By Jenn Sturiale
"For it is in giving that we receive."
-- St. Francis of Assisi
While I know we all agree in theory with that St. Francis quote up there, putting it into practice is a whole different story. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day that we can let our relationships glide along on autopilot -- and while autopilot is super for road trips, it's a lot less super for partnerships, which need conscious attention and care to run smoothly.
"When we're in a relationship, it's vital that we continually restore the strong and loving connection, celebrate the unique dynamics and similarities and understand and accept each other's differences," says life transitions coach Nancy G. Shapiro. We all know this to be true -- and yet, how do we maintain healthy and loving relationships when we barely have time to floss?
The thing is, the future is built on the present. Every little bit of thoughtfulness and energy invested now goes a long way toward making your partner feel loved and cherished, thereby shoring up the foundation of the house your love built. So, where there doesn't seem to be time, we learn how to make time. Small bits and large measures -- it all adds up.
"The more you invest in fun and friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time," Howard Markman, psychologist and co-director of the University of Denver's Center for Marital and Family Studies, told USA TODAY. "The correlation between fun and marital happiness is high, and significant."
A tremendously useful bit of research to keep in mind is that women and men view intimacy differently. "Intimacy and friendship for a man is built on shared activity, but for women, shared activity is a backdrop for a great conversation," Les Parrott, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Seattle Pacific University, told USA TODAY. Keeping this in mind as a guideline while we make time to connect gives us a better chance of hitting the intimacy sweet spot.
Here are three ways we can make time for our partners -- and have fun doing it:
Whether you call it "date night" or not, plan time every week to spend together -- and it's gotta be planned or it's not gonna happen. Alternate planning duties each week and try to choose something both of you (at least relatively) enjoy, while staying open to new experiences.
Date nights are more about spending time together and less about spending money. Cook a meal or order in Chinese food, laugh at the puppies at the dog park, take a walk through your neighborhood or along the beach, watch a sunset, rent a movie or read a book aloud to each other. If there are kids in the picture, start a date-night babysitting co-op with friends and take turns watching each other's kids.
Plan a day trip, a weekend away, a week-long vacation or the trip of a lifetime. Spending even short amounts of time together -- away from your everyday lives -- can be incredibly helpful in clearing out stagnant energy and creating a stronger connection. Important: Move heaven and earth to ensure that it's just the two of you -- no kids, no pets, no friends.
We all know that it's often the sweet, simple moments that become the most cherished ones. Vacations to Hawaii are magnificent, but life is in the details: The quality of your daily life with your partner is more important over time than the occasional vacation.
So, do what you can to make the day-to-day sweet and lovely. Bring your partner coffee or tea in bed in the morning; commit to a nightly 15-minute check-in before bed; go for a walk after dinner; send sweet and sexy texts during the day; hold hands while watching a movie; buy your partner's favorite fruit as a little gift.
"When I hear the word 'relationship,' the Latin saying 'Cada cabeza es un mundo' -- 'Each head is a world' -- comes to mind," says Shapiro. "The very fact of two people mingling their 'worlds' together, spending time and energy to form a strong and loving bond, is at once a mystery, a miracle and a lot of hard work."