Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who was kept in a lonely castle imprisoned by a wicked witch. One day, her knight in shining armor (her one true love, of course) rescued her from her despair, and they lived happily ever after…or so the story goes. Have you fallen under the spell of the fairy tale romance and been seduced by the myths of effortless everlasting love? If so, you are not alone.
The truth of the matter is that healthy, strong relationships take grit. Grit is the word recently coined by researchers looking at the importance of deliberate practice for attaining mastery. Not only do great athletes, artists, creatives of all kinds, business entrepreneurs, successful students–you name it–take grit. As it turns out, so do happy, loving marriages. In all cases, it is hard work that pays off, even more important than luck or talent.
Given that staying in love takes commitment, what are some tips that can help make our relationships more loving and satisfying?
Perhaps this should be obvious, but far too many couples just don’t make this happen. Our time gets eaten up by the demands of work, the children, the television, the computer, and the housework. We don’t even get enough time to sleep as much as our bodies need to remain alert and healthy. Still, creating time–even twenty minutes a day–is essential for us to stay in touch and feel connected. Don’t forget the date night. Even if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford not to. (Save money by trading childcare with friends or neighbors, pack a picnic, take a long walk together, put the kids to bed early and make a date just to hang out).
Did you know that couples who report high amounts of generosity in their marriage are five times more likely to say they are very happy? Focus on the little acts of giving that end up making a big difference. Be generous about doing each other favors, getting one another a cup or tea or glass of water, looking out for each other, and being affectionate. Another way to be generous is in the way you think about your partner–always try to give your loved one the benefit of the doubt. Happily married couples know that disappointment is inevitable and are charitable when thinking about their partner’s mistakes.
Love can be buried under months or years of unexpressed hurts and resentments. Write a love letter, sharing in a kind way any resentments that have built up. Or think about a conflict or disagreement not just from your perspective but with empathy for your partner. Imagine that you are a third person looking at your issue–a caring bystander who wants the best for both of you–and see if that changes your perspective. Get outside help if you are really stuck.
Even though this may sound very unromantic, it works. Otherwise, by the time you fall in bed, one or both of you is so tired that the heart may be willing but the body just conks out. Even a quickie works better than no sex at all. If you want to fall in love again, sex is a powerful bonding agent. If you are asking the question that many couples ask me in therapy, namely how can you have sex if you don’t feel like it…the answer is painfully simple. If your commitment is to monogamy–and you haven’t both agreed to celibacy–then sex will sometimes be a gift that you give your mate. Being generous applies here too.
The glass will either be half full or half empty. Each of us can take responsibility for our own happiness by looking at the strengths in our partner and remembering why we chose him or her. Happy couples maintain a ratio of five to one, positive to negative interactions. That includes all the things mentioned in the first four tips. If you have trouble noticing the good things, you might want to keep a gratitude journal, writing down three things about your beloved, however small, that you are grateful for each day.
Treat your partner the way you would like to be treated rather than waiting passively for something to change. Remember just how difficult the work of loving can be–which is where the grit comes in. If you aren’t sure about the skills you may be lacking, get an assessment on line or with a marriage counselor. Take responsibility for your part in keeping love alive. Don’t just sit there. Be the love you are waiting for.
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Last reviewed: 4 Mar 2013