How to Keep The Romance Alive

What relationship research reveals about maintaing our love relationships.

Posted Feb 13, 2018

It is that time of the year again.  Valentine’s Day is upon us.   Although there are some who look forward to Valentine’s Day, many others consider it an artificial holiday.  There is no question that Valentine’s Day has become commercialized beyond belief, similar to many other holidays.  But that does not mean that we cannot and should not celebrate love in a meaningful way once a year.  According to Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs, after physiological (e.g., air, water, food) and safety needs (e.g., protection from danger, stability), the ability to receive and give love is the third most important human need.   So, given its significance in our lives, why not put one day aside for love?

CharlieFoster/Unsplash
Source: CharlieFoster/Unsplash

The one argument that I have with Valentine’s Day celebration, however, is that it focuses singularly on expressing love once a year.  I think it makes much more sense to use this day to remind ourselves to cherish and maintain love in our lives every day.  If you are lucky enough to be in a genuinely loving relationship, Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to do some reflection on whether you are doing things right.  More specifically, it is an opportunity to ask yourself whether you are doing everything in your power to keep the flame burning in your relationship.  Like everything else, love needs nourishment.  You can’t expect to grow beautiful flowers without water.  How can you expect to keep your love relationship healthy and strong, if you don’t take care of it?

Here are some pointers based on research on romantic relationships that might help with keeping romance alive in your relationship every day of the year:

Share in household tasks.  Be fair.  Partners who feel inequity in their relationship become dissatisfied (Stafford & Canary, 2006).  Do your part in carrying out household tasks and other joint responsibilities, especially child care, if you want to maintain a satisfying relationship.   You can do household chores together to make it more fun and less time consuming.  For instance, one can wash the dishes, while the other can dry.  Reward yourselves with a fun night out after spending the day cleaning the house together.  Doing chores together can create feelings of closeness and cooperation (Ferree, 1991).  Couples who share tasks report greater relationship quality and stability (Marmo & Canary, 2013).  

Talk to each other.  I mean really talk to each other.  We live busy lives.  It is easy to go through our daily routine and miss the fact that we don’t really know how our partner is feeling inside.     Did something interesting happen to you today?  Did something or someone make you happy, excited, or upset? Discuss the events of the day with your significant other.  Ask your partner about her/his day and listen attentively. When you spend as little as one hour every night communicating intimately in a relaxed environment with your partner, you both feel better about yourself and closer to each other.  More intimate self-disclosure in romantic relationships is associated with more rewarding & satisfying relationships (Sprecher & Hendrick, 2004). 

Stay positive.  Let’s face it; nobody is perfect, not even you!  Everybody has some annoying habits that drive their partner crazy.  Moreover, we all make mistakes.  Instead of rushing to criticize, try to stay positive and upbeat (Marmo & Canary, 2013).  Forgive your partner’s small transgressions.  While serious transgressions such as cheating, abuse, cruelty, and deception should not be tolerated, we should do our best to forgive insignificant mistakes, provided the partner is genuinely sorry, apologizes, takes responsibility, and promises and acts on doing better. Ruminating over past mistakes is not good for you or your relationship.  Research suggests that unforgiveness is associated with increased stress, depressive symptoms, and high levels of anxiety.  On the other hand, studies have shown a bidirectional association between relationship satisfaction and forgiveness (Hojjat & Ayotte, 2013).  Overall, forgiveness is beneficial to both the individuals involved and their relationship.   

Do fun activities together on a regular basis.  It is fine to give flowers or chocolate to your lover for Valentine’s Day.  But the best gift of all is spending time together doing something that you both enjoy.  This would be an especially rewarding experience if you have been together for a long time and feel like your love life needs a boost. Bring variety into your relationship by starting a new tradition.  Perhaps you can take dancing lessons once a week or learn scuba diving together.  Schedule a regular date night when you can try new restaurants and types of food.  Book a trip to a new and exciting destination where you can explore a different region of the country or world together. Such activities benefit the relationship because the partner becomes associated with aroused positive emotions (Tomlinson & Aron, 2013).  You’d be surprised to see the impact on your relationship.  You will feel like you are back to the days when you were first dating!

Support your partner in self-growth. Help your partner achieve her/his goals, whether it is going (back) to school, retraining for a better job, losing weight, or pursuing a passion.  Expect the same from your partner.  Individuals enjoy an enhanced level of personal well-being when they believe that their partner views them and behaves towards them in a manner that is consistent with their own ideal self (Drigotas, 2002).  As a result, relationships in which partners encourage each other to be the best versions of themselves tend to be happier and more enduring (Drigotas et al., 1999).  The best relationships not only make us happy, but they also help us become better people.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

References

 Drigotas, S.M. (2002).  The Michelangelo phenomenon and personal well-being. Journal of Personality, 70(1), 59-77.

Drigotas, S.M., Rusbult, C. E. Wieselquist, J., & Whitton, S. W. (1999).  Close partner as sculptor of the ideal self:  Behavioral affirmation and the Michelangelo phenomenon.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(2), 293-323.

Ferree, M. M.  (1991). The gender decision of labor in two-earner marriages: Dimensions of variability and change. Journal of Family Issues, 12, 158-180.

Hojjat, M. & Ayotte, B.  (2013). Forgiveness and Positive Psychology.  In M. Hojjat & D. Cramer (Eds.), Positive Psychology of Love (pp. 121-133).  Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Marmo, J. & Canary, D. J.  (2013).   Connecting Happiness to Relational Maintenance: Understanding the Importance of Fairness.  In M. Hojjat & D. Cramer (Eds.), Positive Psychology of Love (pp. 203-2017). Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Maslow, A.H.  (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation.  Psychological Bulletin, 50, 370-396.

Sprecher, S. & Hendrick, S. S. (2004).  Self-disclosure in intimate relationships: Associations with individual and relationship characteristics over time.  Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, pp. 857-877.

Stafford, L., & Canary, D. J. (2006).  Equity and interdependence as predictors of relational maintenance strategies.  Journal of Family Communication, 64, 227-254.

Tomlinson, J. M. & Aron, A.  (2013). The Positive Psychology of Romantic Love.  In M. Hojjat & D. Cramer, (Eds.), Positive Psychology of Love (pp. 3-15).  Oxford University Press, New York, NY.