If you’ve read my previous posts for couples, you’ll notice a bit of a theme – that a lot of the work for a couple is really a lot of work for the two selves in that couple. You can’t change each other, but you can change the tune you dance to and see each other afresh, perhaps even learn to like what you see.
To do that, it helps to know what you stand for, what your values are.
In another post, I mentioned values, particularly Russ Harris’ fantastic triad: connecting, caring and contributing (Harris, 2009). There are many others, of course, and many resources available to help you ascertain what values are important to you. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of positive, values-based attitudes or actions being modeled in modern society.
The ‘me first’ mentality which holds sway is not a great starting place for the kind of work that couples need to do. So what you’re about to read will probably sound a little old-school, but if you talk to anyone in a long-term, loving relationship, I think you’ll hear very similar ideas from them. I’ve started each section with a pop-culture reference to entertain you.
“Words are like weapons, they wound sometimes” ~ Cher, If I Could Turn Back Time
Your mum told you that if you haven’t got anything nice to say, to not say anything at all. I’m not advocating that, because we all need to hear hard truths sometimes. Most people, however, underestimate the importance and effect of what they say.
Even simple courtesies such as “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” or “Please forgive me” (which, ironically, we’re often more able to say to strangers or acquaintances than our partner!) can go a long way if said genuinely. Consider text messages, cards, and e-mails as well as the spoken word. They can be thoughtful missives or impromptu notes – a post-it note stuck on the inside of the bathroom cabinet with a love-heart drawn on it can be just as well-received as a page-long letter.
“Love, love is a verb – love is a ‘doing’ word” ~ Massive Attack, Teardrop
Your mum also told you that actions speak louder than words – and in many cases, that’s the truth. It is easy to say one thing and do another, but actions are testament to the values you hold. “I love you” can be said almost as an after-thought or an automatic response. Cooking dinner, organising someone to babysit, or wiping while your partner washes are undeniable proof of your sentiment.
“Nothing can come close to this familiar feeling. We say it all without ever speaking” ~ Moloko, Familiar Feeling
The science is conclusive (Keltner, 2010) and the importance of touch is undisputed (Siegel & Solomon, 2013) The mother-child bond, the lovers’ bond – initiated, developed and cultivated through touch.
How can you facilitate connection and caring physically? People hear ‘physical’ and immediately leap to sex, but depending on where you are in your relationship, sex can be a contentious point. However, the simple acts of hugging, kissing, holding hands, stroking hair, foot rubs, sitting together on the couch, spooning in bed… so gentle, so loving, so necessary.
In summary, it’s not always easy to find a way back to intimacy and connection with your partner. The art of getting beyond what is ‘administrative’ in our relationships while still keeping an eye on the present moment experience can be tricky. That said, I imagine that there’s a part of you that believes it’s worth the effort if you are reading this post.
Given the many pop culture references in this article, I feel it’s only fitting that I conclude with the immortal words of a true icon (insert big cheesy smile):
“Nothing really matters. Love is all you need. Everything I give you all comes back to me.” ~ Madonna, Nothing Really Matters.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if the above post resonates for you. I work extensively with gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples; indeed, love does not discriminate.
Harris, R. (2009). ACT With Love. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Oakland, CA.
Keltner, D (2010). Hands on Research: The Science of Touch accessed on June 14, 2017. www.greatergood.berkeley.edu
Siegel, D. Solomon, M. (2013). Healing Moments in Psychotherapy – Helping Intimate Partners to Heal Each Other. Norton, New York.