The to-do list associated with Valentine's Day typically involves flower orders, dinner reservations, and chocolate deliveries. All of these can be lovely gestures of fondness and appreciation, but all of them are fleeting symbols whose pleasures fade come Feb. 15. The greatest and most lasting gift we can give a loved one is to be open to evolving as a person and improving our relationship. So why not use a holiday that celebrates love as an opportunity to think about how we can make ours stronger?
In working with couples, there are six principles I often cite as proven methods to maintain closeness and keep the excitement alive in a relationship. Conveniently, these six characteristics fit nicely into an acronym that also describes the most important action to maintaining intimacy: L-O-V-I-N-G.
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Being loving isn't just a matter of playing the role of boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife. It is a matter of having integrity in ourselves and being attuned to our partners. Being LOVING means maintaining Laughter, Openness, Vitality, Individuality, Non-defensiveness, and Generosity in our relationships.
Laughing with our partner is indicative of sharing time where we experience mutual joy. Bringing pleasure into each other's lives plays a big part in falling in love. Having a sense of humor also helps smooth the waters when our interactions become stormy. Being able to laugh at our shortcomings and at our partner's idiosyncrasies can steer us away from unwarranted dramas, arising due to everything from subtle pet peeves to intense overreactions. Laughter isn't just good for our relationship or our mood -- it is actually good for our brains, strengthening our capacity to experience joy and pleasure.
When we first date someone, we are often open to trying new things, to experimenting with their interests and entering their world. As our relationship gets closer, however, we often simultaneously start to grow apart by closing off to new experiences or limiting each other in certain ways. For example, if a partner enjoys hiking, we might try it out in the early exciting days of getting to know each other. Yet, once we become a couple and form a routine, we may feel more resistant to sharing these activities. We may even start altering our partner's behavior, nudging them so that their interests match our own. "You went hiking last weekend. Wouldn't you rather go to a movie?"
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Love doesn't exist in a vacuum. We have to share time and activities to keep it thriving. It's essential to stay open to our partners' interests. Pay attention to what makes them happy and be careful not to take actions that will restrict that happiness. Apply this same rule to yourself. Love isn't as much about compromise as two people doing what fulfills them individually. Strong relationships exist when what fulfills two individuals is sharing the activities that make each other happy.