“A soul mate is someone who has locks that fit our keys and keys to fit our locks. When we feel safe enough to open the locks, our truest selves step out and we can be completely and honestly who we are; we can be loved for who we are and not for who we’re pretending to be. Each unveils the best part of the other. No matter what else goes wrong around us, with that one person we’re safe in our own paradise.”
On May 21st, my husband, Barry, and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t talk about how lucky we feel to have found such a wonderful relationship that’s characterized by respect, trust, and communication, and marriage has only made it better. When you feel loved by another and trust in that love, you are able to become your best self because of your partner’s support.
Barry and I have found that we’re able to keep our relationship strong because we pay attention and work at it every day—it doesn’t just happen. Here, I’d like to share some everyday ways Barry and I nurture our relationship. The overarching theme is being present in each other’s lives and making each other our first priority—I can’t emphasize enough how important that is! Turns out, the “little” things aren’t really little at all. They make a tremendous difference.
Barry and I certainly aren’t the “authority” on good relationships—we’ve simply sought out strategies that are proven to work, and indeed, these do work for us.
Check in during the day if you can. A brief phone call or text is all it takes to let your partner know that he or she is on your mind. But the few seconds it takes to make that connection can turn an average day into a great one for both of you. In the midst of your other responsibilities, it’s wonderful when your partner affirms the importance of your relationship. Of course, life is busy, so don’t worry if there are days when you can’t check in until the workday is done!
Make dinner conversations count. I get it—at the end of the day, you’re exhausted and running on autopilot. But if you can muster up the energy, it’s a good idea to sit down over a meal and talk about one another’s days. This may be one of the few times when you’re together, so make it count! Pay attention to what you really want to talk about. Barry and I make it a point to touch on highlights of our days as well as things that might be bothering us. I really can’t stress enough how important it is to have these kinds of regular, meaningful interactions with your partner. That’s because communication develops trust, which leads to and sustains mutual respect. Without trust and respect, you’ll never be able to truly feel safe with another person or build a lasting relationship.
Ask for advice on issues that are troubling you. When you’re facing a challenge at work, your first instinct might be to approach people in the same business for advice. And if you’ve had an argument with a friend, you might ask a mutual acquaintance for insight on how to proceed. In either of these situations (and in many more!), ask your partner for advice, too. He or she may have expertise in areas that you don’t (and vice versa), and will probably also have a different perspective from your usual advisors. Asking for advice makes your partner feel valuable—but even if he or she isn’t able to resolve your concerns, this is still an invaluable way to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in each other’s lives. Just be sure that you focus on mutual support, not criticism. I’ve always really appreciated that when I ask Barry for advice, he is not judgmental.
Verbalize your appreciation. When you’re in a long-term relationship with someone, it’s easy to begin taking him or her for granted. That’s why it’s important to consciously identify the contributions your partner makes and express your thanks. For instance, I often have a busy schedule with work, but I make it a point to prepare one or two home-cooked meals a week for us. Barry does not expect me to do this, though, and always thanks me for cooking dinner. His gratitude never fails to lift my mood. And I appreciate the fact that he appreciates me!
Give “just because” gifts. Buying unexpected gifts for no particular occasion is a great way to let your partner know you’re thinking about him or her. And you definitely don’t have to break the bank to say, “You were on my mind,” either. A book, a card, or a bottle of wine to enjoy together can send a powerful message of love. Personally, if I see great socks or shirts that I think Barry will like while I’m shopping, I surprise him. And I love it when Barry brings home flowers for no special occasion.
Anticipate each other’s needs. Taking care of something before your partner thinks to ask is a great way to show that you care. Once again, this isn’t something that needs to be a big production—little gestures can be very meaningful when they make life easier for your partner. Here are a few simple examples of what I mean: Barry loves to eat blueberries and peanut butter in his oatmeal, so I try to make sure we always have enough on hand. And not too long ago, when Barry had knee surgery, I made sure there was always fresh ice in the freezer so he could keep the swelling down.
Participate in activities you both enjoy. Find an activity you and your partner both enjoy, and whenever possible, carve out time to participate in it together. You’ll have fun while growing closer together. Barry and I enjoy going to see plays and movies, visiting museums, sightseeing around NYC, and more. But no matter what you do together, I recommend assigning this activity a slot on your calendar—otherwise, it might never happen! You know how it goes…life has a habit of getting in the way of our best intentions otherwise. I do want to include one caveat to this piece of advice, though: I’m not advocating doing everything with your partner. Continue pursuing activities that you enjoy and respect your partner’s individual interests, too. (For instance, Barry plays tennis and I don’t. I like to hike, and he doesn’t.) It’s important to nurture and develop yourself as well as your relationship!
Go on dates. Dates don’t have to (and shouldn’t!) stop after you get married. Continue to go out with your partner and do the things that helped you to fall in love in the first place. They’ll help you stay in love, too! On many Friday nights, Barry and I drive out to Brooklyn to eat dinner at one of the restaurants we enjoy. And often, we’ll round out the evening by shopping together.
Get away from it all. Barry and I both love to travel and always have fun on the trips we take together. But while relaxation and enjoyment are always good things, I think our vacations serve another purpose, too. When you leave your distracting, hectic, and (sometimes) hum-drum routines behind, you and your partner are free to focus on each other. Whether you’re on a weeklong tropical vacation or are simply taking off on a Saturday day trip, “getting away from it all” is a great opportunity to reconnect with each other and your goals as a family.
If you’re married or in a long-term relationship, what do you and your partner do to keep your relationship strong and fulfilling? I’d love to read your feedback!