When we’re falling in love, everything looks a little bit rosier. We have more pep in our step and feel like we can conquer the world. We smile more, laugh more, and feel a deeper sense of overall happiness. In that halcyon time, nothing matters more than your partner.
That person was probably the first thing you thought of when you woke and your last thought when falling asleep. Every time they entered your mind, you felt like your whole body was humming with so many emotions that it was hard to contain your excitement. Ahh, that feeling was so good. Being in love is definitely one of the best feelings on the planet. And yet being in a relationship can also be one of the most difficult things to navigate in life.
The last 18 months, in particular, have tested relationships like never before. Many couples have struggled to keep the spark alive as everyday life, with its familiar distractions, has been challenged. The regular social gatherings, travel, and parties have been suspended, forcing couples to re-adjust and re-evaluate what’s important and how to spend their time. But even though it’s been tough, the pandemic has also been an opportunity for couples to strengthen their relationship and deepen the connection they share.
We’d all love those falling in love feelings to last forever, but actually, they can be replaced with something greater, more profound and fulfilling. Even in challenging times, it’s possible to enhance our relationships. Bringing awareness to how we connect and the choices we make when investing in each other is the key to deepening our bonds and having them stand the test of time.
Here, we explore some key strategies to make sure our relationships stay strong.
1. Make "Me" Time a Priority
This is probably the most important thing to wrap your head around. What does “me” time have to do with enriching “us” time, you ask? Well, to nurture your relationship with another person, you first need to connect with yourself. That means selflove. This goes further than spa days (although those are lovely!). It’s about spending quality time alone every day and doing something you love, maybe reading a book, taking a bath, spending time in nature, meditating, journaling, etc. Make a list of all the nourishing things you love to do and then make a conscious decision to choose time for you every day. Write it in your calendar. By taking this time, you’ll not only fill your own cup, but you will also have more resources—energy and patience—for your partner and their needs. Having a morning and/or evening routine is often successful, especially if you have kids. It will ensure that you’ve chosen time for yourself either before the distractions of the day get in the way or after the kids have gone to bed and your house quiets down.
Another important and effective way to have regular personal time is to let your partner know in advance that you need 30 to 60 minutes for yourself on occasion. This gives your partner the opportunity to support you, while also knowing they have the option to have their own “me” time, since it’s something we all need. Sharing your goals will also keep the air clear and avoid any miscommunication between you.
Making time for yourself is one of the healthiest ways you can maintain your relationship, however contradictory it may seem. Work to make “me” time a habitual practice in your life.
2. Establish Active Listening Time
Active listening means both you and your partner are present for each other with no distractions. Schedule time in your day to do this. It can look like a morning coffee date together, an evening walk after dinner or a chat before bed. The key here is that there are absolutely no technological distractions. Phones are down, eye contact is up, and you both allow yourself to listen and to be heard. This is the best gift you can give and receive. As humans, we need to feel heard and we can only do this through active listening. Model this behaviour for your partner and don’t hesitate to set some ground rules as to how this works.
Ground rules for active listening:
- Carve out a time of day that works for you both.
- Be consistent.
- Remove technology and distractions.
- Make eye contact, and hold hands during a walk.
- Allow your partner to finish their thoughts; do not interrupt.
- Paraphrase your partner’s thoughts back to them so your partner knows you’ve heard them.
- Ask heartfelt questions, such as those regarding values, hopes and dreams; make this talk about more than just the groceries or what's for dinner (more on this later).
3. Nurture the Friendship
Being friends with your partner should be a priority in order to make it through challenging times. It’s important not only to love the person you’re with but to like them, too.
One of the most critical things to remember is that we’re all individual, and that’s a good thing. Your partner might have different interests than you, and that’s OK. One way you can reinforce the friends part of your partnership is by having each of you pick an activity you love and then doing it together, maybe on a date night. For instance, you could try water sports, a new craft or a game of pool, cards or darts. It doesn’t matter what it is; the significant thing is that both of you have the opportunity to choose and both of you agree to engage. You're each doing something the other one loves, and you're doing it together.
4. Expand the Conversation
It's easy to get caught up in surface-level communication and begin to feel like roommates rather than partners. To sustain our connections, we need to make sure that we’re discussing meaningful things, including those that make us feel vulnerable. When most couples become disconnected, they tend to protect their hearts and stop talking about the things that matter most.
Heartfelt communication starters:
- What is one thing you want to experience this year?
- What’s been your number one blessing from the pandemic?
- What do you love the most about your life?
- If you had a magic wand, what would you change?
- What scares you the most?
Weighty questions will set the stage for profound discussions. If you think it might be awkward, tell your partner beforehand that you want to make time to talk about substantive concerns. Tell them you want to share your thoughts, feelings and fears, and you want to hear theirs as well. Keeping your hearts open and making each other feel safe leads to a nurturing environment and a more intense kinship.
5. Channel Positive Thoughts
Pay attention to the dialogue you’ve been having in your head about your partner. It could be that you’ve become used to focusing on the things that annoy you—we’ve all been there. It’s possible, though, that too many of those thoughts can drive a wedge between you. Instead, when you feel irritated, try to immediately focus on what your partner does right. They’re human, after all, and will make mistakes (as will you!), so having compassion and practicing forgiveness benefits you both.
It’s hard to find happiness if you feed negative emotions. Replace the bad with the good by consciously choosing to focus on what you love and what your partner does right; it will shift your energy and the vibes around the house.
6. Bring Back the Romance
We can spark romance, but sometimes it needs a little effort and intention to fuel the fire. First, get in touch with what romance means to you and what it means for your partner. It could involve candlelight and music, or flowers and chocolate or massages and bubble baths. Sometimes the sexiest thing in the world could just be the way your partner really listens to you. The key is to tune into what turns the other on.
Book a romantic night on the calendar and take turns to be in charge. Often, women expect a man to make the romantic gestures, but it can go a long way for us to make the first move. One night you can decide how romance looks, and the next night your partner takes the lead. This will keep the flame alive, and can also be a lot of fun. Remem ber: it just takes a little initiative, some creativity and the proper intention behind it.
Ideas for reigniting the romance:
- Take a yoga class together.
- Sign up for an online class or hire a massage therapist to learn couples’ massage techniques.
- Register both of you for a cooking class—there are so many to choose from online.
- Do the I Love You Exercise: Sit cross-legged in front of each other, hold hands, look into each other’s eyes, and share three to 10 things you love about each other.
- Share a gratitude journal or prayer each night by naming three things you are grateful for that day.
- Enjoy a candlelit dinner: Either order take-out from your favourite restaurant or plan the meal and cook together. This is a great way to bond and have some fun. Turn on some music and set a romantic vibe.
All relationships face challenges, that’s just part of life. This past year, though, you may have faced more than before. Remind each other that you’re on the same team and that you have each other’s back. A key point to keep in mind is that when you react emotionally to your partner, it’s because of something being triggered in you. As hard as relationships can be, they are also the biggest opportunity for personal growth. It may be easy to blame your partner if something’s going wrong, but taking responsibility for any part you play is always a step in the right direction.
It’s a choice to keep your heart open to each other and deepen the connection you have. After all, being in love is a gift, and should be cherished, nourished and allowed to flourish. Here’s hoping you choose more love today and every day!