The Nature of Relationships: Keeping the fire alive

By Marc Felix and Kathrin Seitz | Feb 19, 2011

Marc's view

Are you patting yourself on the back because you gave a card or gift for Valentine’s Day? Well, don’t. Giving a gift for Valentine’s Day doesn’t deserve praise. It’s required. Praise is reserved for a surprise gift that has no particular occasion attached to it. Let’s look at what else goes into the ongoing care and maintenance of a relationship.

My first thought about this, after years of working with couples, is that you need to be yourself. Honestly, it’s just too exhausting to try to be entertaining or clever or cool or funny. The effort will only create tension. The happiest times we ever have are those times when we are being totally ourselves. Think about children playing, just authentically and effortlessly being who they are.

Caring for a relationship is an art. And like all art, it is a great mystery. Trying to explain how to make a relationship flourish is like trying to explain why a joke is funny. A lot gets lost in translation. That being said, here are a few pointers.

Work on getting rid of old relationship patterns. All of us have been hurt in love and those hurts have left us wounded. Paradoxically, we both avoid similar situations so as not to get hurt again and seek out similar situations so as to heal them. A good psychotherapist is a great help here.

Stop sweeping things under the rug. Yes, it’s more comfortable in the moment to keep the peace, but the long range cost is high. The more that’s unspoken, the deeper the resentments that build. Be bold and talk about your issues with each other. Or the hidden resentments will become a big wedge that will drive you apart.

Keep technology to a minimum and keep it completely out of the bedroom. That means the television, computer, and cell phone. I recall someone saying that this age of technology was going to free us to spend more quality time with each other. I believe that just the opposite has happened. I hear too many people complaining about the hours their spouse spends on the computer when they could be with each other. Do your relationship a favor and turn off the TV, close the laptop, and unplug the phone. In the same way that a plant needs water, a relationship needs time to be together.

Make love and romance a priority. Make a strong intention to keep the fire of romance alive. A thousand different circumstances will challenge and distract you. Your intention will keep you on course.


Kathrin's view

I agree with Marc. It takes work and intention to keep the fires of a relationship alive. And, it takes both partners to keep it going. And when we talk about relationships, we need to include friendships. Since relationships and friendships are key to a happy life, the care and maintenance of them is of the utmost importance.

When I was younger, I did not take holidays seriously. I kind of thought I was above it. I learned otherwise when I got to know my housekeeper, who helped raise my son. She was Mexican and loved celebration. Every holiday our house was full of decoration. And we gave presents to everyone. And, much to my surprise, I loved the celebration and was so pleased to be remembered on every holiday. I am sure Irene wasn't thinking of the care and maintenance of relationship; this is something natural to her culture. I had to learn it.

Let's face it, it can be difficult to tend to these niceties. A friend of mine in New York is over his head in business issues, and he is frustrated at the need to do something about Valentine's Day. Too many things on his plate. I get it; yet, a small gesture means a lot. And, here's the surprise, and we all know this: When we extend ourselves to someone else, we get it back twofold. (I think I convinced him to take his girlfriend to dinner and to bring her a small gift!)

Here are a couple of thoughts about keeping a long-term relationship alive. Surprise! A friend of mine took her husband on a surprise trip to Bermuda to celebrate his birthday. When he arrived home from running one Saturday morning, she put his packed suitcase in his hand, told him to change his clothes and be ready to leave on a trip. The car was waiting downstairs. That's exciting. Go someplace together where you've never been. Or you haven’t visited for a while. It can be the town next door.

When my husband and I go to Belfast for dinner every few months, it gives us a charge. To me, it’s an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces. Fun! When you get out of the routine of your lives, you see each other in a new light and share fresh experiences together.

Surprise your friend with a bouquet of flowers for no occasion, just because you care about her. When I was little, I asked my parents if I could get a bike and, please, might I get it on an ordinary day. Something about getting a present at an unexpected moment was exciting to me. My parents did just as I asked and for years I'd find "An Ordinary Day" written into the fly leaf of a book or on a calendar. See how long the memory of that one gesture lasted!

Small Gestures: Psychologists say that what we long for more than anything else is to be appreciated. The smallest gesture can show appreciation. In our house, the surprise of an emptied dishwasher or laundry folded or flowers displayed around the house opens the heart. It means that we have thought about our partner. We have been considerate. Which leads to my next point. Treat your partner and friends as you might treat folks you don’t know as well. Practice the niceties of civilized behavior. Say thank you and please. Express gratitude. Write thank you notes to partners and friends to thank them for their kindnesses toward you.

And, as hard as it might be, don’t fight back if your partner is playing the blame game. That kind of fight wastes time and gets you nowhere. Count to 30, leave the room or change the subject and when you feel it’s the right moment, say something like “You must have had a tough day.” With sympathy. We all get overwhelmed and some of us like to blow off steam. If the partner happens to be present, she or he often gets that frustration. Recognize it as that and don’t respond.

Finally, laugh. Laugh long and hard. At yourself, at life, at romance, at your partner. Nothing like laughter to open your heart and lift your spirits. As Mark Twain says, “The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.” After a good laugh, we are capable of great acts!

“Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live.”



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