4 Tips for Nurturing Your Relationship.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, our relationships – especially those with our spouse or partner – are top of mind. While we know there are many benefits to being in a healthy intimate relationship, there are studies that show it’s actually good for our wellbeing – especially as we age. These relationships are something we all need because we crave connection with others, but that doesn’t mean they come easy. That’s why I went to the experts to find out why intimate relationships are so important, why we need to focus on them for Valentine’s and throughout the year and how we can nurture them even when kids, work and day-to-day life are calling for our attention.
Why Intimate Relationships Are Important for Our Health and Wellbeing
Bean Robinson, PhD is a licensed marriage and family therapist and Clinical Director for
the Program in Human Sexuality in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School. She says intimate relationships are important for our health and wellbeing because we’re social creatures and live in packs. “We need physical contact as well as close emotional contact because that’s how we thrive.” In other words, we need close connections in order to really be happy and healthy.
Holistic health coach and host of the Naked Talk With Unprocessed Jess podcast Jessica Martin-Brassington believes that all areas of our life are connected and affect each other. That means that even if you exercise and have a great career, if your intimate relationship isn’t giving you the connection that you need, it’s going to affect your health. Jessica says, “Because we spend so much time with that person, our day-to-day really depends on how that relationship is going.”
That’s true when we’re newlyweds, when we’ve been at it for a while and as we age. UC Berkeley researchers who conducted a recent study published in the journal Emotion found that “older people in stable marriages are relatively happy and experience low rates of depression and anxiety. Marriage has been good for their mental health.” In fact, they say, “These findings underscore the importance of intimate relationships as people age, and the potential health benefits associated with marriage.”
What a Healthy Relationship Looks Like
While there’s no cookie cutter for what healthy relationships look like, there are some things they have in common. Bean says there are really two parts – the functional side and the intimate side. The functional side is more of the business part of the relationship – this includes generally agreeing on how to raise children and running and managing a household with minimal conflict. The intimate side means that you truly like each other and are there to support each other, that you have regular time for each other and yes, that you have a regular sex life that’s satisfying.
Jessica goes so far as to say that a healthy relationship should breathe life into our everyday. It’s one that is in alignment with healthy boundaries that we’ve set for our relationships such as not making us feel bad about ourselves or speaking negativity into our lives and adds something to our lives and allows us to thrive.
Focusing on Our Relationships
Of course, all of this doesn’t just automatically happen. Even though natural chemistry can go a long way, the stress of parenting, our jobs, aging parents and running a household can take their toll on even the strongest relationships. That’s where effort and some good old-fashioned hard work comes in.
While Jessica doesn’t believe it’s realistic to focus on any one particular thing every day of the year, “If it’s something that is healthy and is allowing you to thrive and you enjoy it, you’re naturally going to want to work on that relationship or that part of your life and make it better and better.” She says that at different seasons of our life and times of the year, we might have things that are at the forefront of our focus, and that’s fine. That’s the way it should be. But, she reminds us, we need to make sure that no matter what else is going on, we carve out time and give the effort on a regular basis to strengthen our relationship with our intimate partner. If we don’t do that, we run the risk of everything else not working as it should.
In fact, this was one of the reasons Jessica started her podcast – “to inspire women who had lost themselves in motherhood or business and were ready to take control of their health and bring their sexy back without guilt.” Jessica recognized in her own life that she had to say, “No. My children are a huge part of my life, but they’re not all my life. I have to focus on myself and then my husband. Because if we’re not okay, the family’s not okay. And I wanted him to know that I appreciated him.”
While Bean agrees that focusing on our relationship with our spouse or partner should be a regular thing, she recognizes that people “get caught up in their busy lives.” That’s why she believes holidays and special occasions like Valentine’s Day have their place too. “Those are ways that kind of force us to think about that person and give us an opportunity or a reminder to do something special to demonstrate how we feel about them and how much we value them, love them, like them and care for them.”
4 Tips to Nurture Our Relationship
Our experts offer the following four tips to nurture your relationship to keep it healthy and strong, which in turn, will help to keep you healthy and strong.
- Set aside time every week to be together. Bean suggests picking the same day every week that’s consistently good for both of you because if you try to figure it out on a week by week basis, you run the risk of it not happening. That means if someone else asks you to do something or if something else comes up – unless it’s extremely important – you don’t do it. Your set aside time with your partner is sacred. Bean advises using this time to connect sexually, but also to have brunch together, go on a walk, a bike ride, play tennis or do anything that allows you to have fun together.
- Make your bedroom an inviting place for you and your spouse or partner. Jessica says this is an important part of setting healthy boundaries that support you and your relationship. “You should either be having sex or sleeping in that space.” You don’t want to go into a room with toys everywhere and where children or the piles of clean laundry have taken over. Make somewhere else your “catch all” room. This is a space for you and your spouse.
- Bring back an attitude and feeling of dating. Jessica suggests that when you go somewhere with just the two of you (as in during your weekly time recommended by Bean), that you set a time to talk about kids, house projects or anything else practical that’s going on, and then cut it off and just focus on each other. Think about something you don’t know about your partner or that you haven’t done in a while and talk about that. Just like when you were dating, be interested in what they’re doing or what they’re thinking about. Also, don’t forget to flirt. Flirting lets the other person know you’re thinking about them, noticing them and helps to keep the flame going.
- Communicate.We all know we need to do this, but many of us don’t or don’t know how to. Jessica advises asking your partner, “Hey, what would you like to see different? What do you miss about our relationship either before we had kids, or from last year, or when we noticed we weren’t spending as much time together?” The key here is making sure that you ask it in way that shows you’re open to whatever they have to say and won’t get defensive or hurt. You’ll have your turn to answer the same questions, but it’s important that both people listen to what the other one is saying. Jessica says that we often don’t address these things until they’re in a “state of emergency or disaster,” and then both people involved are sure to be on the defensive. That’s why the best time to discuss these things if possible is when things are going well. You can be proactive with the goal of not reaching that emergency state in the first place.
If things aren’t going well, Jessica suggests going to your partner and saying, “This is how I’m feeling right now.” She says that many times when she’s gone to her spouse with that, it wasn’t even what he meant. It was a misunderstanding. So, go into such conversations with an open heart, she reminds us, and not blaming or judgment, and the outcome will usually be one that benefits everyone.
While our intimate relationships aren’t and shouldn’t be everything in our lives, they are an incredibly important part of our overall health and wellness picture. If your relationship isn’t where you want it to be, use this time leading up to Valentine’s Day to think about whether you’re putting in the effort that both you and your partner deserve. If not, use the tips suggested above to get started in making changes that could make all the difference in the world. You may not be “courting anymore,” but with some work and a lot of love, you can take your relationship to an entirely different level.