On vacation in the quaint, water-side town of Mystic, Connecticut my husband and I stopped in at a local pub one night and made ourselves comfortable at the bar. Beside me sat a gentleman who appeared to be in his seventies. On a Friday night at a bar, he was ordering nothing but soda. Curious, we struck up a conversation with him. Hugh was a warm and straight forward guy. As for the soda, well, he wasn’t a drinker. “But my wife of 35 years died a few months ago. And sometimes it’s just too quiet and lonely to be at home now.” Hugh recalled a long and happy marriage with his lovely wife, Fiona. The two of them had a weekly ritual. – Friday night was always date night. Fiona would go to the hair dresser’s every Friday morning for “a wash and a set”. Hugh would make a point to leave work on time, no matter how hard it was. The couple would find someone to watch the kids and then get all dolled up. Every week led up to this treasured event. Despite his grief, Hugh’s eyes sparkled when he spoke of her. It was clear that what he and Fiona had was not only long-lasting, but positive and fulfilling. Eagerly, I asked him for his secret to sustaining such a happy and connected relationship for so many years. “Well, every time that I got frustrated or angry with her, I would sit down and write out a list of my complaints before I said anything to her. Then I would write out a second list of everything that I loved and appreciated about her… By the time I finished that list, well, whatever I was mad about seemed pretty trivial in comparison. You can’t let the bad make you lose sight of the good.” Researchers have now proven what Hugh figured out a long time ago: Long-term, intimate relationships flourish when we continue to “date” our partners. Date night allows us to have something special and fun with one another that’s separate from our co-parenting roles or the responsibilities of sharing a home. It’s also one of very few activities that’s reserved exclusively for lovers – children and in-laws are not allowed in to this sacred ritual. In intimate relationships it’s important to learn how to meet one another’s needs to decrease conflict and resentment. And it’s also important to maintain a focus on what you appreciate about your partner and to remain consciously aware of the strengths in your relationship, just as Hugh did. This offers any couple a more balanced and complete point of view on their relationship and will assist them in holding on during the trying moments. Scientists have also found that when we focus on the positives, we exercise and strengthen the neural pathways in our brains associated with the feelings of happiness and gratitude. In other words, the more we practice being happy and grateful about a relationship, the easier it becomes to return to that peaceful state. Try it for yourself: What are 5 things you most appreciate about your partner today? Now, be so bold as to go and share those insights with your partner. Try ending each day with a little “pillow talk” with your partner, acknowledging something that you appreciate about them. Notice how that helps to put the frustrations of the day into perspective.
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