You may or may not be old enough to remember the 1975 Paul Simon hit song, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. In keeping with that idea, we want to give you some therapy goals headed in a positive direction — saving important love relationships, rather than losing them!
In the spirit of the positive, we offer you 5 Ways to Keep Your Lover — strategies that promote better communication and connection between partners.
1. Full Focus. The average married couple spends less than 20 minutes a day engaged in face-to-face conversation. Pretty meager! And that includes making plans for carpooling and relaying messages about conversations with other people!
Commit to beating the average and fully focus on communicating with your partner for 20 or more minutes a day. This means you and him/her, face-to-face, talking about something of interest or import (to at least one of you) with the full attention of the other. Try it. You may remember why you like this person — your partner.
2. Unplug. During the full-focus time, unplug from the television, computer, phone or any device that calls to you. Put them away and do not pick them up for any reason. Nothing makes a person feel unimportant like being de-prioritized for a funny commercial, an “amazing” sports play, a ringing phone, or a buzzing text. Think about it – what message do you send when you put a YouTube video ahead of your partner?
If you cannot unplug right now, this 20 minutes is not the right 20 minutes for Full Focus. Schedule it if you must. Can’t uplug? Consider this: if you or your partner cannot, or will not, disconnect from distractions for 20 minutes to focus on the other, the unwilling or unable partner is in serious danger of disconnection from their significant other.
3. Make a Plan (aka Practice Anticipation). Life is made up of three parts: Anticipation, Execution, and Remembering. Anticipating is one-third of living! Weddings are extreme examples of this — many months of anticipation/planning, a few hours of execution, and years of remembrance. (Note that while weddings can be stressful, your “anticipation exercise plans” should be anything but stressful.)
In order to anticipate, we must have something to look forward to, and that means making a plan. Plans may be short-term, such as what you will do this weekend, or longer term, such as plans for an annual vacation. Engaging together in forming and looking forward to pleasurable activities is itself a positive activity. Doing this regularly builds shared positive experiences.
4. The Rose, the Thorn, and the Rosebud. Conversation with a partner too often revolves around day-to-day schedules, children or other dependents’ needs and yes, complaints. None of the above promotes connection. A connected conversation includes meaningful content. One way to get to meaty subject matter early in a conversation is to practice using the Rose, Thorn and Rosebud metric.
The “Rose” is the best thing that happened to you or for you in your world today. Talk about what mattered.
The “Thorn” refers to the biggest challenge or disappointment/loss of the day. Sharing this allows vulnerability into your conversation — a must for connection. Sharing a hurt gives one partner a chance to readily join the other’s struggle with empathy. The key words here are join and empathy. Knowing what your partner is wrangling with is one thing: stepping into his/her shoes and feeling it with them is another. Truly connected partners can do this and feel their burdens lifted.
The “Rosebud” portion of this exercise is presenting to your partner what you are most looking forward to tomorrow (or in the near future.) You then know what anticipation is building in your significant other’s life.
5. Practice Favoritism. You know what your partner’s favorites are — favorite foods, activities, music, clothes, animal, TV show. Use this information — often. Do not wait for a birthday to make that favorite dessert. When there is an even choice, choose the one your partner likes best and tell him or her why you did. Wear his or her favorite clothes on you; whistle a favorite tune. You know how to do this — now just do it more.
Keeping your love alive takes work, and it can also be enjoyable – even fun! Try these five exercises and build a more solid, connected relationship.