Post No.: 0432
At the beginning of a romantic relationship, it is a time of great excitement! But fast forward many years later and routines and familiarity – although comforting – typically become dull and prosaic. Couples tend to go to the same restaurants, holiday destinations, have the same conversations and so on.
So rekindle the romance by regularly doing something new, fun and thrilling – especially if it’s spontaneous, unexpected and unusual! Joint activities where you both work together to achieve the same goal and where you can see each other from a new and unusual perspective (especially if it involves contact) are perfect. So leisure activities that involve both partners, are relatively spontaneous, unpredictable, exhilarating and active, are ideal. Make it feel just like during the early days of the courtship. You both must make an effort to always include time for these activities together no matter what stage in the relationship you are in – these are not just for the start of a romantic relationship.
People in love frequently spend moments gazing into each other’s eyes. Our thoughts and feelings affect the way we act, and the way we act affects our thoughts and feelings – so continue to have moments of loving eye contact and the feelings of love will remain fresh.
Thoughtful gestures, such as sending flowers or chocolates (or whatever your partner likes) to their workplace, compiling a playlist of her favourite tunes, writing him a song or poem, covering her eyes and leading her to a lovely surprise, or whisking him away to somewhere exciting for the weekend, are great. Even the most simplest of thoughtful acts will be romantic, such as offering your coat when she’s cold, telling him that he is the most wonderful person in the world, running a hot bath for her, leaving a romantic text/note around the house, or breakfast in bed. Gestures of escapism and surprise tend to be the best, along with other gestures of caring thoughtfulness, whilst gestures of materialism are the least effective i.e. the thought really does count. Woof!
Experiences are preferable but people don’t always have the time to do them, or do them together. So when it comes to material gifts, non-perishable gifts tend to make the better gifts because they last. Gift certificates or money are less preferable to something more personally meaningful to the recipient too. (Plus watch out in case a firm that you have unspent vouchers with goes bust.) And whenever giving gifts – say something nice and personal, and imbue the gift-giving ceremony with meaningfulness to you both, because this small experience will become associated with the gift itself.
Relationships are far more strongly affected by the negative moments than the positive ones. We tend to think that someone will marry us and stick with us because of our good traits, such as being a good listener, provider or whatever – but really the make-or-break traits tend to be any bad traits we have. We are only as good as our worst points so it’s actually more important to not do the bad things, such as refraining from shouting or blaming our partner, or controlling the urge to splurge on impulsive shopping when the budget is tight. A single positive remark is often reciprocated, but a succession of positive remarks often fails to produce a single reply. Either a single negative remark or a succession of them, however, will reliably provoke a barrage of negative comments in return! Negative behaviours matter far more than positive ones due to our ‘negativity bias’, so rather than reciprocating when your partner is being stubborn or hurtful, it’d be wise to rise above it, ride it out, be positive and not perpetuate a downward spiral by turning negative yourself.
As a rough rule of thumb, for every 1 negative comment, it’s best to give at least 5 positive ones. (This is why campaigning politicians have learnt that, if they’re ahead in the polls, they should minimise the number of public interviews they give because there’s more risk of creating a gaffe than making further gains, especially if the other candidates aren’t exactly doing great – one misjudged statement will be disproportionately remembered far more compared to one brilliant statement. Overall, politicians have quickly learnt that it’s more important to not make mistakes than to do great things because, for better or worse, mistakes perceptually count for more and are more easily remembered when judging people’s reputations. People vote more based on the impressions of candidates’ weaknesses than their strengths, hence why negative smear campaigns are effective. Even fabricated smear campaigns can work and can cause reputational damage.) Relationships thrive and survive on mutual support and agreement so even the briefest of bitter-tasting words needs to be sweetened with a lot of love and affection.
So as long as the positive interactions (the affectionate moments of contact, laughing, praising, playing, gestures of kindness…) exceed the negative interactions (the arguing, criticising, stonewalling…) in at least a 5:1 ratio then a romantic relationship has an excellent chance of succeeding and lasting, and this is regardless of the absolute number of arguments or criticisms a couple share. It’s even better to say 5 positive things about someone plus 0 negative things than 6 positive things plus 1 negative thing. This is because we all have a skewed sensitivity and memory towards the slightest hint of criticism. Whether judging others or ourselves, good reviews don’t make us feel as good as bad reviews make us feel bad. We pay less attention to and take more for granted things that are positive, and pay more attention to and ruminate over things that are negative. (And this is reflected by what kinds of news stories tend to capture our attentions the most.) It takes several good things to psychologically cancel out one bad thing, plus some bad things will never be forgotten. (That’s why some people advise us to avoid the comments sections or any reviews that pertain to us, or even avoid social media altogether.)
Also, things that are relatively rare or unusual will stand out more and will therefore be more easily individually recallable than more common events. But being aware of all of these biases of perception, we should try to be fairer and recall all of the nice times and words that have ever been said, and not just the not-so-nice. This all not only applies between romantic couples but between friends, family members and other types of relationships too.
In any kind of context, when giving instructions to others, try to rephrase ‘don’t’, ‘stop’, ‘you didn’t’ or ‘but’ phrases, such as, “Don’t worry”, “Stop running”, “You didn’t pay attention”, or “You did well but you missed” – with more positive action phrases, such as “You’re doing fine”, “Please walk”, “Pay attention to your positioning this time”, or “Keep doing well and you’ll eventually score.”
Try to also elicit ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ responses. For example, instead of asking a child, “Can you get dressed for school now?”, for which the child might simply think ‘no’ – say, “Let’s get dressed now so that you can see your best friend in school and play for a bit before the first bell” or maybe phrase it as a game, such as, “How quickly do you think you can get dressed today?”
It’s not always easy to remember to do but ask for what you want rather than what you don’t want. (Damn, both ‘but’ and ‘don’t’ were used in that sentence(!))
The word ‘but’ or ‘however’ diminishes anything that was said before it, which is bad if you say something good – albeit if you say something bad and then say ‘but’ then it’ll help reduce the negative impact of your partner’s alleged faults, such as in the example, “You’re very clumsy but I love you anyway.” It puts a positive spin on things and endearingly accepts them. The word ‘don’t’ won’t stop us thinking about what we’re supposed to not think about though – saying, “Don’t think about a psychedelic hippogriff” will make you precisely think about a psychedelic hippogriff. (Although if you do see Fiadh then please tell her I’ve still got her vegetable spiralizer.)
Whether with one’s partner or with one’s children, people can feel loved yet not understood – validating another person’s feelings means being non-judgemental and unconditionally accepting them. Communicate your intent to listen without judgement or blame, acknowledge that their perceived problems are real to them and they matter, and understand the feelings they feel. Once the person feels validated, they’ll then be better able to hear you and to change their own behaviours.
If you’ve experienced a traumatic event, one tip is to write about your thoughts and feelings to help prevent depression (how to do expressive writing properly was covered in Post No.: 0371). Applying this to the subject of romantic relationships – spending a moment writing about what you think and feel about your partner and your relationship can help a lot too. Doing this may then cause you to write and speak more positively about your partner as you look for the silver linings.
Something will only seem big or small in comparison to what we’re comparing it with – so in a romantic relationship, if you think about how other people’s romantic relationships are not as good as yours and note down why yours is better, you’ll start to feel better about your own relationship (comparable thinking).
The more you display objects that were gifted to you by your partner or were joint purchases together – the more you’ll want to make the relationship work. These photographs and trinkets are evocative of good times together. Along with just spending a few minutes thinking about the love you feel for your partner, this drastically reduces the appeal of other potential mates. So surround yourself with things that remind you of your partner, including what you wear or put in your car, office and inside your wallet.
Dividing the housework and childcare fairly is considered important (at least amongst modern couples), as well as the quality of the sex, being able to bear children (for most couples) and having an adequate income and housing situation. Differences in political opinions aren’t as important. What’s a priority and what can be compromised can be quite idiosyncratic for each couple though. Relationships aren’t about compromise but you cannot realistically have, cooperate with or keep a partner (or any other type of relationship) for long without understanding and accepting some compromise some of the time.
But one thing that won’t ever normally be compromised is faithfulness – for this is the number one requirement for a lasting romantic relationship…