Showing Your Lover You Care with Actions: How To Nurture Your Relationship
Are you and your partner struggling with intimacy? Do you find you and your partner often argue about tasks being incomplete, or needs not being met? Or perhaps, you often think, “If only she just hugged me more, I’d feel closer to her.” Or, “If only he helped me with the kids more, I’d have more energy to put towards our relationship.” As couples progress in their relationship, it is natural for more tasks and responsibilities to increase in one’s life, whether it’s in one’s career, or the addition of having children, or having the responsibilities of taking care of a home, or caring for elderly parents, etc. With this natural progression, often comes less focus and time to nurture your relationship on a daily and ongoing basis. When your relationship isn’t cared and nurtured for consistently, tension can build, communication can become strained, and distance can occur. The following exercise is a technique used in couples therapy / marriage counseling in Philadelphia is a way for you and your spouse to demonstrate your ability to care for each other by meeting the other’s identified wants and needs on a daily basis. Proceed with an open mind. It’s understandable if you find this idea to be “mechanical” or forced, because it involves writing tasks down in a more intentional (i.e., scheduled) manner, almost like a grocery list. However, as our lives increase in demands and complexity, tools like appointment books, scheduling, and writing down notes are needed to keep your day and memory in place. If these approaches work in other areas in your life, why wouldn’t it be effective in your romantic life?
Begin this exercise with your partner at the start of each week. Sit down with your partner, and have both of you (separately) identify and write down a minimum of seven behaviors you would like to see your partner do for the week. These behaviors are what you find to be acts of love and kindness. These behaviors could vary in small to large, in terms of effort or sacrifice. Such examples could include: saying “I love you” every morning, or holding hands when walking together, cook dinner together once a week, come home an hour early once a week, or something as simple as replace the light bulbs in our bedroom, or take out the trash in time for trash pickup. Keep in mind, this exercise is not an opportunity for you to make your partner a chore chart for household tasks. This is an opportunity for you to teach your partner about why certain actions help you feel loved and cared for, even if it’s something like, your partner sharing the load of the laundry each week, or re-establishing “movie night” in the middle of the week. To keep the focus on teaching your partner about yourself, next to the behavior request write down why this particular behavior is meaningful for you. Specifically, what is the story that you make up in your head about this particular behavior. For example, “Hearing my partner say to me “I love you” every morning is reassuring and helps remind me that this love I am experiencing is real.” Or, “Cooking together makes me feel like we are a family, and I am most able to relax when I feel like I belong.” Place both lists somewhere visible, like the fridge, or bathroom mirror. Stay with positive requests, things that ask for a “do,” rather than a “don’t.” Additionally, focus on the meaning behind the behavior. This helps your partner understand you and your unique needs better. Write as many requests down as possible. The longer your list is, the more your partner has to choose from. The more options your partner has, the greater chance he/she has of actually wanting to do one of the items on your list.
For the partner completing the items: try to find one item on the list that you can do on a daily, or almost daily basis, these items may be thing likes: holding hands more, saying “ love you more, giving your partner more compliments. These requests can be a daily behavior for you to demonstrate. The bigger tasks that are more like projects (cooking, household tasks, etc,) may require a little more time on your part to prepare for.
When you complete any items on your partner’s list, write next to the item the day it was complete. The purpose of this action is for your partner (who’s items was completed) to be able to reflect back at the end of the week to see if he/she noticed when her requests were met). Take some time and try to identify which requests were/are easier for you to fulfill. Why do you think certain items were easier than others? Which ones were more difficult? Why? What is the story you tell yourself about what it means if you were to do what your spouse asked for? How did your partner respond after you did what she/he asked for?
This is an ongoing couples therapy / marriage counseling exercise, and should be done each week for consistency and for you and your partner to develop a new routine in your relationship. Each week you and your partner should try to add seven additional items to your list. Place a star next to the items that are extra meaningful to you, and share why the task has meaning to you.
For items not completed in that week by one or both of you, it’s not about punishment, or resentment. This couples therapy / marriage counseling exercise is about accountability and visbily being able to see your partner’s efforts to enhance your relationship. If you find yourself not wanting to do certain tasks on your partner’s wish list, take some time and reflect why. Sometimes having a conversation about your resistance can be useful.
For yourself, sometimes simply paying attention to what you don’t like doing is uncomfortable and stirs up uncomfortable feelings. If you are not ready to discuss this, do not feel pressured. Simply focus on what you can do. Pay attention to why certain behaviors are meaningful to your partner, and ask him or her if there are other behaviors that you could do that would have a similar positive emotional impact on your partner.
Remember, each week is an opportunity to learn about yourself, and learn how you can be better at meeting your partner’s needs in the following week. The idea is to be doing something extra for your partner everyday. In happy couples, each person reports that they are giving “70% percent of the time”.
Scroll down for an example of a couples’ list.
Wife - who lives in Center City Philadelphia:
Surprise me with flowers at work. (The story I tell myself about this is that my friends are jealous of me for having such a loving partner – which they should be. I like looking good in front of my co-workers).
Take out the recycling. (The story I tell myself about this is that you are a real trooper. You know that I resent taking out the trash, so that when you take it out for me, I feel loved. You are doing for me what I can’t do for myself. I feel cared for).
Compliment me on how I look. (The story I tell myself about this action is that you are paying attention to me. Not only you appreciate how much effort I put into looking my best but you appreciate my ability of self-care. Plus you find me attractive, which is a key ingredient to my feeling sexy).
Hug and kiss hello when you come home.(The story I tell myself is that you look forward to seeing me. You get just as excited as I do to see you after a long day. This momentary hug and kiss makes me feel connected).
Ask me how my day was. (The story I tell myself about this is that you are interested in what I feel. You want to step into my world and get closer to me. I fell in love with you initially because of our great conversations. You supported me like no one else ever had. This habit reinforces these positive thoughts).
Initiate quality time at night.(The story I tell myself about you this is that you are making me and our relationship a priority; this makes me feel emotionally secure.)
Ask questions when I share my work stories. (The story I tell myself about this is you are really listening to me, and you want to help me navigate the political dynamics at work so that I can succeed. Additionally, you value my professional identity. My success is your success).
Initiate sex after I come home from the gym. (The story I tell myself is that I am sexy. Even when I am at my dirtiest and smelliest you are attracted to me. I’m sexy without even needing to try.
Husband - who lives in Center City Philadelphia:
Help me cook dinner. (The story I tell myself about this is that we are super efficient. Not only can we have quality time together, but we can both do something that needs to get done. Eating well is an important aspect of health. Cooking dinner together is taking care of me).
Give me one compliment before you criticize me. (The story I tell myself about this is that you are consciously trying to re-affirm your love for me. Everyone has issues with their partner, but that you are going out of your way to create a framework for me to make sure I understand your unconditional love and admiration for me).
Tell me you love me once a day. (The story I tell myself about this is that no matter what we’ve been through and what we’re going through, our love is still here, and so is hope. The more subtle forms of telling me, like a note in my lunch, or a text mid-day helps me feel connected).
Give me an hour of “you and me time” one hour before bed.. no television. (The story I tell myself about this is I am your priority. Being with me is a good way for you to unwind. I am helpful for you. Also, I need this time because it is only before bed that I am able to drop my guard and reveal my sad feelings).
Go for a walk with me after dinner. (The story I tell myself about this is that you value my health. You are helping me to stay active and loose extra weight. You are spending time with me in a way that is good for me. This makes me feel like I have a real partner – someone who has my best interest at heart).
Hold my hand more in public.(The story I tell myself about this is you love the feel of my hand in yours, and that after all of these years the fact that you want to still hold my hand reminds me how grateful I am of our relationship, and how much we are in love. Additionally, I think of you as arm candy, and it makes me proud to know that all these other men are jealous that you are with me!)
Let me know what you do like about my cooking.(I love analyzing food. It’s my favorite past time. This is what I grew up doing. We talked about the integrity of food, the honest of a flavor and that your being able to engage with me in this way opens up a whole world that I find relaxing. What I cook is a metaphor for what I am feeling. Talking about food is a window into me. And other times when you enjoy my hard work, I feel proud of what I made, and joy that I was the one who was able to provide for you).
For the first few weeks of trying this exercise, take the opportunity each week when you are developing your next list to process the following week’s list and the results. Discuss with your partner how you felt giving and getting needs throughout the week, did it come naturally to you, or was it more difficult than you expected?
As previously mentioned, this couples therapy / marriage counseling exercise may be a little out of your comfort zone, but that can be a good sign. It’s when we exeperience a challenge or discomfort that we grow. This is a great way to track your needs, and your partners. As we grow and change, so do our needs and wants in a relationship. This couples therapy / marriage counseling exercise helps us remain aware of this, through action and communicating.
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Why nurturing your relationship is important: Demonstrating the ability to care for each other by meeting each other's identified wants and needs is an important aspect of building and maintaining healthy relationships. Here are several reasons why this practice is valuable:
- Mutual Respect: Meeting each other's wants and needs shows respect for each person's individuality and their unique preferences. It signifies that you value and acknowledge their feelings, desires, and priorities.
- Emotional Connection: When you make an effort to understand and fulfill someone's wants and needs, it fosters a deeper emotional connection. It shows that you are attuned to their emotions and invested in their happiness.
- Building Trust: Trust is a cornerstone of any healthy relationship. Demonstrating care by meeting each other's needs helps build trust because it shows reliability and consistency in your actions.
- Validation: Meeting someone's wants and needs validates their experiences and emotions. It communicates that their feelings and desires are important and worthy of attention.
- Strengthening Bond: By actively addressing each other's wants and needs, you strengthen the bond between you. It creates a sense of teamwork and cooperation, reinforcing the idea that you're both working towards a shared, fulfilling relationship.
- Conflict Resolution: Addressing wants and needs can reduce conflicts by preemptively addressing potential sources of tension. When both individuals feel heard and understood, it's easier to navigate disagreements.
- Enhancing Intimacy: Being attentive to each other's needs fosters emotional intimacy. Sharing vulnerable aspects of yourselves and feeling understood by your partner creates a sense of closeness.
- Supportive Environment: Meeting each other's wants and needs creates a supportive environment where individuals feel safe expressing themselves and seeking help when needed.
- Balancing Give and Take: In a healthy relationship, there is a balance between giving and receiving. Meeting each other's needs promotes reciprocity and prevents one-sided dynamics.
- Positive Reinforcement: When you fulfill each other's wants and needs, you provide positive reinforcement for each other's efforts. This encourages ongoing acts of care and kindness.
- Personal Growth: By making an effort to meet someone's needs, you may learn more about their perspectives, interests, and values. This can contribute to your personal growth and broaden your understanding of the world.
- Long-Term Satisfaction: A relationship characterized by mutual care and consideration is more likely to be satisfying in the long term. It creates a foundation of positivity that sustains the relationship through challenges.
It's important to note that meeting each other's wants and needs should be approached with authenticity and willingness, not out of obligation or manipulation. Open communication is key – discussing preferences, boundaries, and expectations can help ensure that both partners understand and respect each other's desires.
However, it's also essential to recognize that not all wants and needs can or should be met, especially if they conflict with personal boundaries, values, or well-being. In healthy relationships, there's a balance between compromising for the sake of the relationship and maintaining personal boundaries.