulsively busy! Exchange some ideas about how you both want to improve and expand upon your garden in the coming months, even if you only want to plant a few flowers or a tomatoe bush. Imagine the lovely experiences you’ll have with eachother, friends and family in the coming season, and enjoy the anticipation of shared pleasure. Now, say goodbye as you each go off to your work with a thirty second hug to further increase the “feel-good” chemicals in your brains, and know that the day will be a touch softer because of the small intimacy in the morning. (Repeat as often as you can until the snow flies, or it’s too freezing to hang around outside).
P.S. Check out my latest published articles about relationship issues at: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Susan_Lager
Also stay tuned for my upcoming website Couplespeak.com where you will find an array of products and services for partnership problem-solving and enrichment!