When you listen to people in newly formed relationships, you hear them say things like, “We have so much in common,” and, “I can talk to them for hours and hours.” Regular date nights, fun activities, and spending time together are a natural part of the dating experience as partners get to know each other. We all know that it takes time and effort to maintain this. As time passes, it becomes easy to find yourself engaging in separate activities at home with your partner and feeling alone in your relationship. Having some separate interests and activities are indeed important for maintaining your individuality in a relationship. However, it’s also vital to make sure there is regular time for you and your partner to come together. Working, raising a family, and engagement in other activities often taken priority over date nights and intimate conversations with your partner. While it feels like this quality time with your partner is a luxury and not as important as other daily tasks, I argue that shared meaningful activities and conversations are essential to continue to fuel your marriage.
You will have an easier time connecting with your partner on an emotional level, understanding their thoughts and beliefs, and working through conflict in your relationship when you regularly have positive, quality interactions with each other. Think of having a good friendship in your marriage as essential for having a solid foundation. When you have playfulness and connection in your relationship, you’re more likely to interpret your partner’s eye roll or snarky comment as them having a rough day rather than a personal attack on you because that foundation of positive experiences and connection is solid. You’re also more likely to offer the response your partner needs in these tough moments and you’ll be more prepared to help your partner calm down before the minor situation leads to a major blow up.
When working with couples in therapy, I often hear about how they would love to carve out more time for each other but just don’t have the time to make it work. Weekly date nights sound fantastic, and we know they are probably not realistic for busy families. It’s more important to set a goal that you can sustain and incorporate into your routine. Start small and talk with your partner about what would be fun for them. Schedule a few minutes with your spouse after you put the kids to bed. Don’t wait around for your partner to make the first move with enhancing quality time. It’s okay for you to take the lead, and know that it will take practice and persistence. You can search online for dozens of date night ideas, but what matters most is finding an activity that is meaningful to both you and your partner. It’s also important to have meaningful conversations about each of your hopes and dreams for the future. Schedule time to play a game together, take a walk, or engage in a hobby together. You will be surprised to learn something new about your sweetheart and it will feel good to re-experience the connection you had early in your relationship.
Your partner shows love for you by cooking dinner on weeknights, while all you want is for him/her to tell you that you’re such a great parent. You buy your partner flowers, when he/she would rather spend an afternoon with you. Most of us don’t spend time thinking about how we all have different preferences for how we receive signs of love and affection from those we care about most.
Gary Chapman identified 5 Love Languages and argues that we all have a preference for how we would like our significant others to show their love for us. Not only can you learn how you prefer your partner to show signs of affection, you can also consider how to best show your love for them. Having increased understanding about preferences for both you and your partner sets you on a path for increased connection in your relationship.
Here are the 5 Love Languages, according to Gary Chapman:
Words of Affirmation: words of support, encouragement (e.g. “You’re such a strong person, you mean the world to me”)
Acts of Service: helping your partner out by doing things for them (e.g. changing the oil in your partner’s car, running an extra errand for your partner)
Receiving Gifts: purchasing something special for your partner (e.g. flowers, a new shirt)
Quality Time: spending meaningful time with your partner connecting and doing enjoyable activities (e.g. date nights, cooking a meal together)
Physical Touch: physical contact with each other (e.g. holding hands, hugging, kissing, back rubs, sex)
Which best describes you? Your partner? If you’re not sure, read the book, or complete the quiz on their website: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/couples/. Then, sit down and have a conversation with your partner about both of your preferences and how you can best show your love for that special person in your life.
Sara Kind-Michels, MS, LPC, LMFT
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