Mean­ing­ful ges­tures

Ten rit­u­als that can help bring you and your part­ner closer.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FAMILY - By AL­LI­SON GRAY

BIG mile­stones in a re­la­tion­ship make for great mem­o­ries and fat photo al­bums, but they don’t turn cou­ples into hap­pier cou­ples.

Turns out, lit­tle rit­u­als that are re­peated over and over trump a per­fect wed­ding or a long-awaited cruise in cre­at­ing “to­geth­er­ness.”

Cou­ple schol­ars and ther­a­pists Brent Bradley and James Fur­row say in their book, Emo­tion­ally Fo­cused Cou­ple Ther­apy For Dum­mies that it’s cru­cial to weave lit­tle tra­di­tions such as se­cret hand­shakes, notes in suit­cases or weekly golf lessons into your daily lives.

Here are some of their tips:

Greet­ing rit­u­als can be an im­por­tant and brief way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing love and ded­i­ca­tion to your part­ner.

“Th­ese re­peated ges­tures of im­por­tance can be as sim­ple as a hug, kiss or spe­cial word or phrase used when say­ing hello or good­bye,” Bradley said.

One cou­ple men­tioned in the book has a “se­cret hand­shake.” It in­volves a num­ber of move­ments in se­quence and ends with three squeezes. They do the hand­shake at the air­port when de­part­ing or in front of their kids when they feel like it.

> Make time for date nights:

If you’ve fallen into a rou­tine that re­volves around work and fam­ily, take time to sched­ule a reg­u­lar night out – just the two of you.

“The key is to be con­sis­tent and in­ten­tional,” Fur­row said. Mak­ing an ap­point­ment for your re­la­tion­ship means you pri­ori­tise it.

> Sched­ule a time to talk:

Cou­ples with small chil­dren of­ten strug­gle to get away for a date night. In this case, set aside 15 min­utes to talk on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Find a con­sis­tent time that you can both count on and set bound­aries such as: no in­ter­rup­tions, no elec­tronic de­vices and no dis­cus­sions of work or chil­dren. Keep fo­cused on each other.

For some cou­ples, just 10 min­utes in the same place with­out stress reminds them of the good things go­ing on in their lives.

Write a note or send a card to con­vey to your part­ner that he or she is on your mind. Whether it’s a text mes­sage, email or hand­writ­ten note, writ­ten ex­pres­sions of af­fec­tion show your part­ner that they are im­por­tant to you.

“When you tuck a note into your part­ner’s suit­case be­fore they head out on a busi­ness trip, it can be a wel­come sur­prise for your part­ner.

“Th­ese notes don’t have to be long, they just have to be per­sonal,” Fur­row said. “Notes of grat­i­tude and ap­pre­ci­a­tion help you ex­press what can so eas­ily be taken for granted in a re­la­tion­ship.”

> Pass notes: > Take a class in some­thing new:

One cou­ple found that they had more free time once their chil­dren were in col­lege.

Even though they were at dif- fer­ent lev­els, they de­cided to take golf lessons. They signed up for lessons at the same time, drove to­gether and had a drink af­ter­ward.

“Keep­ing a fo­cus on learn­ing and grow­ing as a cou­ple helps part­ners bring new en­ergy and ideas to their re­la­tion­ship,” Bradley said. “Learn­ing also in­volves tak­ing risks, and that’s a good thing.”

> Be ded­i­cated by in­vest­ing in re­la­tion­ship ac­tiv­i­ties:

“Read­ing a book on re­la­tion­ships can spark new ideas for growth and im­prove­ment,” Fur­row said. “Or you might at­tend work­shops and re­treats for cou­ples.

Th­ese re­treats give cou­ples time away to fo­cus on each other and strengthen their com­mit­ment. “Other cou­ples find less for­mal op­por­tu­ni­ties to fo­cus on their re­la­tion­ship,” Fur­row said.

A cou­ple men­tioned in the book made a com­mit­ment to spend one weekend a year dis­cussing their re­la­tion­ship. “On one of the nights, each per­son has time to talk about his or her joys, con­cerns and needs.”

Plan and re­mem­ber spe­cial days like an­niver­saries and birth­days. This marks the im­por­tance of peo­ple and re­la­tion­ships over the time you’ve known them.

Make an ef­fort to ex­press to your part­ner how im­por­tant he or she is to you. Even if you grew up in a fam­ily that didn’t harp on th­ese oc­ca­sions, don’t as­sume the same is true of your part­ner.

“A missed birth­day or an­niver­sary can be seen as a lack of care or con­cern,” Bradley said. “Tak­ing time to dis­cuss your dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences and to share ex­pec­ta­tions can help you avoid hurt feel­ings and mis­un­der­stand­ings in the fu­ture.”

> Cel­e­brate mile­stones:

> Share a com­mon in­ter­est:

Fa­mil­iar­ity and bore­dom kill in­ti­macy, so find a rit­ual that the two of you can find en­gag­ing.

For ex­am­ple, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity is healthy and en­er­giz­ing. Hik­ing, danc­ing or shar­ing a sport com­bines leisure and com­pan­ion­ship.

“Other cou­ples or­gan­ise around com­mon artis­tic in­ter­ests such as con­certs, culi­nary arts or lit­er­a­ture. Oth­ers in­volve be­ing fans of a sports team,” Fur­row said.

“Cou­ples who are able to find a shared in­ter­est that they can in­vest in find new ways of in­vest­ing in the bonds they share.”

Tak­ing time to help oth­ers of­fers cou­ples a chance to in­vest in their re­la­tion­ship.

Work­ing to­ward a com­mon goal helps a cou­ple find a deeper sense of unity by tran­scend­ing their per­sonal in­ter­ests. When you and your part­ner de­cide to ded­i­cate time or re­sources to oth­ers, you make a joint ex­pres­sion of your val­ues.

Said Bradley: “Some cou­ples fo­cus on car­ing for the en­vi­ron­ment, while oth­ers get in­volved in ef­forts to con­serve and im­prove their com­mu­ni­ties. Many cou­ples share in re­li­gious and spir­i­tual ac­tiv­i­ties that in­clude serv­ing oth­ers.”

> Vol­un­teer:

> Make time for in­ti­macy:

Sex­ual con­tact in a re­la­tion­ship of care, trust and vul­ner­a­bil­ity con­veys a deep level of in­ti­macy.

Cou­ples who fo­cus on each other and ex­press sex­ual af­fec­tion find greater mean­ing in th­ese rit­u­als than those who fo­cus pri­mar­ily on their sex­ual needs.

Keep­ing ro­mance in sex of­ten re­quires cou­ples to in­ten­tion­ally ex­press their phys­i­cal and emo­tional de­sires.

“Of course, you don’t al­ways have to have sex to show af­fec­tion,” Fur­row said. “Ev­ery­day mo­ments of shar­ing phys­i­cal af­fec­tion, like hug­ging, kiss­ing and hold­ing hands, show part­ners that they’re im­por­tant and spe­cial.”

Re­mem­ber that rit­u­als, by def­i­ni­tion, need to hap­pen fre­quently, not on oc­ca­sion. That means you need to prac­tise them even if you don’t nec­es­sar­ily “feel” like it.

“It’s bet­ter to post­pone or resched­ule than it is to skip your rit­ual al­to­gether,” Bradley said. “Be care­ful to both agree on re­set­ting the rit­ual. In­con­sis­tency breaks the power of rit­ual, but flex­i­bil­ity is nec­es­sary to make con­sis­tency a re­al­ity.” — McClatchy Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

In tan­dem: Learn­ing to do some­thing to­gether keeps cou­ples close.

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