3 Cardinal Rules for Date Night and Why They Matter

Over the years I’ve worked with countless couples married 10, 15 and 20 years who tell me they feel distant.  They don’t communicate or no longer have anything in common.  I always feel sad when I hear this because with a little coaching early in the marriage their relationship never needed to take a backseat to raising a family and building a career.

DATE NIGHTS are an investment in your relationship!

When you want to be good at something you invest time, energy, and sometimes money.

If you want to become good at golf or playing the piano you spend time learning the skill and then practicing it.

If you want to have a great garden you water and feed your plants. Without this nurturing the plant will wither and die.

A committed, on the calendar time, at least once a month, preferably twice a month, says you are invested in your relationship and your partner matters!

3 Cardinal Rules for Date Night

#1 Do NOT Talk about Parenting, Finances, or other Problems!

Those topics are for your Business Meetings not for Date Night.  (I recommend couples have a business meeting to handle budgeting, tasks associated with shared parenting, household chores, schedules, etc. These meetings might need to be held weekly to stay on top of things.  BUT not on date nights!)

#2 Reminisce about the good times!

The best possible way to nurture your relationship is to make eye contact, remember and talk about why you married in the first place.  Spend some time remembering your time together pre-married.  What did you talk about then?  What were some of your favorite dates?  What did you enjoy about each other?  What hobbies or activities did you enjoy together?  Research supports: sharing positive memories rekindles the feelings associated with the memories.

#3 Date Nights are for refreshing your RELATIONSHIP!

This is your chance to relax, rekindle, and renew your relationship.  When we feel connected, romance becomes a natural by-product of feeling close to each other.  Keep date nights for these purposes and you will stay positively connected a lot longer.

Bonus: Your Kids (AND Friends!) Are Watching

Keep in mind your children(AND friends) are watching.  Even if they complain about having a sitter, you are showing them how much your spouse/partner matters to you.  The couples I’ve seen who quickly work through issues that brought them to counseling have had positive relational role models growing up and need only a little tweaking.  Date nights are good for your kids and they refresh you for the times you spend with them.

Patti Bitter, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist in St. Louis, MO.  You can read more about her practice @ www.tapestrycounseling.com

Healthy Relationship Tip: Like a Plant — Keep It Fed and Watered

Relationships are like plants.  Food, water and light (attention, communication and affection) are vital if we expect to have a healthy relationship.  Not feeding, watering or providing light is a sure way for your relationships to dry up.

It Takes Work to Create and Keep a Healthy Relationship

After some time in therapy a husband remarked to me, “I never realized how much effort you needed to put forth to make a relationship work.”  He went on to describe his previous notions of how marriages evolved.  “First you date, then you fall in love, get married, and start a family.” He went to work, and provided for his family but somehow his wife was less and less happy.  Double digits into the marriage she threatened divorce.  He was shocked.

It’s Starts With YOU

There is a scene in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes that perfectly illustrates the lack of effort by a husband.  He comes home from work, grabs a beer and plops in the chair to watch TV while his wife brings him dinner.  He thanks her without any eye contact and is perfectly content with the evening.  She walks away upset.

My client realized he’d been doing the same thing.  When coached on the necessity of nurturing your relationship, and how to nurture it, he happily reported that his relationship had much improved.  Divorce was off the table.

He learned to express his appreciation for his spouse and her contributions – verbally and with behaviors.  He pitched in around the house rather than expecting her to carry that load.  He had conversations about finances and kids and chores rather than losing his patience and ordering his family’s activities.

Notice his wife was not involved in counseling.  He needed a safe place to vent and learn about healthy relationship skills.  He had a strong desire to improve his marriage and a willingness to change what he could change – his own behavior

I see wives who’ve taken husbands for granted as well.  Appreciation for a husband’s contributions, acknowledgement of their efforts and affection go a long way toward nurturing a relationship.

A Quick Healthy Relationship Tip

So, if you want a more healthy relationship, do what this man did.  Ask your spouse.  What is s/he missing?  What do they need that they are NOT getting?  Then commit to giving them what they need, and watch that wilted relationship become lush and vibrant once again.

Want to Learn More?

Want to learn more about how to create and maintain a healthy relationship?  Check out other articles in my blog dealing with how to improve communication and build and maintain a healthy relationship.

Need Help?

If you have trouble communicating without blaming or getting defensive, or you simply look at each other without a clue how to reconnect – seek help – sooner rather than later!  I can help.  Schedule a complimentary phone session, and we’ll discuss your situation.  Together, we’ll determine if counseling can help.

An Important Ingredient for Happiness in ANY Relationship: Being Noticed

I broke my foot a while back and was at the stage of a walking boot and cane when I decided to make a trip to the library.  As I was leaving with my stack of books, hobbling a bit awkwardly to my handicapped parking spot, a gentleman in his 60s-70s walked by me towards the parking lot.  When he had gone just a few feet past me he stopped, turned back and asked, “Could I carry your books for you?”  I was really touched, thanked him and assured him I thought the books were providing some ballast.  He smiled and continued on his way.  I doubt he has any idea how moved I was by his NOTICE of me.  I was reminded of how much it means to all of us to be noticed.  When we are noticed we remember that we matter!

So many times, when I am working with a couple I realize that their marriage has eroded because they have stopped really noticing one another.  In a world where Mindfulness has become a commonplace word we still seem to be so immersed in our everyday busyness that we don’t notice our spouses.

Take stock.  Ask yourself when you last really looked into your spouse’s eyes and noticed her/him.  Or stopped what you were doing to make eye contact and really listen to your kids? Being fully present is powerful.  The next time you are listening to your spouse, your child, your friend talk about their day really notice him/her.  You might be surprised by their response to you if you pay attention and notice.

Improve Communication in Your Relationships: Take a lesson from the Wind and the Sun

Improve communication in your relationships, and you’ll enjoy a happier and more fulfilling life.  An old parable provides some excellent advice on how to do that.

In the parable of the Wind and the Sun, the Wind challenges the sun to a competition.  A traveler is passing by wearing a cloak.  The Wind claims by his power he will get the traveler to remove his cloak faster than the sun.  The Sun agrees to the competition and the Wind proceeds to blow and blow at the traveler only to see the traveler pull his cloak tighter.  The Sun proceeds to shine and shine and, because of the sun’s warmth, the traveler sheds his cloak.

When someone disagrees with you, are you more like the wind, getting stronger and stronger, blowing harder and harder, perhaps even raising your voice in an effort to get the other person to see your way?  Or are you more like the sun, inviting the other to share their experience with you so you can understand them better?

As a couples’ counselor, I can assure the latter approach, doing your best to understand your partner, to invite them to share their experience without judging them or reacting to what they are saying can go a long way to your increased understanding and compassion for them.  And surprisingly, when they feel heard and understood they are much more likely to reciprocate with an invitation for you to share also.

If you find yourself digging in your heels and getting ready to defend your position, remember the wind and the sun and consciously choose how you would rather be in the moment.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  Lead with care (warmth) like the sun and see what happens.

4 Steps to More Enjoyable, Less Stressful Holidays (Part 4)

This is PART 4 of a 4-PART article written with you in mind and designed to help minimize the stresses associated with over packed, overdone holidays so you have time for self-care, enjoy your time with family and friends and create the holiday season that best fits you and yours.

In Part 1, I discussed the importance of getting clear on what you WANT your holidays to look like and be like.  And, just as important – what you DON’T WANT.  And, I gave you a simple process for developing your vision.  In Part 2 and Part 3 I showed you how to develop a plan to turn your vision into reality.  In this final installment, I’ll explain how you can make sure that you work that plan and have the type of holidays you want.

Step 4 – Follow Your Plan

This is your opportunity to create a holiday that works for you.  If you have a habit of allowing other’s needs/goals to come before yours AND you end up resentful, this is your opportunity to change.  Feeling resentful after doing something for someone else is a sure sign your yes was not freely given and you are not taking good care of yourself.  While life may throw you a few curve balls and you may need to readjust your priorities or your schedule, keep in mind your ultimate goal of creating holidays that you enjoy.

If you don’t feel capable of sticking to your goals because you feel selfish, seek counsel from friends who seem to have what you want or from a professional who can help you develop healthy boundaries, including the ability to say no and freely say yes!

Lastly, Be Flexible and Choose Laughter

Remember the turkey story in Part I?  We still laugh about that, and the burnt pies!

Laughter truly is the best medicine and in any given moment, choosing laughter works much better than giving into stress.

Wishing you the best and happiest of holidays!