Ten ways to maintain a long-term romance

Do you ever watch silver-haired couples who hold hands and still have a twinkle in their eye for each other, and ask yourself how they do it?  How do they stay happy and romantic over decades?  Do you wonder if you can be lucky enough to have a relationship like that? Well, my hair isn't yet silver, although there are more strands of gray popping up every day, but I am happily married to a silver-haired man with a serious eye twinkle, who still loves to hold my hand.  Today marks twenty (twenty!!!) years of marriage for us! 

wedding with cake
wedding with cake

We recently returned from a magical anniversary trip to Costa Rica, and on the plane ride home, I asked my husband, "What's different about us and our relationship compared to when we were on our honeymoon?"  and "What do you think we've done that's allowed this to last so long?"  He probably started with a joke - he always does and I love him for that!  But then we got serious and wondered.  Interestingly, our relationship isn't all that different.  We started on really solid ground. Here's what we concluded has allowed us to be so happy for so long, organized into ten tips you can use in your own romance.

1. You trust each other.  If you can't trust each other, there's no sense of safety.  If you can't trust the other person to open up and be your real self, then you're having a "pretend relationship", as Martha Beck says, because the other person isn't seeing the real you.

2. You appreciate each other in little ways, all the time. There are at least a hundred opportunities to say thank you to your partner, every day.  Thank you for mowing.  Thank you for picking up shampoo.  Thank you for cleaning the litter box.  Thank you for folding the laundry before I got to it.  Thank you for listening to me.  There are a thousand opportunities to reach out with a touch, a look, a special word.  We don't take for granted all the little things each of us do to keep a household running.  We leave notes for each other, with little hearts on them.  We tell each other we love each other, over and over and over.

3. You make everyday activities a treat.  A sliced strawberry garnishing the pancakes. A rose cut from the garden and put by the bedside table.  A bath outdoors in the clawfoot tub.  Sitting in the grass with the cats, just chatting.  Sunset bike rides.  We tend to prefer our treats small, inexpensive or free, and prolific.  Neither of us is big into large elaborate gifts - we almost always choose experiences.  And we generally don't save those up for once a year blow outs.  We choose lots of little treats every day.  Don't wait for Valentine's Day or anniversaries to share a treat, or create a special experience around something small.  That also includes all kinds of physical intimacy - don't wait.  Enjoy it, in brief stolen moments and long languorous hours together.

4. You share your own secret language, stories and intimacies. Silly names.  Funny lines lifted from a movie. We have a special signature for texts and emails and what the abbreviation means is only for us. These tiny intimacies comfort and connect you together over years of shared experiences.

5. You confide in them first. Whether the news is good or bad, your partner is the first one you want to tell.  When you're trying to figure out what to do, you want to know what they think. Sure, you might still consult friends or coworkers or other family members, and value their insight and support as well, but ultimately, your sweetheart is the one you go to.

6. You want the best for the other person, and you'll support them to live their dreams. It's exhilarating to see them try new things and succeed - to cheer them on, to watch the magic happen.  And you're there when things don't go as smoothly either - when it's scary, when it's overwhelming- you're there to let them know you can still see the possibility of their dream.  I recently cry-talked like Mary Tyler Moore on the Dick Van Dyke show about some fearful setback that really wasn't that big a deal, and my sweet husband reminded me of all the ways he sees my success, that everything is working out, and that all is truly well.

7. You want to end a fight more than you want to be right, and you don't bring up ancient history in the middle of an altercation.  If both of you care deeply about each other, then neither one is happy when you're fighting.  Sometimes it takes a few attempts, but it's really hard to fight with someone who is listening, trying to understand, trying to come to a resolution, and making sure they're heard too. Remembering that, "oh yeah, you're on the same team" starts to kick in and things settle to the point you can actually talk instead of yelling. Oh and that part about don't go to bed angry?  That's a good one too.

8. You are generous with humor. Laughter solves so much!  My husband wins in this department.  He's the funny one.  Many a tense moment has been diffused by a well-timed joke or silly voice.  I would laugh a whole lot less often if he weren't in my life.  And if we can't laugh about it now, we usually can in a week or two.  Humor relieves, it heals, it bonds.  Sprinkle it everywhere.

9. You have "space in your togetherness." I believe that's from a Kahlil Gibran writing on marriage - the one often read aloud at weddings - "Let there be space in your togetherness."  Well good old Kahlil has a point.  You don't have to love all of the same things.  You don't have to do everything together.  Each of you can pursue your passions and the other doesn't have to come along for every minute of every experience.  While my sweetheart and I love to climb into our little sedan loaded down with camping gear and a cooler and go off on an adventure together for weeks at a time, we also do plenty of enjoying life on our own.  He may go to a music event without me.  I went and hiked the entire Appalachian Trail without him.  It works.  Especially because of #1, trust.

10. You are each other's biggest fans.  There's nothing worse than going home to someone you know is going to be critical, who sees you as a work in progress, who wants to improve or reform you.  Sometimes this can be done under the guise of love, but there's a difference between supporting each other to be your best selves and believing the other person needs fixing.  We tell each other how much we admire each other on a regular basis.  We truly believe in each other.  We see the best in each other, and we tell each other about it.

20 years later. Same location, same bakery made the cake.  He is making me laugh!
20 years later. Same location, same bakery made the cake. He is making me laugh!

Sometimes I discount our good fortune.  We haven't had much trauma to test our love.  We haven't lost everything, although we thought we might have in the first days of Katrina when everyone believed that all of New Orleans was gone forever.  We haven't suffered from serious health issues, deaths, or other losses.  We pretty much only have ourselves and our cats to worry about.  So maybe our circumstances have made it extra-easy.

Nevertheless, these tips are solid.  They'll work in good times and bad.  They'll work as long as both of you are loving, honest, caring people who are enjoying the journey together more than apart.

There's so much more that makes for a happy, lasting relationship - what are your favorite tips? I would love to hear them! Let's keep the conversation going in the comments!

anniversary ribbons
anniversary ribbons

A different kind of Valentine's Day checklist

I think what set me off were the clamshell containers of fresh rose petals at Whole Foods. Displayed next to shelves packed with champagne and raspberries, whipped cream and brie cheese. Not far from racks and racks of cards with red envelopes and foiled, gem-encrusted hearts. And displays of chocolate specifically for melting propped alongside baskets of giant strawberries. I could feel myself getting panicky. My over-active brain was frantically checking the boxes – that’s romantic, that’s romantic, that’s romantic, that’s romantic!!

My body was not really involved while my brain enthusiastically encouraged me, “Get all the things!”

Had I been at Wal-Mart instead, I would have encountered aisles crammed floor to ceiling with stuffed bears, cheap candy and Mylar balloons, and a similar desperate voice in my head noting that all of this was sweet and romantic, and such a bargain!

Instead, I stopped and pondered: What is it about Valentine’s Day?

So many messages encouraging you to prove your love with something you purchase. Lots and lots of pressure to do something really romantic and super special.

I remember the time I was handed a “Valentine’s Day Checklist” at my local grocery store. As if it wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day unless I purchased cookies, cupcakes, flowers, bubbly, balloons, cards, stuffed animals and more.

vdchlst
vdchlst

Look, I’m not opposed to delicious cheese, scrumptious chocolate and fragrant flowers. And there are berries and champagne in our fridge right now.

strawberries
strawberries

But all the “stuff” can get in the way of what we’re really seeking to feel when we find ourselves filling our carts with red, white and pink.

So here’s a simpler, kinder, Valentine’s Day checklist. Try it whether you have a sweetheart or not. And enjoy the day your way!

1. Slow down to savor. Whether it’s a special meal, one piece of chocolate, a walk in snowy woods alone, or cuddling under the covers together, go slow. Use every sense to drench yourself in the present moment. Breathe and wake up. How lucky to be alive!

2. Keep it simple. Pick one or two things you most want. Enjoy those deeply and fully. Relax about the rest – you don’t need all of it.

3. Seek what you prefer. This day belongs to you, not Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or a million ads and displays. What do you really want? Time alone? Curling up with a book? Pancakes? A bath? A quiet dinner? Pink cocktails? It doesn’t need to appeal to anyone but you.

cocktails
cocktails

4. Focus on love. Love is not about stuff. It’s not about bling, money, jewelry, bears, candles, roses or anything else the stores with big displays and ads want you to believe. It’s about being deeply and truly present. It’s about connection. Whether you have a sweetheart or are on your own, you can choose connection on Valentine’s Day. Open your heart. Let love flow forth like a beam of golden light. Connect with other humans, with the sky and clouds, with trees and animals, with stars and the moon. Love is abundantly available to you in a million ways, to be given and received. And no red envelopes or velvet boxes are required.

I have a sweetheart. I have no idea what we are doing tomorrow. We will decide as we go. We will genuinely see how each of us feels. We might pack a cooler of treats and walk up to the parades, we might stay home all day and cocoon-- we might do some of both. We might light candles, drink champagne and eat raspberries. We might make a fire or fix French toast. We might work on projects around the house.

Here’s what I know for sure: We are in love. It requires no proof. The greatest gift I can offer is to be awake, present, and undistracted.  To see him. And love him.

And if I suddenly need some rose petals, I know where to find them!

Prioritizing Rest, You Time And Quiet Time During The Holidays And Beyond

Are you starting to feel a little harried?  Is your list of things to do getting rather long?  Check in with yourself and see if there's anything you can toss right off that list.  Hate sending cards?  Don't do it.  I promise the world will not explode.  (The jury is still out about whether we will send holiday cards this year - but I am grateful for all who send them to us - I enjoy every one!)  

Don't want to go to that party?  Skip it.  It's likely not crucial that you're there.  

I'm composing this post in a little window of time before I meet with a client, head out to a holiday party, and then go see Twelfth Night at the New Orleans Museum of Art!  I'm excited and looking forward to all of it, especially the Shakespeare. I checked online yesterday and the show was sold out. Then I had a last minute offer today from a friend with extra tickets.  Feels magical! 

You see, it's not about never being double booked in the evenings around the holidays - it's how you feel about it.  If it feels fun, happy, and wondrous, do it!  If it feels heavy, burdensome or overwhelming, see if you can let it go without major consequences. 

I know that I have reserved a chunk of time this Thursday and most of Friday for myself for quiet restorative time. Time to relax, plan, contemplate.  So two events tonight feels just fine! 

How about you?  Where's your holiday energy level?

Craving company during the holidays? 7 ways to be merry with others

It's the most social time of the year and you're home with your houseplant.  Are you away from family and friends, maybe in a new city? Are you feeling lonely, bored, or antsy?  Do you gain most of your your energy from time with people? Here are seven quick tips when you need the company of others during the holidays. 

1. Scan Meetup groups, Facebook events, or your local newspaper. In the social media era, there are always so many cool things going on and they're easier and easier to find!  Don't be afraid to go alone - you'll surely meet some kindred spirits to conspire with!

2. Volunteer. Soup kitchens.  Homeless shelters. Old folks homes.  There's no better cure for solo ennui than striking up a conversation with someone who could really use the company.  Be present and compassionate for others and feel your spirits lift!

3. House sit for someone with a dog, and head to a dog park.  Meet other friendly dog people and enjoy the romping excited energy of happy pups!  Or just volunteer to take a busy friend's dog out for the afternoon.

4. Create your own random kindness activity.  Hand out candy canes or flowers.  Write sweet notes and pass them out.  Bake cookies and set up a "free cookie table" at a nearby park.  Be creative. Maybe someone will video you, it will go viral and you'll end up with a spot on the Today Show! :)

5. Go to a class.  Fitness.  Yoga.  Pottery painting.  Cooking.  There are so many fun ways to hang out with others and learn something too.

6. Make your own party, large or small.  Invite new friends to a cookie baking party.  Or a wine tasting, or holiday card writing.  Or Netflix watching. Or something else you love but would love to do with someone else.  Ask one or two people to join you for breakfast, lunch, coffee, a walk, or your other favorite thing.  It's really common for people to assume that everyone else is busy during the holidays, but it's not true!  Ask and you'll be surprised who's also looking for company!

7. Just open up and smile.  Strike up conversations with strangers.  It's amazing how people want to share but don't always perceive the invitation.  Be a good listener.  When you find someone whose personality resonates with yours, stick around.

If you're new to town or just finding yourself on your own it's easy to believe that everyone else is already set with a scintillating social life and no room for you.  But the truth is there are plenty of other people out there looking for something fun and happy to do with someone kind and pleasant - you!

And if some of your invitations and welcoming overtures are turned down, that's ok!  Don't let one"No, I can't make it this weekend" mean anything except that person is busy, tired, or maybe trying to get some down time - see link below!

What Really Matters During The Holidays -- Does The Question Feel Like A Cliche?

Yes, yes, we all know that the true meaning of the holidays - of Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa - is peace and togetherness and believing that the world can be a better place.  For children, it's a wonderful time of magic and miracles. 

Once we're adults though, the holidays can feel like one big to-do list.  And an extra ten pounds to lose in January.  And weird baggage from our own childhood creeping in.  And the national and world news not being peaceful at all.  And so much pressure to buy and consume more stuff. 

So what to do?  

Here are six quick ideas to increase your peace during this rush-rush time. 

1. Stop.  Breathe and get back into your body. Inhale and exhale slowly for 10 breaths, saying to yourself, "I'm at peace.", or "All is well." or "Peace on Earth". Notice how you will naturally reach a peaceful place inside yourself.  It's physiological, and it really does help. You can access this peace at any time - even ina mile-long line for Santa. 

2. Go outside.  The stars are always clearer when it's cold.  Go outside, even for a moment.  Or plan some outdoor activities.  If you're dressed properly, you can handle almost any temperature, and if you're lucky to live somewhere tropical like me, there will be plenty of sunny December days with flowers blooming! 

3. Get your holiday finances back in order.  Here's a blog post I wrote last year about holiday money traps and how to avoid them - enjoy and remember that it's actually not about the stuff. Click here to read. 

4. Get spiritual. What connects you best to spirit during the holidays?  Worship services?  Holiday music? Quiet contemplative time alone?  Prayer? Candles?  Gratitude journaling?  Meditation? Allow yourself spiritual time in whatever way is most meaningful to you. 

5. Give.  It always feels AMAZING to give - to volunteer your time, donate to a food bank, or choose gifts for a needy child.  

 

I believe we can ditch the commercialism, the over-doing it, the exhaustion of too much, and instead enjoy the spirit of peace and connection that we crave.  I hope you'll join me in celebrating and savoring a wonderfully wild and precious holiday season! 

Happy, happy holidays!