I have a recurring fantasy that involves a beach, a margarita, and, most importantly, a hunky husband. You know that one much needed vacation. Like many couples, my husband and I are longing for some alone time—some time to relax, take a break from life, and really connect.
But my fantasy flight never gets off the ground. It’s canceled. Every time.
The unfortunate reality is that we are not going on a romantic luxury vacation any time soon for the same reasons we rarely splurge on fancy dates, expensive gifts, or exciting excursions: money and babies. So, without the thrilling prospect of romantic getaways, where does that leave the love part of this marriage?
We’ve got the teamwork part down. Every day we work to take care of the house and kids. But to keep the romance alive in our marriage, the two of us need quality time and enjoyable shared experiences. In the busyness of life, this much needed romantic connection can seem all but impossible.
Luckily for us, and most couples, it turns out that opportunities to enhance the romance are more attainable than you’d think. According to psychologist Dr. John Gottman of the famed “Love Lab,” lasting love is fed by little, everyday moments of connection. That’s right: the quality of love in your relationship is determined in the daily grind, not on that all-inclusive Mexican vacay.
1. Do Little and Thoughtful Kind Things for Each Other
According to relationship expert Dr. Jack Ito, little acts of love and kindness go a long way. In his article “How to Show Love in Marriage,” he writes that the big things we do in marriage only get us so far. Working full-time to pay the mortgage, making meals, caring for children—these things are necessary, expected, and connected with duty. Little extras, however, are obviously done because you want to do them. They show your spouse you’re willing to put in extra effort because he or she is worth it.
In The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman writes that Hollywood distorts our notions of romantic love: “Watching Humphrey Bogart gather teary-eyed Ingrid Bergman into his arms may make your heart pound, but real-life romance is fueled by far more humdrum scenes. It is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.”
When I think about it, I do feel a strong sense of being loved when my husband does the simplest things for me, like when he fixes my plate for dinner or texts me during the day to see how I am. Or when he does little things to help me as a mom. Almost every morning Kyle brings the baby to me with a clean diaper. That’s love, my friend.
2. Make Time to Say Yes to Each Other Every Single Day
Time is the enemy for busy couples. But time spent in positive interactions with your spouse is non-negotiable. As Dr. Gottman writes, “a husband and wife are continually making bids for each other’s attention—introducing a conversation topic, implicitly asking a favor, etc.—and the most successful couples are the ones who continually ‘turn toward’ their partners.” They say yes to each other’s requests for attention, interaction, and well, love, I suppose. These everyday interactions serve to build up a bank of love and trust, Dr. Gottman says.
I’m thinking just now of a bid for attention and connection I missed last week. Kyle spent hours digging and planting and laying mulch in our yard. Multiple times throughout the process he asked if I’d seen the latest thing he’d completed. At least twice I said, no, I hadn’t seen it, and continued to fold laundry. Finally, I figured out what he wanted: to share the experience with me, to see if his work pleased me. So I’ve made the trek to the backyard a few times since then. Finding meaningful moments of connection in his joy of spring yard work.
3. Establish Relationship Rituals
There is something powerful in creating the “just us” element in a relationship. As couples therapist Zach Brittle writes, rituals are a way to ensure that your relationship is unique. Rituals are regularly occurring activities or traditions that you share as a couple, which serve to strengthen your bond.
If you’re anything like me, you have a love-hate relationship with Netflix. I feel like my down time could be better spent reading a book, but honestly, watching something together is one of the best rituals Kyle and I share. As soon as the last babe is in bed, we practically run to the couch and start our current show. We really do bond over the whole process. If it sounds like I’m defending a hardcore habit, I am. The ritual we’ve established is to spend our unwinding time in the evening together, sharing something we both enjoy.
When I finally go on that dream vacation, I want to go with a lot of love and trust already in the bank. I want to go with all our inside jokes and a history of thoughtfulness and goodwill. I want the overwhelming feeling that this cute husband is my partner in life and in romance. That should make for a steamy vacation. For additional information on the Seven Principles to Making Marriage Work, visit Philip’s Couples Counseling page or call Philip at 813.651.1221.
This article first appeared in Verily Magazine November 11, 2016; Gottman Blog