Keep the love alive with these 20 must-try tips
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
I don’t know if it is just my age, but life seems to be getting busier and busier. In the midst of all this activity, multiple commitments, competing priorities, and time flying by it’s very easy for couples to let their relationship slide to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list.
It’s important to take a breath sometimes and put some energy into our relationships, so this month I have put together 20 tips for keeping your relationship healthy.
1. Be positive and work together as a team. Plan to stay together and live with the working assumption that as a couple you can get through whatever life throws at you.
2. Watch how you think about your partner. It’s easy to pay attention to, and mentally ‘stew’ on all the little annoying things your partner does. Over time stewing on all the little issues make them seem more important than they really are, and can lead to a loss of perspective about what is really important to you as a couple and a family. This doesn’t mean sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the negatives, but it’s important to mentally keep them in perspective. So next time your partner talks with food in her mouth or leaves his shoes in the hallway, let them know it’s annoying to you then choose to not think about it again.
3. Make a point of spending time paying attention to and thinking about the things your partner does that you like or appreciate. Tell your partner what you like and appreciate about them on a regular basis.
4. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. One thing I regularly notice in couples who come to relationship counselling is that they often automatically assume the worst about their partner’s intentions. There is little room for mistake making where there’s no benefit of the doubt. An example of no benefit of the doubt would be getting home at night to a dark house, and immediately assuming your partner purposefully didn’t put the light on for you.
5. See issues or problems as shared, rather than yours or your partner's. Use lots of ‘we’ rather than ‘you’ or ‘I’. For example, instead of saying “What are YOU going to do about this problem?” try asking, “What can WE do about this problem?” This comes back to working together as a team, and this is especially important when one partner works away.
6. Be brave and share your thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams and fears with your partner.
7. Be brave and open up to listening to your partner’s thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams and fears. I think it takes as much courage to open yourself up to listen to your partner’s thoughts and feelings as it does to share your own.
8. Try to learn more about your partner every day. Stay interested and curious about what’s going on for them day to day, as well as their longer term hopes, and fears (remember, these can change over time, as can preferences for food, drink, music, birthday cakes, flowers, underwear and what they fancy in the bedroom!)
9. Look after yourself. As I get older, I see this as more and more important. All relationships benefit from the individuals in them taking responsibility for their own physical and emotional health.
10. Express affection to your partner, physically and verbally, as often as possible (daily if you can). Working away, or having a partner who works away, doesn’t excuse you from this one - you just need to work on finding ways to express your love in non-physical ways, like emails, texts, phone calls, cards, letters and small gifts.
11. Work together towards shared goals. Examples of shared goals are buying a house, holidays, a new car, building a new deck, or making a veggie garden. Like all goals, make sure these are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timed). For example, it’s not SMART to say “we want to go on holiday” but it is SMART to say “we will go to Thailand for two weeks in November next year”. You can then work out how much it will cost and get saving and planning.
12. Foster shared interests (no, not just the children). This tip is similar to shared goals, but without an end point. Shared interests give couples a sense of intimacy and connection, as well as giving them something to talk about and do together. Examples of shared interests include sport (watching or participating), reading, cooking, gardening, renovating, travelling and watching a TV series.
13. Know each other’s lives. Take an interest in each other’s day-to-day activities and keep a diary to remind you of important dates. Happy couples make a point of connecting regularly about the ‘small things’ in life; like texting when you know when your partner has something important on that day.
14. Be open to getting outside help to ease pressure on the relationship. For example, if you keep arguing about money, go and see a financial adviser for non-biased help with your budget. If you’re constantly disagreeing about who does the jobs neither of you like, pay someone to do them if possible. I think this one is particularly relevant to FIFO families. Having one partner away for a lot of the time means that it’s practically difficult to get some tasks done. Couples can avoid a lot of disagreements by outsourcing some jobs.
15. Have regular sex. There are all sorts of fascinating benefits of regular sex, like an improved sense of smell and better immune function, but the main benefit of regular sex is connection and intimacy with your partner. As life gets busier and busier with work and children, it’s important that couples make time for sex in their relationship.
16. Learn your partner’s love language. Some people feel most loved when their partner buys them a little gift, some feel most loved when their partner makes them dinner and others feel most loved when their partner hugs and kisses them. Do you know when your partner feels most loved by you? Gary Chapman has written a best-selling book called The Five Love Languages to help couples figure their own and their partner’s love language and it’s definitely worth exploring this with your partner.
17. Use technology to connect when you’re apart. Remember, when texting, keep the messages simple and clear, like “I’m thinking of you”, “I love you” and “I’m missing you”. Don’t use text to tell your partner information you should say in an actual conversation (face to face or telephone). If you’re a FIFO family, it’s particularly important that you keep up to date with how technology can help your relationship.
18. Prioritise time together. Some couples love ‘date nights’ and if this is you, that’s great. Others find them too forced, or more often they don’t have the money or child-minding resources to go on regular ‘dates’. If you don’t like, or can’t do date nights, make a point of spending time together in other ways. You could make time to watch a movie, cook together, go for a drive, or go to bed as soon as the kids do (and not to watch the television!) Put the ‘date’ in your diary, and reschedule this as you would any other important meeting if something urgent (like illness) comes up.
19. Have fun together and remember your sense of humour. Listen to music, watch funny movies, play games and look for ways to make your partner laugh.
20. And finally, at number 20, is the very old lesson that I always come back to in my own relationships: “Be the change you want to see.” Rather than spending time and energy thinking about how you want others to change, focus that time and energy on making positive changes in your own life.
To read other columns written by Angie Willcocks during her six years with Mining Family Matters, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career. All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.