Relationship maintenance is one of the most important things couples can do to create and “maintain” emotional intimacy. This maintenance comes in many forms. Some couples have regular date nights. Others have daily talk time. Often times one or both people read self help books about strengthening the relationship. Many of the couples I work with, and come across in my personal life, ask me about books they can read that will give them skills to strengthen their relationship. Here are two books I think every couple, happy or in distress, should read.
The first is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This book takes you through five ways that people show and feel love. The five love languages are quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, service, and gift giving. This book takes you through the these five love languages and helps you identify which love language speaks to you. Read this with your partner. Once both of you are done and have properly identified your love language, share it with the other person. I use this idea in every couples session. The hope is that once you know your partners love language you can start speaking directly to what they need in the relationship. Someone who has the love language of quality time, but is given gifts will not feel properly loved and connected to their partner. This book gives invaluable insight into yourself and your partner that can strengthen every relationship.
The second is Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson. This is a fantastic book that teaches you about attachment and reconnection with your partner. It has seven fabulous “conversations” for you and your partner to work through. If you are looking for emotional intimacy with your partner this is the book you are looking for. It is educational and highly effective at healing past wounds within relationships. Even if you and your partner have a healthy and loving relationship this book can still be a tool in creating a stronger bond.
Many couples feel that going to therapy, or even reading books like these shows a weakness in the relationship. My frame is that attending therapy and reading books to better your relationship is a strength; it means you and your partner are willing to put hard time and effort into being better individually and together. These couples are the ones that have relationships that will last. Hopefully you have the time to pick up these two books and give them a try. Read them with openness along side your spouse and they can make a world of difference.
Valentine’s Day is upon us. That lucky time of year when love is celebrated and it is socially acceptable to eat your weight in cinnamon hearts and chocolate. There is an extreme amount of pressure to make Valentinest a special and romantic day for your spouse. Too much focus is put on the gift giving aspect of this holiday. We should be focusing our attention to the sentiment behind the day, which is to show your love for the people in your life. Here are three ways that you can make your Valentines Day more meaningful and put the emphasis of the day where it belongs.
1) Embrace this opportunity to look at people in your life that you love and appreciate-other than your spouse. Of course I don’t want you to forget your spouse on this most auspicious day. However, the day can take on additional meaning if you expand your loving thoughts to others whom you would not normally reach out to. Take the time to send warm thoughts to a neighbor that means a great deal to you. Write a loving email or letter to your sister or brother. Don’t forget aunts or uncles that were essential to your growing up years and helped shape who you are today. As you look to the people in your life who have made a difference and take the time to tell them, your Valentines Day will take on a whole new meaning.
2) Give the gift your partner REALLY wants. This may shock you but NOT EVERYONE WANTS A PRESENT AT VALENTINES DAY. It is a common myth that the only way to show someone they are loved on Valentine’s Day is to give them some sort of present. We all feel love in different ways. Gary Chapman wrote a brilliant book entitled The Five Love Languages. He outlines five different ways that people feel loved. They include physical touch, quality time, gift giving, words of affirmation, and service. This means that you could be showering your partner with gifts when really a simple letter expressing your love would mean just as much- if not more. Go over the five love languages and identify which one makes them feel the most loved. Once you know the answer speak to that love language. Sit down today with your partner. Ask them outright what they would like to receive on Valentine’s Day. Asking does not take away the romance of the day. It does ensure that you will give the gift, time, touch, words or service your partner wants and needs the very most.
3) Keep It Simple. Grandiosity and Valentines Day go hand in hand according to Hollywood. However, this is not realistic or needed. Creating a small, fun Valentines ritual that can evolve with your life will be much more successful than diamond earrings. When my husband and I met we were in college. Our first Valentines Day together my husband had class until nine in the evening. He picked up Chinese food on the way home and we ate it on the floor of our tiny apartment in the candle light. Two children and eleven years later our Valentines ritual has evolved to making the Chinese food and eating it with our kids in the candle light. It is nothing extravagant, but means a great deal to both of us. Talk with your spouse about something small and meaningful that you can do as a couple, or family, to celebrate this day.
I had a thought provoking experience a few weeks ago. In a couple’s therapy session, a client turned to me (after arguing with her husband for a few minutes), and said, looking for confirmation: “the greatest gift you can give someone is your undivided attention.” It felt poetic! It sounded true, at least worth arguing about! I thought about it for a while after the session. As a marriage therapist, it is important to know what the greatest gifts you can give to one another truly are! The other interesting part that stayed with me was that her husband did not seem to agree…
So, I decided to put it to the test. I started asking others what they thought about the concept of undivided attention. Some people’s eyes would light up like a Christmas tree and would whole-heartedly agree with the statement. However, others would seem to be unaffected by it, receiving it with a “ho-hum” response, if anything at all. Surely, the greatest gift for that client was undivided attention, and she is not the only one! However, it appears that others would fill in the end of that sentence with a different response: “The Greatest Gift You Could Give Me is _______________.” How would you fill in the blank?