Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Keeping the Love Alive ...

While some people seem to regard Valentine's Day as a commercial venture best avoided, I tend to think of it as a yearly opportunity to be intentional about expressing your love and appreciation in your most significant relationships.

It is easy, when caring for others all day long, to arrive at the evening hours exhausted, depleted and less than interested in conversation, let alone the amorous expressions of your significant other. The observance of Valentine's Day (or week), can offer a focused opportunity to begin to renew your connection with your loved one.

Research over the years has taught us that the work of physicians, nurses, psychotherapists, police, lawyers, clergy, and other professional helpers can have a profound impact on primary relationships. And a survey of 300 + family caregivers, published today at caring.com, revealed that although some believed that caregiving had enhanced and strengthened their relationships, 80% of respondents felt that caregiving had strained their relationship, 89% said that caregiving had kept them away from their spouse, 48% said that caregiving was causing them to drift apart, 46% felt that it was having a negative impact on their romantic relationship and 34% thought it had taken a toll on their sexual relationship. Harsh numbers, indeed.

So, how can we begin to re-pair our heart connection with our partners? It can be surprisingly simple, though not necessarily easy.

1.  Take care of yourself so you have the energy to nurture your relationship. Think back over the past year and acknowledge the times when you have really cared for yourself. (Don't be critical if there aren't too many. Just see today as a starting point for improving your self care.)
2.  Talk and listen to each other. Make space and time to reconnect with each other every day - even if it's only for a few moments. Protect that space and time. Reach out to each other, vent, and talk about your feelings, problems, expectations, frustrations and appreciations.
3. If possible, create a regular pattern of getting away together so you can connect at a deeper level - being geographically away from the sources of your stress can do wonders for your perspective. If you can't get away, create a vacation at home (or at a friend's home while they're away). Unplug from the electronics, don't answer the phone, eat delivery meals or cook together, watch a DVD, nest. (Remember to tell your family and friends that you're taking a break so they don't go into a in a state of panic when they can't reach you.)
4.  Get help with the responsibilities that drain energy from your relationship. Together, identify the top three or four drains on your relationship energy and brainstorm out-of-the-box ways of getting help. I spoke with a young woman recently who said her hectic life as the young mom, dancer and choreographer, and family caregiver had eased considerably when she and her husband decided to get a bookkeeper to handle their business books, to ask a local nursing student to babysit one evening a week for date night, and to share the housekeeping and baby care more evenly.
5.  Pamper each other. Do one small thing to pamper each other every day whether a neck rub, drawing a bath, buying coffee or a glass of wine to share in the garden, putting a love note in a bag lunch, breakfast in bed, making or going out for a special meal, offering to do one of your partner's chores, getting a massage together, going for a walk without the kids. If your partner is ill, he or she can recruit a friend to bring a selection of cards or gifts to your home to choose something for you on special days. Or try online shopping.
6. Remember that there's more to sexuality than intercourse. Even if you're seriously depleted or your partner is ill, you can still express your love physically. Spoon, hold, cuddle, stroke, touch each other tenderly without the expectation of intercourse, allowing loving closeness to be the goal.
7.  Take time to reflect upon your lives together. Remember the hurdles you've overcome and the pleasures you've shared. Visualize all the threads of memory that tie the two of you together. Early in my husband's illness we recognized that, in all the stress and grief, we might lose track of some of these stories, so we bought a beautiful "memory book" and wrote down, in detail, all the happy memories we could think of in our years together. It's now a wonderful gift to look back on on Valentine's Day.
8. If the loss of your loved one's cognitive abilities or the loss of the love in your relationship or the lack of a romantic relationship altogether makes you hate the very thought of Valentine's Day, tell someone you trust about your feelings or write about them in your journal or burn them out in some physical activity. Expressing them will usually bring some relief. Consider giving yourself a gift of flowers or chocolate or a spa certificate. Start a tradition of sharing time, cards, or small gifts with a friend or family. (My sister is taking me out to Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks, tonight, for dinner and a lesson on cooking for one!)

Valentine's Day will mean something different to each of us but I wish each one the opportunities to make it a happy day.                  

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