Valentine’s Day and its celebration of romantic love has come and gone. Now that the flowers are wilting, how do we keep love alive the other 364 days? It’s a fair question, because without regularly investing time and energy into our relationship, we can dig ourselves into a rut.
Here’s a suggestion that many mental health-care professionals recommend: Make and maintain rituals for the two of you. That might sound a bit odd if you think of a ritual like a wedding ceremony. But these rituals are something you choose to do regularly with your partner, for example, a weekly date night or activity.
Couple rituals boil down to spending time together. Sounds simple, yes? But it takes a real commitment to incorporate your own rituals into an already busy life.
Building a romantic ritual portfolio
Psychologists Brent Bradley and James Furrow recently published a list of recommended rituals, including the following.
• Say hello and goodbye lovingly. Say them with a kiss and a “love you.” I like this ritual because it’s so simple and can happen at least two times daily. It reminds me of when I walk in the door and our family dog is there to greet me. He’s so happy to see me, and he never fails to make me feel good.
• Go on a weekly date night. For busy Silicon Valley couples with kids, this can be a challenge. Keep in mind that date night doesn’t have to be elaborate and limited to a fancy dinner and late-night dancing. Date night can just be grabbing a burger or taking a walk, but it’s planned and you stick to it. Life will get in the way, but it says a lot when you find time to enjoy one another.
• Find a common interest to do together regularly. While some couples may play bridge or golf, others relish birdwatching, going to the movies or watching a favorite TV show. Sharing a mutual interest could make the time you spend together more fun and enriching. To kick this up a notch, consider learning a new activity together, one new to both of you. Indulge your interests in arts and crafts, athletics (participating or watching) or academic interests. Serving others with joint volunteer work is another idea to keep in mind.
• Celebrate special events together. The two big ones are birthdays and anniversaries, as these involve you as a couple. Of course, there are also opportunities on Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and religious holidays. An attentive celebration of key events is generally a reflection of a healthy relationship.
• Schedule a regular time to talk. You can discuss your relationship: How are we doing? What do we need to pay attention to, perhaps change? A respectful dialogue is a great opportunity for growth as individuals and as a couple.
• Express physical affection. Just as a garden needs water, our bodies need to be held, hugged, kissed, thrilled and comforted. To be clear, let’s consider sexual and nonsexual physical affection. Sexual affection is loving sex. Nonsexual affection is snuggling on the couch, holding hands or a kiss in the kitchen. Both forms of physical affection can enrich a relationship while being playful and loving.
Good for you and your relationship if you’ve already got a ritual portfolio. Consider adding one of these, or let me know some of your own practices.
Here’s to a year of deliberately showing and celebrating your love on a regular basis. It’s an investment that pays big dividends.
Nancy Andersen, M.A., is a licensed marriage and family therapist who provides emotionally focused therapy for couples and individuals at her Loyola Corners office. For more information, call 833-9574 or visit nancyandersenmft.com.
Keeping your love alive after Valentine’s Day