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According to Iona Monk, a registered clinical counsellor, couple therapist and founder of Vancouver Couples Counselling, the biggest challenge couples face -- especially when their days get busier -- is staying connected to each other emotionally.
"That means knowing what your partner is going through on a daily basis and how they are feeling about those things," she explains. "When couples get too busy to connect to each other emotionally, they can feel like strangers after a period of time. It's really important to connect with each other on a deeper level, even if it's just for 15 minutes a day."
Read on for some helpful suggestions on how to make that connection happen and how to improve your relationship in the process.
1. Schedule time together
Monk suggests making an appointment to spend time together as a couple. Start by setting a weekly date night that remains constant. "It may sound contrived, but just expecting to see each other doesn't happen in our busy world. We schedule everything else in order to make it happen, and couple time is no exception," she says.
She also stresses that your relationship must be seen as a priority: "It is something that needs time and effort to be good, just like everything else. Couples who make no time for 'the couple,' but just expect it to work are in for a rude awakening," she explains. "There is no magic here. Time, effort, patience, scheduling and determination make a relationship work."
2. Remember you are a couple first and parents second
When it comes to couples who are also parents, parental responsibilities and children's activities can often make it feel like there is no time to just "be a couple." It's especially important for parents to prioritize their relationship and to make time to spend together.
"As much as parenting children is important, nurturing the couple relationship is even more important when you consider that your couple relationship is the backbone of the family," Monk explains. "If that relationship breaks down, the whole family breaks down and children suffer immensely. Devoting time to the couple is in essence the best gift you can give to your children."
Page 1 of 2 -- Discover three more ways to make time for each other on page 2. 3. Communicate with your partner
If you feel like you aren't spending enough time with your partner and that you're losing the sense of intimacy in your relationship, talk about it. The best way to start the conversation is by using "I statements." This means avoiding pointing fingers and blaming your partner, behavior that can make the other person feel defensive, Monk explains.
"Too many partners feel lonely and long for connection and intimacy. However, instead of stating it in that way -- as a need and a longing for their partner -- they nag, criticize, blame and get angry at their partner, which is a surefire way to start an argument," she says.
Rather than nag or blame, just be honest about your feelings. "Speak from a place of vulnerability," says Monk. "Speak from your heart, not from your head. Talk about your sadness, your loneliness, and that you're missing the way the relationship used to be."
4. Be the initiator
While it would be nice for your spouse to suggest a fun activity, a date night idea or even a post-dinner glass of wine on the porch, know that you might have to make the first move. "Sometimes one person getting the ball rolling is essential to the change process," says Monk.
If you want to make more time for each other, initiate it. "It does have to become a mutual effort if it's going to work in the long run," she adds.
5. Follow your heart
It's important to realize that wanting to feel close, safe, loved and a priority to your partner is a basic human need, says Monk. "We all have these basic attachment needs. Don't bury them or feel ashamed or needy for having these feelings," she advises. "The more you can follow your heart and allow yourself to get these needs met in your relationship, the closer you will both feel."
Fall may be a hectic time, but that doesn't mean you and your partner should resign yourselves to leading what feels like separate lives. Put some effort into scheduling date nights, improving your communication and being honest about your needs and you're sure to bring the focus back to your relationship.
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