Research indicates that couple satisfaction, over the course of a long-term relationship, is like a U shape. It is higher before couples become parents and after kids leave the home. I speculate this happens because we too often treat our marriages like self-sustaining cacti instead of orchids. In other words, and despite how willful and determined we may be in other areas of our lives, we are often not disciplined in our relationships. So, my fellow parent-spouses/committed partners, here are ten tips for orchid care.
#1. Have a date night each week. Yes, yes, yes, this is tough. So too is getting weekly aerobic exercise. But, there is no being fit without it. And, how difficult is it to live with the long term consequences of not being fit? Nothing says this has to be expensive or even occur outside of the home. It just needs to involve FUN WITHOUT THE KIDS. And, don’t let the babysitting issue stand in your way. Tap relatives, seek out local college girls, ask your pastor/rabbi/iman if s/he can recommend a responsible young woman, trade services with other parents, or medicate your children. (One of the preceding is a joke….can you guess?)
#2. Assume your partner has good motives or has a good reason for doing what s/he does. We get into trouble when we don’t give our partner the benefit of the doubt and privately conclude “he’s selfish,” “she’s cold,” and so forth, when that may not be so. Better to give the benefit of the doubt, assume that your partner has a good reason for showing the unfortunate behavior at hand, and (maybe) talk about it later when you are both calm and reflective.
#3. Vary your sex life. It’s amazing how much sex can become like flossing teeth. Share your fantasies, if only in writing. Get a sex book that list ideas (e.g., watch some videos and act out the scenes, roll play, purchase sexy clothing). Take some risks with your partner in terms of sharing what excites you.
#4. Create separations before going nuclear. We can all feel those moments coming on when we want to say the most hurtful things because we ourselves are hurt. How many of us have later regretted speaking during such moments? A lot I’m guessing. But, how many of us later regretted creating a separation, calming down, and then dealing with the issue(s) at hand? Not many I’m guessing. You can even agree on a signal with your partner (i.e., once one of you gives the agreed upon signal, all dialogue stops).
#5. Don’t use the “D” word when suffering from transient brain dysfunction. If one or both of you are enraged; or, if one or both of you are highly stressed; or, if one or both of you have been drinking, it is so, so, so, so easy to start threatening a divorce. This is like planning weeds in your orchid’s soil. Over time, they may kill it.
#6. Talk about more than division of labor, kid stuff and mundane current events. We can get dead eyes and dead tone with our partners when we don’t open up, share our dreams, share our vulnerabilities and share our existential musings. So, try taking some risks. Click here for a handout that includes four levels of conversation prompts. (Each level calls for a deeper level of intimacy. Take it easy now. Don’t try to go too deep too fast. One shouldn’t scream at an orchid “flourish!!”)
#7. Learn to speak a foreign language. So often we and our mate express affection and caring differently. If the only signs of affection and caring I recognize are the kinds I’m inclined to offer, I’m likely going to be left concluding negative things about my partner’s feelings or character. Try to recognize your partner’s language and appreciate what s/he is able and willing to give you.
#8. Apologize and make reparation. Over the course of a typical long-term relationship couples hurt each other a lot. Try to be open to how you might have hurt your partner, whether intended or not, whether facilitated by your partner or not, and make a heart felt apology and effort to repair the damage. Sometimes repair might mean fixing what was wronged, or making a kind gesture, or doing some work on yourself to avoid making the mistake again, or something else. And, try to avoid getting caught up in the conditions game (e.g., I’ll apologize only if s/he does too. I’ll make reparation only if s/he meets me halfway). We apologize and make reparation because it is good for our individual wellness and contributes to the health of the orchid, whether a unilateral or a bilateral effort.
#9. Recognize symptoms of distress and take action to reduce them. Feeling sexual tension and a desire to engage a sexual dalliance with someone besides your partner? Spending a lot of private time feeling some negative emotion towards your partner (e.g., resentment, fear)? Doing a lot of measuring and counting in the relationship? Using the D-word a lot? These are signs of relationship distress and, in my experience, are highly likely to worsen unless you take action to repair the underlying problem(s). And, please, please, please know that affairs are like an icy steel boot slamming down on the orchid; it may survive, but it will be vulnerable in stormy weather. (By the way, illicit sexual tensions, like mushrooms, thrive in the dark. If you want to weaken one, throw some light on it by discussing it with a therapist or a wise confident and put distance between you and the other person…right now.)
#10. Seek our relationship counseling when distress can’t be reduced by your own interventions. At the risk of mixing my metaphors, relationships are very mechanical things. Often the engine is sound but the maintenance schedule is wacked. Meeting with a skilled and experienced relationship technician can go a long way to rediscovering just how sound your engine is and that taking it to the scrap heap, or trading it in, is not in your best long-term interest. For a referral click here.