Rekindle Your Romance—Advice on keeping the flame flickering in your relationship

February 2016 View more

NMAG0216_FeatureRekindleRomance_iStock_000014046068_Full_800pxIt’s February, that time of year when we when we dust off Cupid’s arrows, look for that perfect gift that says “I love you,” and make chocolatiers and florists around the world very happy. Valentine’s Day is a day to remember why we love the one we’re with. But over time, it’s only natural that many loving relationships begin to take a back seat to life’s day-to-day demands, schedules, and distractions. Couples can become complacent and take one another for granted. Valentine’s Day, in contrast to our daily lives, can make us wish we could keep the flame flickering the other 364 days of the year.

“I think the hardest thing for couples to acknowledge is that they can’t take each other for granted,” explains Adam Russo, chairman and CEO of Edgewood Clinical Services. “Life happens. Because of so much responsibility on kids, careers, and home, they just assume their partner will always be there. And when assuming happens, they stop checking in with each other.”

Becoming Complacent

Man giving his girlfriend a bouquet of roses for Valentine's day. [url=][img][/img][/url]

Dr. Laura Bokar, a clinical psychotherapist, licensed family/marriage therapist and founder of The Fox Valley Institute, agrees. “It is not uncommon for long-time relationships to become complacent. In fact, without intentional intervention, complacency, or taking one another for granted, is just the normal course of human nature.”

With good intentions even the most devoted couple can become complacent about their relationship when they take on a new role as parents. Couples begin to invest more and more of their time, energy, and focus on their children and less on nurturing their relationship with each other. In an effort to help their children succeed in life, they often live over-committed lives, thinking they’re doing their best for their children.

“Couples often forget to make their marriage precious, to cherish it and each other,” Dr. Bokar explains. “Instead, they become more focused on the well-being of their children. But the opposite is true. When mom and dad are happy, the kids are happy.”

The Digital Divide

Today’s couples also face an additional challenge previous generations did not: digital devices.

We’ve all seen it. Perhaps we’ve even been guilty of it ourselves. A couple goes out for a special evening. But instead of whispering sweet nothings or gazing into each other’s eyes, they sit, silently transfixed by the hypnotic glow of their cell phones. They check their email, respond to text messages or Tweet their latest thought. Dr. Bokar advises that on date night, leave the smart phone behind—or at least in the car. Time alone together isn’t helpful unless each partner is fully present and fully focused on the other.

Make Time For Date Night

outdoor couple holding heart in february

Which brings us to one of the most practical and prescribed relationship remedies: date night. Or, more generally speaking, intentionally scheduled, regular time spent with each other. It can be any event or activity, as long as it is concretely scheduled time for themselves. “However many times a month couples need to do this, it’s important. For some, it’s going on a date or being at home. It’s whatever works so that they take time for themselves,” Russo says.

Admittedly, deciding what to do together can be a challenge for those of us who are out of practice. A good place to start is remembering what you used to enjoy when you first met. What did you do together when you were dating? What excited you? Obviously, that answer will be different for every couple, but whether it’s a night out on the town or a stroll under the stars, there are some suggested ground rules that can help keep that time focused on each other.

Suggested Ground Rules

Rule number one (as previously mentioned but bears repeating) is to leave all distracting, chiming, ringing, vibrating singing devices behind. Another suggested guideline is somewhat similar. Leave work and all stress-related topics behind. For just a few hours, enjoy conversations that have nothing to do with concerns about children, jobs, chores, money, or to-do lists.

Take away these subjects and some of us may feel robbed of our only topics of conversation. Judging from the countless websites and books filled with creative conversation starters for date nights with your sweetheart, however, it becomes apparent this is a common struggle for many couples. “Be prepared to ask a good question beyond, ‘how was your day’,” Russo advices. “We need to go deeper than the basics.”

Men vs. Women

Portrait of a couple enjoying each other's company in a romantic dinner

Then there is the important fact that men and women often don’t understand their differences. Studies have shown that men and women tend to need different things to feel loved and enabled to give it in return. While these are broad generalities, it pays to understand what could be an important difference between a couple.

For example, one difference, as discussed in greater detail in Emerson Eggerich’s best selling book, “Love and Respect,” reveals what men need above all else from their partner is respect. Women, according to the survey in the book, indicated that they needed to be loved, honored, and valued above all else. Despite what we learn from the world of entertainment, sex is not the number one cure-all for a relationship-gone-stale. Communication of love and respect is what keeps the flame burning in relationships.

At its heart, Valentines Day, and potentially every day of the year, is an opportunity to keep communicating that the person we love most is the one we are most committed to loving better.

According to Cheryl Frommelt, clinical director and marriage and family therapist at Fox Valley Institute, we need to be mindful of our partner. We need to remember what colors they like, what flowers, or what restaurant. It’s being mindful of who they are. When we start dating again and courting again, we need to mind your manners or we get complacent. It’s about going back to being someone you want to be with.

Suggested Relationship-Building Resources:

“The Five Love Languages,”
by Gary Chapman

“Creating an Intimate Marriage,”
by Jim Burns

“The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” by John Gottman

“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” by John Gray

“Love and Respect,”
by Emerson Eggerichs