Grand Gestures of Love

So, I’ve had a long week. I won’t bore you with the details—suffice to say my husband and I bought a new house and have been painting and moving all week… And I never want to see another box for as long as I live.

When I am a bit flat, there’s nothing like a bit of romance to perk me back up again. I was feeling so great while watching this video that I thought I might share it in the hopes of making you smile too. Go watch it—I’ll wait here…

grand gestures of love

Image by stock.xchng user qute

Grand gestures of love like these are beautiful. They don’t happen every day, which makes them very special. They take something that is usually private and only between two people—intimate, romantic love—and scream it from the rooftops.

To see someone go to that much effort for love—well, it gives everyone hope that true love really does exist.

The little, everyday things that go into love and relationships are just as special, of course. The cup of tea your partner brings you in bed in the mornings, your favorite chocolate bar they bring home at the end of the day. A lovely hug. All those are important too. But they’re also evidence of a completely different thing—a sign of caring between two longterm partners, usually.

These flamboyant shows of love are also wonderful, and they are the quintessential representation of love in its early stages: loud, impulsive, and energetic. Simply magic!

While that video is an extreme example, there are many great stories out there to share. What’s the best grand gesture of love you’ve ever seen … or experienced?

What You Need to Know About Break Ups

Breaking up is more than just hard to do. It’s physically painful. Scientists who have been putting dumpees into brain scanners have found that the same part of the brain lights up when they feel physical pain as when they see a picture of their ex-partner.

So now we can see why people who are experiencing an unwanted break up report feeling like they’ve been “kicked in the stomach” or “knocked sideways”.

I know that during my last breakup, I spent many an hour nursing my solar plexus, which felt like it had gone six rounds with Mike Tyson.

The feelings during a break up are a mixture of grief and something akin to breaking a drug habit. That is, you’re reliant on and addicted to what you get from your partner. Once they’re taken away, you go into a withdrawal, heavily salted with the stages of grief.

Grief for the person you lost, grief for the future you’d been planning. Suddenly everything has to change. You have to readjust your five- or ten-year plan—sometimes you had your whole life with a person planned out.

You go through all the stages of grief—the denial (it’s a break, not a break up) and then anger, fear, depression … and finally acceptance.

It’s no wonder we can’t just get on with life straight away. Everyone goes through a break up at their own pace. It’s okay to be sad.

Here are a few tips on getting through the process.

Be realistic

Don’t put your ex up on a pedestal. Know that they’re just one of many people who will be a good match for you—the fish in the sea metaphor is a good one because it’s true. Of course, in your addiction-addled state you won’t believe this for a while. Keep it in mind until you do.

Accept it

You can’t keep thinking you’ll get back together. Your own grieving process will move quicker if you can accept that it’s over. It’s not just a break, it’s a break up. Remove reminders of them and minimize your contact, especially early on in the break up process.

Put yourself first

This is a better time than ever to pamper yourself and take care of your own needs. Get to know yourself again, as some people may experience a little identity crisis after being part of a couple for so long.

Keep yourself clean

Turning to addictive habits to cope is not a good thing. You’re very vulnerable in a break up state, and even things like too much caffeine can blow out anxiety to full scale panic-attacks. Don’t binge on alcohol, drugs, food, or caffeine. You’re only adding to your problems.

Get a support network

…Preferably of single friends! Reconnect with people you haven’t seen in a while, and hang out having fun with other singles. It will give you hope that there is life after your break up.

How do you get through a break up?

Emotional Affairs and What to Do About Them

We spoke last week about Surviving an Affair. I was talking about the topic with a friend over coffee the other day and another great offshoot of it came up: the Emotional Affair.

These are affairs that you may not even realize you’re having. Because technically, you’re not breaking any rules. There’s been no swapping of saliva, no one’s seen anyone naked (except maybe in your daydreams) … you may tell yourself you’re just good friends, even though you know you’re thinking about this person a bit too much.

If this all sounds familiar and you think you’re not doing anything dangerous, you’d be wrong.

Not only are these affairs the precursor to a full-blown, rolling-between-the-sheets adulterous kind, but even if you never get to that stage, you’ve already broken your partner’s trust.

How? You’re getting your emotional needs met by someone else, and in the process you are probably lying to your partner about the nature of this “friendship” you spend so much time on.

According to The Emotional Affair, there are three things every emotional affair has in common:

Emotional intimacy: Transgressors share more of their inner self, frustrations, and triumphs than with their spouses. They are on a slippery slope when they begin sharing the dissatisfaction with their marriage with a co-worker.

Secrecy and deception: They neglect to say, We meet every morning for coffee. Once the lying starts, the intimacy shifts farther away from the marriage.

Sexual chemistry: Even though the two may not act on the chemistry, there is at least an unacknowledged sexual attraction.

An emotional affair often starts as a friendship, perhaps with a co-worker or with a long-lost friend you’ve reconnected with on Facebook.

Your partner may not feel like they have a right to put an end to your “friendship” with this person. They might not even be aware that there’s anything going on. You may have made them believe that their intuitive jealousy is petty.

You may have been telling yourself that you’re not doing anything wrong. But if the above sounds familiar, then you need to stop. Now. Before it gets worse.

Emotional affairs may not be about sex, but you’re definitely looking for something. Instead of looking outside your relationship, pour all that energy back into refocusing on your partner and your connection with them. Before you make a big mistake.

Have you had, or heard of, an emotional affair? What are your thoughts?

Surviving an Affair

This article caught my eye last week. The writer’s close friend has found out her husband is having an affair. Instead of kicking him to the curb like most people around her are advising, she has decided to fight for their marriage.

She doesn’t have much support in this decision from her family and friends. It’s understandable—I often find that, in matters of the heart, your nearest and dearest are more loyal to you than you are to yourself. But then she is the one that loves her husband, and sometimes love is not able to be rationalized.

She has decided to try and forgive, which blows me away. Not least because I don’t think I could do it.

What a huge job this woman is undertaking.

Not only does she have to try and rebuild trust with the man that already did her wrong (harder almost than starting a new relationship, and trusting someone new with your heart) but she also has to rebuild her own self-esteem.

On one hand, they have children together, and many experts say that if the partners really can work it out and move on to a future relationship that isn’t full of hateful conflict, it can be better for the family in the long run than cutting your losses and leaving.

Some experts even maintain that a marriage can be stronger and better for having recovered from an affair.

To stay or to go is obviously a very personal decision. I think most people have an instinctive and knee-jerk reaction to infidelity.

I’ve always, always said adultery is a deal-breaker for me. Reader comments on the article reflect others with the same opinion. “Denise needs to get some self esteem,” says the first one off the bat. In the past, I would have tended to agree.

But the more I read into Denise’s story, and the more I started researching, the less sure I am about the cut-and-run approach, and the more impressed I am at her courage to stay.

Her story reminded me of that of Laura Munson, who refused to let her husband divorce her even though he wanted to leave the family.

Online, I found another woman who had been through adultery describe it: “He decided to leave me for a season of our marriage.”

I liked the connotation—marriage is a long, convoluted journey. For one season, her husband wasn’t up for the commitment. He has since recommitted and they seem like they’ve moved past it. The marriage endures.

Dr. Gary Neuman has found that the number one reason men cheat is because of an emotional disconnect at home. It’s not about the sex, or that the mistress is younger, or more attractive, it’s about them being dissatisfied with the emotional state of their relationship.

While Dr. Neuman hasn’t done studies on why women cheat, many websites cite the same reason. Emotional disconnect, feeling unloved, and feeling rejected.

In light of that, I think most people who have experienced infidelity could probably look at that and say. “Yes, my relationship could have done with some work to keep it stronger.” Or, “Yes, we did let the intimacy slide.”

They say it takes two to tango. That isn’t to condone the adulterous behavior, but if you can identify a reason for that infidelity, and one that you, personally, have some control over, you might begin to see how you could work it out together.

For anyone who finds themselves having to deal with this unfortunate situation, then one thing I would absolutely recommend is seeking professional help to deal with it. Adultery is simply too big and too complicated to tackle alone.

Without knowing what you’re supposed to do next, it can become bigger than you. Every fight can turn into: “Well, who cares what I did because you had an affair!” and that’s not forgiveness—that’s resentment.

Both partners have to want to rebuild, and both have to commit to working at it.

The most important thing to remember, if you find your partner is cheating, is that you don’t have to make a decision abut staying or going right away. Not today, and maybe not even tomorrow.

Take the time to vent, hurt, cry, and scream. Release all the grief that comes out. And then you will have a clearer head and can make a more rational choice about the future of your relationship.

Then you need to open the lines of communication, with help, and start to rebuild from the ground up.

Do you think you have it in you to forgive an affair?

5 Habits of Highly Effective (and Happy!) Couples

Of course, there are certain things every relationship needs to function properly even at a basic level.

These essential foundations—trust, honesty, and attraction—should be already taken care of if you’re in any kind of a functional romantic relationship.

But what about the little extra things that make a good relationship great?

Here are five common habits of highly effective couples … as observed by me.

1. Commitment

A relationship is nothing without commitment. Because life is never one straight road. And relationships are a rollercoaster. There are highs and there are lows, and there are times where you feel like throwing in the towel and walking away.

It’s not that there are certain couples that are walking around on clouds all the time. Even the happiest of relationships have their dark hours. The highly effective couples are the ones that push through the other side to find the light and laughter again.

You only have a relationship as long as two people are committed to it. It’s a matter of waking up every morning and committing again and again to what you want, despite all the other hazards that get in the way.

Charlie and Linda Bloom, authors of Secrets of Great Marriages, have a lot to say about the topic of commitment in this interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.

2. Make an effort

Great couples make the effort to be great.

Connectedness, intimacy, conversation, and time together don’t come easily. Well, they do at first, but then you’re fighting a losing battle against hormones and time to keep all these things—and the spark—alive in your relationship. If you don’t make an effort, they will all but disappear and you’ll barely notice as it happens.

Great couples continue to reconnect and be intimate even when their libidos wane, they schedule regular date nights and make sure they stick to them, they talk about things that are not the bills, the children, or the washing.

They don’t just let life pass them and their relationships by in a heartbeat, without getting what they want from their relationship.

3. Time apart

It may sound counter-intuitive, but the couples that I admire are always ones that have great balance between their couple-time and their independence.

I love couples where each partner pursues their own hobbies, spends time with their own friends, and isn’t afraid to take leisure time alone. There is of course such a thing as too much time apart … but there’s also too much time together, and that can be just as damaging.

4. Fight fair

Every couple—even the happy ones—will have disagreements from time to time. Highly effective couples know that during an argument, they need to still respect their partner and listen, even if they don’t agree with them.

We talked earlier on FeelGooder about why fighting can be good for your relationship—go check out the article if you want some tips on how to fight constructively with your partner.

5. Play

I love couples who still play together, even after years in a long-term relationship.

A bit of playfulness in your day keeps you laughing, keeps you young, and keeps you happy. Singing loudly at the top of your lungs, dancing barefoot in the lounge room, tickling or water fights … whatever it is that takes your fancy, do it.

This is by no means a complete list. What other qualities do you see in couples you admire, or in your own relationship, that you can share with us?

Why We Love, Why We Cheat

Today I want to share with you a favorite video clip of mine.

It’s from a TED conference held a few years back. It features Dr. Helen Fisher, who is doing some of the most important work in the world right now on romantic love. I could tell you all about it right now, but of course no one can explain it quite the way she can. So I’m going to leave it to her.

I met with Dr. Fisher when I was in New York last year and was utterly charmed by her as I conducted my interview.

She talks about what happens when she puts people who are in love into a brain-scanning machine, and what happens when they are in love and when they’ve just been dumped. She talks about how love is not an emotion like we may always have suspected it was—instead, she says it’s a drive, and a powerful one at that. As Dr. Fisher says in the video: “People live for love, they kill for love, they die for love.”

The video is about half an hour long but it’s fascinating. Grab a coffee and enjoy…

Why We Love, Why We Cheat

…and let us know your thoughts on Dr. Fisher’s points once you’re done!

Why You Need a Love Map (and How to Improve Yours!)

I bet you didn’t even know you had a Love Map in you. Guess what? You do!

According to influential couples’ therapist Dr. John Gottman, your Love Map is the part of your brain where you store information about your partner’s dreams, goals, joys, fears, likes, dislikes, frustrations, and worries.

Things like your husband’s favorite TV show or your wife’s favorite leisure activities are significant “points” on your internal map.

Some people’s maps may be more built up than others. It really depends on how much you pay attention to your partner. Later on in this article, I’ll give you an easy way to test your love map, and an easy way to start building it up.

Thorough love maps are important, though. They strengthen relationships.

Couples with comprehensive love maps stay aware of their partner’s changing needs. They constantly seek updates on what the other person is doing, feeling, and thinking.

Being understood in this way is a gift each partner gives the other, bringing great happiness and satisfaction. It also leaves couples better prepared to cope with stresses on their relationship.

For example, in one study Gottman interviewed couples around the time of the birth of their first child. For 67% of couples this stressful event was accompanied by a significant drop in marital satisfaction.

But the other 33% didn’t feel a drop in satisfaction; in fact many felt their marriages had gotten stronger. The difference was the completeness of the couples’ love maps. “The couples whose marriages thrived after the birth had detailed love maps from the get-go,” says Gottman. “These love maps protected their marriages in the wake of this dramatic upheaval.”

The point is also that couples’ goals, dreams and priorities change over time. If couples can make a continued effort to update their love maps of each other, they stand a much better chance of making it through the hard times together.

Getting to know your partner

Set up a lighthearted quiz for you and your partner both to take about each other. You’re to answer questions about your partner’s preferences

Rather than getting angry that your sweetie was unaware of your favorite magazine, or social security number, it presents an opportunity for the two of you to bond further and get to know each other better.

My poor husband—I change my mind and my preferences at breakneck speed! My favorite color, food, beverage, and more could be completely different from one day to the next, depending on my mood. I still give him points if he guesses something that I used to like (last week) instead of something I currently like.

Luckily for me, he’s quite the creature of habit … like a slow-moving glacier. I’m pretty confident that what he likes now will not change by Friday.

That said, I’m conscious that to keep our maps updated, we need to keep communicating on a deeper level than just “Can you hang out the washing?” and “Have you seen my socks anywhere?”

How to play

This is a great activity for your next low-key date night. Over dinner, breakfast, coffee, or baking, see how well you know each other and perhaps learn something new about your partner.

Start by drafting 20 questions across the different love map categories that you can quiz each other on. To be fair, pick ten questions each.

Don’t get upset if your partner doesn’t know the answer. Use it as an opportunity to get to know each other a little better. It can be as trivial as your favorite brand of toothpaste or as deep as your darkest nightmare.

Here are the primary categories and some example questions you might like to ask:

Family: Who is my favorite relative? What was one of my best childhood experiences? My worst?

Friends: Name my two best friends. Name one of my major rivals/enemies. How did I meet my best friends? Who is my greatest source of support (besides you)?

Work: What is my dream job? What is one of my major career goals? What part of my job do I hate? Which of my colleagues do I like?

Hobbies: What is one of my favorite weekend activities? How do I let off steam? What’s my favorite sport?

Dreams: What are two of my aspirations, hopes, wishes? Do I have a secret ambition? What is it? What is my fondest unrealized dream? What do I fantasize about?

Favorites: What is my favorite book, movie, TV show, colour, flower, turn on? Which side of the bed do I prefer? What’s my favorite season? Where’s my favorite holiday destination?

Feelings: What medical problems do I worry about? What is one of my favorite ways to be soothed? What am I most sad about? What are some of the important events coming up in my life? How do I feel about them?

And so on.

Using the information

As you gather and store all these small details about your partner onto your love map, you can use the information to surprise and delight your sweetie in small ways.

For instance, a while ago my husband Den found out what one of my favorite comfort foods was from my childhood. He secretly contacted my mother for the recipe, went shopping for the ingredients and we made it together one night here at home.

You could buy your partner a bunch of their favorite flowers, pick up a copy of their favorite magazine, or take them to their favorite restaurant for dinner. If your partner has always dreamed of writing a novel, or learning French, enroll them in a short course to help them realize their dreams.

The best part

All this will make you feel closer to your partner and your unexpected gifts will be a wonderful way to show you appreciate them, love them and that you’re thinking of them.

How detailed is your Love Map for your partner? Do you know them as well as you think you do?

Why Happily Ever After is Just a Fairytale

Happily ever after? That’s just a fairytale. And it’s not only Disney that continues to perpetuate the myth. Hollywood has played its part too.

We are saturated with images of happy couples at the end of movies—after a few stumbling blocks early on in the relationship, there is a culmination of soaring violins, and a promise that the two went on to live happily ever after, together, forever. Smooth sailing and blue skies, cute bunnies and rainbows.

It’s simply not possible.

Sourced from Djsumma.com

The first problem with this scenario is that it makes us think that if we’ve found “the one,” there will never be another problem again. That person “completes us” and “makes us happy,” and it all happens seamlessly.

So of course, at the first sign of a problem in our relationship we stop, and we begin to question. Maybe this isn’t meant-to-be love. Maybe we got it wrong. Maybe “the one” is still out there somewhere!

So we move on to our next princess or knight in shining armor, looking for the package deal that comes complete with a white picket fence.

Let me tell you now, if you’re looking for perfection, it does not exist. What you may need is a readjustment of your expectations.

Author Lori Gottlieb had the realization too late, prompting her to write controversial piece: Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

At 40, Gottlieb found herself still single, mother to a child she had conceived via sperm donation, and still seeking Mr. Right.

On reflection, she decided that any number of men she’d dated in the past would have been suitable for her. At the time, though, she discarded them because they didn’t tick enough of her boxes.

It’s a story repeated many times over in this world: people wait for their perfect match only to discover that person’s never coming. Or they got snatched up by someone else years ago.

Perhaps a little compromise of ideals is in order. It’s almost a dirty word: compromise. But it really doesn’t have to be.

I gave comment on this very subject in an insightful piece, “True Romance,” that Rachel Hills wrote for Sunday Life Magazine.

If a potential love interest checks even 50% of your tick-boxes, then there is potential to build a loving, solid relationship from there. Just because a person isn’t as sporty or as literary as you might have dreamed is no reason to discard them upfront.

There are, of course, some things one should never compromise on. You must have the same moral values, family values, and similar goals in life.

Everything else? That’s negotiable.

No matter who you end up with, you will have to work hard at creating a relationship. There will be ups and there will be downs, there will be happy and sad and frustrating times. But that’s what makes a relationship a journey.

And that’s why I wouldn’t even want happily ever after. That’s the romantic equivalent of a road trip on a straight, flat freeway.  Give me a picturesque mountain range any day.

Setting Goals as a Couple

I believe relationships need to be run a little bit like businesses.

Aside from the weekly meetings (aka “date night”), the lodging of the finances (“You spent how much on shoes?”…“They were an important marketing expense!”), and the internal memos (“Please pick the towels up from the bathroom floor. Sincerely, the CEO”), there is one outstandingly obvious thing that both businesses and relationships need to function efficiently:

A Vision Statement.

Couples—like any team—work best when they have goals to work towards.

Without them, partners tend to flounder around like blind mole rats, bumping into walls, falling by the wayside, and such things.

Whether it’s a wedding, a house, or a dream holiday, I firmly believe couples that have goals to work towards together, flourish. A goal keeps you on the same track, and it gives you a sense of purpose and, ultimately, achievement.

Quite naturally, couples in the early stages of relationships will have regular goals stretching in front of them. Moving in together, finding houses, planning weddings,  and having children are all possible tick-boxes from early on in couplehood.

But after those things have been accomplished, what do we really have to bring us together?

Perhaps it’s time for the annual business planning retreat.

Just to be clear, in life you will have your own personal goals—these should still be honored as your own private things to work on separately from your relationship goals.

A relationship goal is something that inspires the both of you. It’s something big that you can both plan for and look forward to together.

Of course, all good goals are SMART. Be specific about what you’re trying to achieve together, and make sure the end result is measurable (how will you know when you’ve made it to your goal?), achievable, and realistic (nothing is more defeating than not being able to make a goal you set yourself! Make sure you don’t ask too much of yourselves!), as well as timely (when will you have your goal completed by?).

I think ideally when it comes to time frame, your relationship goal should be something you can complete within 12 months to two years. Once it’s been achieved, sit down together and work out a new one.

Participate in a marathon, triathlon, or bike ride

If you’re active types, sit down together and pick an upcoming event—a fun run, a walk, a bike ride, or a triathlon—and set up a training schedule together. You’ll spend time each week working towards your fitness goals as a team, motivating each other, and training together.

The adrenalin rush of competing on the day will last long past the finish line! Plus, think of all the fun you could have with your (very toned) bodies once it’s over!

Plan a holiday

Make it more than just a holiday—plan your dream holiday! Start by dreaming together over a stack of travel brochures … if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? What would you do when you got there? How much money would you need to take?

Sourced from Confessions of a Beach Bum

Put all the wheels in motion—set up your goals for the trip, visit the travel agent, and work out what you need to do to make it happen!

And save. Set up a separate bank account called “Our Holiday” and schedule a savings plan. It may not be a reality straight away, but if you don’t start now, when will you?

Learn a language

Pick a language that the both of you would love to learn but never have.

Perhaps a language of love? Italian, French and Spanish are all very sexy choices! Or learn the language of a place you’d love to visit together one day. Sign yourselves up to a community college class together. You’ll be perfect study partners, spending nights on the couch whispering sweet nothings in foreign tongues!

Take a class together

Find a short course in something that interests you both. The options are endless!

Photography, music, dancing, wine and food appreciation, yoga … check out your local community college or adult education establishment to see what they offer. Learning new things together sparks dopamine and norephrithrane hormones, patterning the same brain chemistry as when you first fell in love. That means you’ll be high on tummy-butterflies for weeks to come!

Boost your savings

Boost Your Savings

Name a figure you want to see in your bank account, then work towards it! Decide what it’s for, and make it something that you both want, be it a deposit on a house, a big-ticket furniture item, or a car. Sit down and develop a savings plan that works for the both of you.

Make sure that once you hit your dream figure and purchase your goal item, you celebrate in style together! Take some of that hard-earned cash and splash out on a romantic night for two!

Do you and your partner set goals together? What’s been your favorite?

Why Arguing With Your Partner Can Be Good For You

It looks like a good argument with your spouse can be not only good for your relationship, but also good for your health.

As the findings say: “Preliminary results of a University of Michigan study suggest that couples where both the husband and wife suppress their anger when one attacks the other die earlier than members of couples where one or both partners express their anger and resolve the conflict.”

Better out than in!

The key message from this study is that couples need to know how to manage conflict when it arises to be sure all problems are dealt with quickly and effectively, instead of leaving resentment simmering below the surface where it causes more harm to not only your relationship, but to yourself.

Releasing the emotions when they arise is a better option than holding them in for the sake of some immediate peace.

Unfortunately, no one trains us on how to argue with each other.

And if you’re anything like me, you’d much rather keep the peace than engage in romantic warfare.

Some people have good parents to model from. And this is a great note for parents too—if you are effective at arguing, it may be beneficial not to hide arguments from your children. Let them see you resolving problems in a mature way, and it will set them in good stead for their own lives. (But it might be best to read this MSNBC article about it before trying it at home.)

If you’re not so fortunate to be a natural debater (say you’re more of a plate-thrower or a stonewaller), here are some tips to keep in mind for your next argument.

Focus on the immediate topic

You know those arguments that start out about the wet towel left on the bathroom floor, but then suddenly morph to an all-out about how you never liked his parents anyway?

Well firstly, those arguments are a result of letting things fester. If you’d argued way back when about the in-laws factor, you wouldn’t need to bring it up now.

Try and stick to the topic at hand and don’t start airing out the blacklist of habits and grievances from the last five years of your lives together.

Don’t fight dirty

Going right for the jugular by dragging out things you know your partner is sensitive about, or calling them awful names, is not on. You may be angry, but your partner still deserves your respect.

Remember, words you throw at them during the heat of the moment will be remembered long afterwards. Keep a respectful tone and make sure you listen to your partner’s opinion as well. You will both have your own thoughts and feelings on the matter and they all need to be spoken.

Just because you’re listening to your partner’s opinion doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. But repeating back to them what they’ve said is a good way of showing them that you understand where they’re coming from. Showing that you’ve received the message this way will stop your partner from having to yell to be “heard.”

Take your time

There’s nothing wrong with taking some time to gather your thoughts and then coming back to the argument. Don’t leave it too long, but if you need to take time out from the discussion, feel free to do so.

Once you’ve both had a chance to cool down, you’re more likely to be able to talk rationally and to come to a win-win situation—which is the ideal outcome.

What’s your fighting style? Don’t be shy to admit you may not always get it right—it does take practice, and a good dose of self-control as well.