This week’s post goes to the heart of keeping a long-standing relationship going. If you’re in one – whether with a partner, a spouse or even a roommate – you know that over time, things can get a bit stale. You start having the same fights over and over. You start completing your partner’s sentences, in a way that breeds boredom rather than intimacy. You know – with agonizing specificity – exactly what the other person likes to eat for breakfast.
So it’s time to shake things up a bit. Change the routine. And also change the way you act towards the other person. You’ll be surprised how well it works. Here are five concrete suggestions for how to do this:
1. Make a small gesture. Happiness blogger Gretchen Rubin lists “Give Proofs of Love” as one of her resolutions. By which she means that it’s as important to demonstrate your love to someone else as it is to love them. Perhaps even more important. There are lots of ways to show someone you love them. You can buy them a new car. Book an appointment with a career counselor. Decorate their room with their favorite things. But you can also do small things. In my case, I noticed one morning that my husband’s toast had popped out of the toaster and was ready to be buttered. While that’s not normally something I’d do for him (speaking of breakfast routines), one day I decided that I’d do it, just to be nice. Guess what? He noticed. And thanked me. Then I did it again. He thanked me again. And I realized how even a tiny gesture can speak volumes.
2. Defer to your partner on a decision. If you’re in a long-term relationship, chances are you’re making loads of decisions together all the time: where to live, which school to send the kids to, how to balance career/family. Some of those can and must be done together. But occasionally a decision will come along where you can afford not to weigh in as much as you otherwise might. A case in point from my own life was when we moved into our new home two years ago. I’m a bit of a control freak. (In case you haven’t noticed.) And in an ideal world, I would probably have approached our move somewhat differently than my husband. But I made a conscious decision that I was going to defer to him on this one. He’s less uptight than I am about moving. And it just seemed like a real shame to try to micro-manage this particular event in our lives (and all the stress, anxiety and quarrels that would likely provoke), so I just let him take the lead. And you know what? It worked. We both became more relaxed about the whole thing.
3. Make A Sanctuary. Once you’ve spent years in a relationship of any sort, it’s easy to start letting other parts of your individual lives (work, kids, relatives) invade your space together. Try not to let this happen. Obviously, you can’t seal off your relationship completely. But you can at least try to protect it. I had one set of friends (a couple) who made a rule that “all work stays at the door.” By which they meant that their bedroom would be a sanctuary. They were both allowed to work in the evening – they had to, sometimes – but when they were finished working, all work had to stay by the door literally outside their bedroom. I thought this was a great idea.
4. Carve out Time. Of course, a sanctuary isn’t any good to you unless you actually spend some time there. So in addition to demarcating your private space, you need also to do things together inside it. Whatever you enjoy most. In my own case, my husband and I try to set aside time every night to talk about the day and then watch something together – a DVD commentary, a BBC documentary, The Daily Show. Another couple I know makes a point of eating dinner together every night after their daughter goes to sleep (*he* cooks, mind you!), even if it’s 9:30 or 10 o’clock at night. Still another couple I know takes a run together once a week in the morning and stops for tea mid-way through. It doesn’t really matter what you do, but that you do it together.
5. Go On An Overnight Getaway. Ok, this advice may be less good for the room mates at hand. But if you’re in a long-term romantic relationship, a great way to re-ignite that flame is to go on an adventure. If you can’t afford to pay for a hotel and sitter, then see if you can send your kids to a friend or relative and have the night to yourselves in your own home. That can be just as fun. If you can afford to splurge once in a while, it’s well worth the effort. We had some friends in Chicago who spent the entire weekend of their 10th anniversary at a hotel in downtown Chicago just 9 miles away from where the live. They had a blast. Last month, we managed to finagle a free room in a fancy hotel in London while my mother was visiting. True, we were on the smoking floor. But I can’t tell you how much fun it was to get dressed up and go down to Soho and have dinner at a chic restaurant on a Thursday night and then amble back (at a leisurely pace!) to our fancy digs. Bliss!