Relationship strategies & exercises for you to practice together for a year of partnership bliss!
It's the beginning of a New Year and people all around the globe are making resolutions and goals for self-improvement and personal growth. But while everyone is creating individual objectives to accomplish their ideals, an important part of our lives tends to be overlooked and neglected when going through this period of introspection and renewal. Our relationships! Whether it's an intimate relationship with a significant other or our connections with family and friends, all relationships require consistent attention, feeding, and sustenance to keep them healthy and vital. What better time of the year to take stock of your relationships and give them some much needed "Tender Loving Care" than now! For purposes of this article, we will focus on some specific strategies you can implement within the context of your relationship with your partner that will keep the focus on your identity as a couple.
One of the factors that contribute to the demise of many gay relationships is when the partners take each other for granted. That can certainly be easy to do when you consider the realities inherent in the hectic hustle-bustle craziness that life entails. We can get so caught up in the distractions of work, family, friends, household management, working out, and all the other extracurricular activities that we involve ourselves in that we actually end up losing sight of what's really most important and valuable-our relationships with our partners.
A common danger is that once dating partners become coupled, many become comfortable and complacent and begin to settle into monotonous routines and rituals that can kill the spark that had once attracted them to each other. It also then becomes easy for the other responsibilities and demands of life to take center stage and the relationship takes a back seat to all these other competing forces. Relationships require energy and effort; lack of attention will create a division between the partners and this distance makes the individuals feel unwanted, unloved, and unappreciated. This spells disaster and conflict. Don't let your relationship suffer this fate! You've worked hard to build a solid foundation of trust and intimacy. All that's needed now is some consistent reinforcement of your love and devotion for each other.
To help you out with this, I've created a little monthly task calendar to keep you centered on your relationship during the coming year to ensure you and your partner stay focused on each other. Sometimes we all need a little structure to keep us accountable and to remind us of our priorities. What follows is a month-to-month suggested action plan that's divided into topics and comprised of a communication exercise and a behavioral action step to keep your relationship alive and #1 in your life. These are obviously just suggestions and you can tailor the ideas to fit your unique style and relationship needs. And don't just be buckled down to these points...be creative and develop your own. The point to all of this is to keep your priorities on track and to remember that your partner and relationship need feeding that only you can give. And the more you put into it, the greater rewards and fulfillment you will reap!
LOVE TASKS: MONTH-BY-MONTH
JANUARY & FEBRUARY: VISION
Vision is a graphic depiction of what you want your ideal lifestyle and relationship to look like. These dreams create an end-goal to strive toward and are helpful motivators to keep growing forward and track your progress.
Couple's Dialogue (Jan.): Sit down with your partner and co-create a relationship vision for your partnership. What are your needs, dreams, goals, aspirations, and fantasies? What would be the ultimate for you in every facet of your couplehood? Have fun with it and creating it together gives a sense of teamwork and solidifies your bond and commitment to your future together.
Couple's Activity (Feb.): Purchase a large poster-board and gather a collection of magazines. Together, cut out pictures, symbols, or words that resonate with you and represent your relationship vision and paste them to the board as you make a collage. When finished, post it in a place where you will both see it on a daily basis to keep you centered on your goals as a couple and work to make it a reality! (idea from relationshipcoachinginstitute.com)
MARCH & APRIL: ROMANCE
One of the secrets to relationship bliss is to nurture an element of mystery and intrigue in your partnership to stave off boredom and monotony. Never let the courtship die in your relationship, no matter how long you've been together. Nothing keeps the spark alive more than when your partner feels cherished and swept off his/her feet.
Couple's Dialogue (Mar.): Share with each other all the things that you each do that makes you feel adored and special. Together, create a special "Date Night" that incorporates both your needs and preferences for romance and doting affection.
Couple's Activity (Apr.): Make it a point to let your baby know how special he is to you and why you're glad to have him as your lover for life. Plant a love letter in his briefcase. Surprise him with tickets to the opera. Take him through a scavenger hunt that leads to a fine piece of jewelry or flowers. Be playful, spontaneous, and genuine. Show him how much you love and adore him.
MAY & JUNE: EMPATHY AND VALIDATION
Your partner needs to feel heard and understood. There is no greater gift than when your partner feels that you listened to him and really "get" him, even when you may not necessarily agree with his points. Validating is not the same thing as agreeing; it is reinforcing for your partner that his perspectives are valid within their own right. Empathy is mirroring back an understanding of how your partner might be feeling.
Couples' Dialogue (May): The next time you and your partner have a disagreement, rather than jumping into problem-solving mode, validate your partner's feelings and convey to him that what he's saying makes sense to you. Your partner should then mirror back the same process to validate your side of things. Both of you must feel that you each fully understand each other's perceptions before any problem resolution can occur.
Couple's Activity (Jun.): Find ways to validate your partner's feelings and beliefs on a daily basis. For example, donating to his favorite charity even though you may not necessarily agree with it is a validation of his worth and your support of his right to his own values and causes. You'll score big points in the love bank when you validate something that he knows is difficult for you to do because he'll know it was a selfless act of support for him.
JULY & AUGUST: QUALITY TIME
Avoid letting the busyness of life get in the way of your spending time together as a couple. Being physically and emotionally available to each other will keep the connection alive and strengthen your friendship and sense of togetherness.
Couple's Dialogue (Jul.): To keep centered on your relationship, schedule a weekly or monthly "relationship pow-wow" where you talk about all the things that went well and didn't go so well in your partnership over that specific course of time. It will help you stay on top of your relationship goals and can be a time to plan fun times and troubleshoot any potential problems that might be arising before they become unmanageable.
Couple's Activity (Aug.): Schedule a "Date Night" once a week and each of you take turns planning the date on alternate weeks. Remember, it's not so much what you're doing together as it is that you're spending quality time with each other, so avoid getting hung up on the details of a date and just enjoy being with each other.
SEPTEMBER & OCTOBER: VERBAL STROKES AND AFFECTION
It feels so good when your partner says loving things to you to affirm how important you are in his life. Let the power of your words demonstrate how you feel. It's sometimes difficult for gay men to express their feelings, but take heart in knowing that your verbal affirmations and statements can be quite healing to your partner. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and speak your truth about how much he means to you. Combined with affection, he'll be putty in your hands! Many gay men have the tendency to sexualize their affectionate gestures. Try to focus on initiating acts of non-sexual physical affection and this will help nurture feelings of emotional intimacy and cohesion.
Couple's Dialogue (Sept.): Sit with each other and take turns sharing with each other what you each appreciate and honor about the other. Tell each other what you're most grateful for about being in a relationship with each other. Give him lots of positive strokes for all that he brings to your life. Communicate with each other the types of physical affection behaviors that you most desire and enjoy. Remember that what feels good to you may not necessarily jive with your partner's tastes.
Couple's Activity (Oct.): Become more conscious about the power of physical touch and affection in your relationship. Hold hands, give each other massages, hug and hold each other, sit in each other's laps while watching television. At day's end, ask yourself "Have I done anything today that let my partner how much I care about him?" If not, make sure to do something before retiring for bed.
NOVEMBER & DECEMBER: SEXUAL INTIMACY
And of course nothing keeps the pulse going quite like an escapade of bedroom gymnastics that takes the breath away. Whew! Keep the spark alive in your relationship by spicing things up sexually from time to time to avoid getting stuck in a rut of routine and sexual boredom. It's time to get creative!
Couple's Dialogue (Nov.): Gay men in particular seem to have difficulty expressing their sexual needs and preferences verbally; instead, they tend to suppress their true desires or act them out in real-time in the bedroom. Allow some time to sit down with your partner and talk directly and assertively about what you like and don't like sexually. Be honest and discuss what you'd like more and less of. Focus on behaviors and not your partner as an individual during your discussion. The male ego and self-esteem are very wrapped up with sexuality so special care in the delivery of communications is important. Teach each other what feels best and educate each other about your special turn-ons.
Couple's Activity (Dec.): Separately, each of you can write out in graphic detail a sexual fantasy that you have. Then share your stories with each other and act them out with each other on two separate occasions. Have fun with it! Remember to change the time, location, and position of sexual play to keep things different and interesting. And most importantly, keep the focus off of performance. Enjoy the process of lovemaking and all that it brings. Climax is much more fulfilling when you've truly surrendered to all the pleasures and sensations experienced throughout the entire course of your passionate intimate session together.
By following this simple structure, you'll be well on your way to keeping your relationship front-and-center where it belongs and your chances of taking your partner and relationship for granted will be minimized. Incorporate all of these aspects that make a healthy relationship strong into your day-to-day living, not just month-to-month of course. By consistently advocating for your relationship and taking the necessary steps to keep it alive and well, you'll find that by year's end, you and your partner will have a much stronger foundation and you'll be constantly reminded of why you fell in love with each other in the first place. Happy New Year to you! Enjoy and cheers to your relationship success!
(c) Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, The Gay Love Coach