Do you celebrate Valentines Day?
So it's Valentines Day today, for the busy mum, a bunch of roses today might signify romance, or appreciation for all you do, for others it's just another day and flowers might be considered an unnecessary expense.
No matter where you stand on how important today is, whether you are upset your partner forgot, appreciative that he didn't, or don't care either way- the principles behind the flowers, chocolates, or dinner out are the same: connection, communication and intimacy is important and not just for today, for the next 364 days of the year too.
Valentine's Day should be everyday
"Communication is without a doubt one of the most important things in ensuring a couple is connecting with each other," Kathy Egan, counselling manager at Napier Family Centre told Essential Mums.
"The one piece I give to all my couple who are trying to improve their relationship, or to keep it vibrant is to each night, sit down and even if it is just for five minutes to talk about the good things in the relationship and what could be better."
Cary Hayward, national director of clinical services at Relationship Aotearoa agrees.
"The glue that keeps couples together is the strength of their primary bond with one another. That bond needs time and attention. It is very easy for couples in the busy-ness of family life to assume that that bond is there, but don't give it the time and attention it needs," he explains.
Realistically it might only be possible once a week, but making the time to really talk to each other and have special one-on-one time, without the TV, computer, kids, or any other distractions is one way to make sure you are nurturing your relationship, advises Egan, who has 30 years experience working with couples.
"All through the year this needs to happen, not just on Valentines Day. It's one day that has become such a commercial thing and sometimes unrealistic expectations are created around what is not even a New Zealand holiday."
Going for a walk together, sharing a meal at home together, no matter what you are doing, making time to really communicate and the fundamentals of really hearing your partner doesn't cost anything but can be the most profound, says Hayward.
"The great present is giving your presence to your partner."
Hayward says this shouldn't be confused with acts of service, like taking the kids to the zoo for the afternoon so mum can have a rest, but that the time you spend connecting with each other needs to be able just the two of you.
You are not just mum, he is not just dad
While it is easy to be cynical about Valentines Day, it does highlight something important, your relationship is important and it needs to be nurtured.
"The first relationship, whether you have one child or two is the couple relationship," explains Egan.
"If that breaks down, everyone else's relationship breaks down. It's just like the safety instruction on aeroplanes, when the oxygen mask drops, you put it on yourself first and then you tend to the baby. That's exactly what happens in a relationship, you need to look after yourself and you must not lose sight of your partner."
This can be difficult when you are trying to balance work and family life, but it is important to remember your partner comes first. It may not always seem possible but there are ways to nurture your primary relationship.
"For couples with a first child, a lot of the attention goes onto the child. It is such an amazing experience for both parents and both go through a profound transformation," Hayward explains.
"There is a shift in the way the attachment connections are prioritised. For many couples, the majority of the mother's energy goes onto baby and she has a lot less psychic energy for the relationship with her partner. Most couples negotiate and get through that very well because it is also a very bonding experience, but the dynamic of the relationship changes enormously."
Prevention is better than cure
Hayward says couples face the danger of slipping into a friendship without an emotional connection if the relationship is not nurtured.
"Over time people become increasingly emotionally separated from each other. While on the surface the everyday functioning of the household can work quite well, the partners are living parallel lives. This is a warning sign for couples," he explains.
Egan says that talking about what is going on in your relationship regularly can prevent this emotional separation.
"If you are afraid things aren't going as well as they could be, talk about it. It saves so much hurt in the long run. One of the biggest problems I see when people come to me is the lack of communication between partners," she says.
Hayward says couples don't often ask for help and the built in Kiwi "do-it-yourself" mentality means many people battle through alone.
"So many times we see people coming to us for help and we can help them, but so often they come in later than they needed to and we often hear 'we wish we had have come in sooner'", says Hayward.
While couples may try a whole lot of way to fix things themselves first and go for counselling as a last resort, getting the right help the first time around could see unnecessary hurt bypassed.
So while you may be thrilled your partner remembered the roses today, but feel hurt when it feels like he is distant a few weeks from now, instead of lashing out and being frustrated when he hopelessly says " I do love you, I remembered Valentines Day", try talking about how you are feeling in a constructive way.
"The reason people don't often talk about how they feel is because it can feel risky, or they don't know how to talk about it. Where getting some help from someone who can help create a safe place for those discussions can facilitate that," says Hayward.
"... because of the conditioning we often have around how relationships it could be that a person is scared to talk about a problem in case it threatens the relationship, or spiral into conflict."
Fortunately, it is possible to navigate through these challenges with the help of a relationship counsellor who can help both partners communicate effectively without blaming each other.
Give it a go
No one teaches us how to be partners or parents, but there is help available. Here are some tips on how you and your partner can work together, if you are really battling, give each other a Valentine's Day gift you won't forget and book in for some counselling. You have nothing to lose.
Say "I love you": "Letting your partner know you love them is something that needs to happen every day of the week. A lot of husbands tell me their partner 'knows he loves her'", but it is important to say and show this," says Egan.
Sex is important: "When the sexual aspect of a relationship is going well, it can help to build intimacy and satisfaction in a relationship. When it's not going well it can be a difficult issue to broach. Either way, it can be a major contributor to the level of satisfaction people feel in the relationship," says Hayward.
Don't only focus on the bad: Egan says it is important when discussing what you are battling with in the relationship to also speak about what is going well. You might be battling with one aspect, but there are probably a number of things that are going well and should be acknowledged.
Romance doesn't cost: Personal involvement is the most important aspect of romance, so focus on spending time together.
You are a team: Focus on the challenges you are dealing with together instead of ganging up on each other.
What's all the fuss about anyway?
There are different accounts of the origins of Valentine's Day but the most popular tale seems to be that of a St Valentine (there was more than one) who was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians.
According to the legend, during his imprisonment, St Valentine healed the daughter of his jailer Asterius and he is said to have wrote "from your Valentine" as a farewell to her before he was executed.
The day has been morphed over time to become one of the most commercialised ever (American consumers are believed to spend up to US $116 billion on the day) and the tradition of flowers, chocolates, dinners and romantic gestures seize the world on February 14 every year.
While very few women would not want to be spoilt with dinner, or flowers, or have a little romance in between the relentless onslaught of work and kids, psychologists warn it is important for couples to connect throughout the year- and chocolates and flowers are not required.
Need a last minute gift that won't cost a thing?
Try using a Love Jar.
A healthy emotional bank account makes it easier to turn towards someone and more difficult to kill a relationship. Try using a Love Jar. No it's not a marital aid; it is a fun way to create a healthy bank balance.
Here's what you do:
Both write down twenty things you would like your partner to do for you. It could be a cup of tea in the morning, having a favourite meal cooked for you or a foot massage etc.
Make sure your requests are manageable and do not involve sex (although a number of couples have reported an improvement in this area after introducing the Love Jar).
Do not ask for something that your partner dislikes doing.
Make sure your requests are on separate pieces of paper, fold them up and put them in a jar.
Each of you takes a request from the jar at night and completes it the next day.
Try this for two weeks, along with the conversations, and look for improvements in your couple life.
Remember that it takes two people to Tango, so the Love Jar exercise won't work unless you are both willing.
(Source: Relationships Aotearoa)
- Essential Mums
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