If you are like most people, at some point in your life you believed that relationships are a piece of cake. Maybe you watched one to many romantic fairy tales, or you mistook the rush of hormones in teenage infatuation as true love. And, like most people in committed partnerships, you have probably discovered that a real relationship requires dedication, patience, acceptance, curiosity, accountability, and the willingness to grow.
But it shouldn’t be all work. A healthy relationship has a balance of work play, times of great joy and times of great challenge. With the daily grind of life, it can be all too easy to let the joy fizzle out of long-term relationships. Here are a few ways to bring the spark back and balance the work with some pleasure.
Take a Break – Apart
Believe it or not, sometimes the best thing you can give each other is space. When we are around someone day in and day out, it gets easy to take that person for granted. If we do not have enough mental and physical space, we can easily become annoyed by every little personality trait and habit.
If you feel like you don’t have room to breathe in general, consider a meditation retreat, solo hiking adventure, or another trip where you can be alone for at least several hours each day. If you thrive in social environments but just feel constricted or irritable around your partner, you might be better served by going on a creative retreat or taking an eco-tour with your men or women’s group.
This time apart, doing something you truly enjoy, will allow you return to your relationship refreshed with a clear perspective. You might actually start to miss your partner, and be excited to spend time together again.
Take a Break – Together
Healthy couples know when to take a break from their lives and have unstructured time together. Go to a place you will both enjoy, with activities that suit your temperament. Some couples love biking tours of vineyards, while others will want to sit on a beach and stare at the ocean for hours.
Again, what matters is that you both enjoy it, and it is a break from your daily lives. For bonus happy-couple points, leave the computers at home and keep the phones turned off unless there is an emergency. Plan to actually talk to each other, looking each other in the eye and sharing from the heart.
Reframe Complaints Into Requests
This one shift could be the saving grace for many relationships. It is so easy to fall into nagging, complaining, and harping on your partner does not do what you want or need. But the nervous system responds to reprimands like we are under attack. Stress levels rise and our flight or fight urges get triggered. And so your partner yells or shuts down, and nothing is accomplished.
Focus on asking for what you want, rather than complaining about how things are not the way you want them. Instead of saying “I hate it when you… (don’t wash your dishes, leave your towel on the floor, stay out late, forget our dates, whatever)” you would say “Would you please (wash your dishes, remember to call when you are going to be out late, etc) It make me feel cared for when you do (that thing).
It requires a lot of personal responsibility and self-inquiry to learn to ask for what we need instead of complaining and reprimanding about unmet expectations. But it is well worth it for the shifts it can bring to all of your relationships.
Couples that play together, stay together. Dancing causes the brain to release all kinds of feel good endorphins and neurotransmitters. It helps us feel more bonded to our partners, chemically and emotionally.
The best are partner dances that involve touching each other, like Tango, Blues, Swing, Salsa, Waltz, or Contact Improv. But any kind of dance is good.
If you truly despise dancing or have physical limitations that make it impossible, find other activities you can do together that you both enjoy.
Grow a Garden
Working on a project together also increases bonding and joy. Something mildly challenging and physical like growing a garden is perfect, because it requires teamwork, creativity, and patience. It will also lower your food bills if you grow some of the vegetables or herbs you would normally purchase.
If your thumb is decidedly brown, find a different project that you can do together that sparks your creativity and sense of connection.
Yes, relationships are work. Much of the work can make you both better people, if you are dedicated to being healthy and happy, mature human beings. And relationships should not feel like work all the time. Remember to play, take vacations apart and together, and engage in activities you both enjoy to keep the love alive.