I try to refrain from giving people advice. They don’t usually listen to it, and in many cases it would be of dubious value anyway.
But I’m making an exception as Valentine’s Day approaches, and love is in the air.
As my qualification to dispense this type of advice, I’ll offer that counting my teen years, over the past four decades I have been involved in serious relationships with four different women.
I should note, however, that one of those four women has already opined that I shouldn’t write this column. She says I should stick to politics because I know a lot more about politics than love. Maybe the other three women would agree with her.
Be that as it may, the prospect of Valentine’s Day should be emboldening — so I’ll boldly go where a few men have gone before.
Here’s a little of what I’ve learned. Your mileage may vary, and vive la difference.
First, about Valentine’s Day itself, make it special but don’t go overboard. Get a nice card and maybe a small gift.
Be sure to say “I love you” that day – but you should be doing that everyday anyway. Go out to dinner and do it a night or two before the actual day. The restaurant will be less crowded.
On Valentine’s Day and every other one, remember that the romantic effects of music are often underestimated and should be used in the service of love. Music is great to get you moving or to sweeten things when the lights are low.
Don’t underestimate the oldies, either: soul music early in the evening, some low-key Sinatra or Chet Baker vocals, and silky Stan Getz and Ben Webster later on. Should your tastes run to the acoustic, Vermont’s own William Ackerman and Spencer Lewis will do just fine.
If you have children, by all means let them enhance your relationship. That can be challenging, I know. Bake a moment every day to appreciate what interesting creatures you’ve brought into the world together, and the fun they’ve added to your life.
Leave a space every weekend to spend time just with each other. It can take a day or more for the stress of the work week to settle out, and for hearts to open again. It’s easy for couples to lose track of each other if they work through the weekends, or if every minute of every weekend is taken up with the kids’ activities.
When you know you’ll have some time for just the two of you, prepare for it. The care you use in dressing for an important business day or outdoor activity? Take some of that same care and apply it to preparing for alone-together time, too.
If that time together somehow doesn’t go as planned, try to find the humor in it. In fact, try to find a little humor together every day. Laughing together will get you through many a tough time.
I don’t know a single long-term relationship that could not benefit from an occasional check-in with a good couples therapist. And it’s way cheaper than getting divorced.
The Indian sage Osho used to tell his students “you are hypnotized by your biology.” A character in a Jim Harrison novel observed that he was glad to be old and have little sex drive, because he felt like he’d been chained to an idiot for 60 years.
But to state the obvious, there’s a lot to be said for libido.
I see a lot of twenty-somethings who are in love but often in conflict. At that point in life and a relationship, conflict should be rare. If you have to work hard at things when you’re young and in love, the relationship may not be right for you.
Marriage researcher John Gottman has concluded that successful marriages have a ratio of at least five positive moments (interactions) to one negative moment. He’s right.
You don’t have to have everything in common. Nonetheless, it really helps to have subjects that are interesting you both. It almost doesn’t matter what: It could be NASCAR and motorcycles, or meditation and epistemology.
Love isn’t just for the young. Falling in love at sixty is in some ways even better.
There’s a good reason for the “forsaking all others” part of the marriage vows. Infidelity is a killer.
If you’re cheating, you’ve probably persuaded yourself that you can get away with it. But your partner will almost certainly find out. And then all hell will break loose. You probably don’t want to go there.
One of the most destructive aspects of a long-term relationship is all the undergrowth that grows around two people. By which I mean those annoying little things about that other person or the little resentments that build up over time. The ones that get shoved under the rug.
We think those things aren’t worth talking about. But I say they need to be flushed out into the light of day and communication, lest they poison the lovely fruit of marriage.
Some suggested reading: Harville Hendrix, “Getting the Love You Want”; Warren Farrell, “Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say”; Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks, “Conscious Loving.”
One last word: Look up the phrase “reflective listening,” find someone to teach you the technique, and practice it with the one you love. It’s magic.
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