As Valentine’s Day gets closer, no love story has the
world’s attention right now more than the one between Prince Harry and Meghan
Of course, the Sussexes have been a magnet for headlines ever since they were dating. But the fascination with them jumped up to a new level after the two announced they would “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family” and divide their time between England and North America.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about
“Sussexit.” Some are critical; some are supportive. As a psychologist
who’s worked with countless clients on their marriage issues, I see two people
that are making choices to protect their relationship. Although it might not
seem like Harry and Meghan have much in common with the rest of us, they’re
actually experiencing the same things, in their own way, that many other
Pressure — But So Are You
As Meghan and Harry know all too well, outside factors can
have a huge effect on your marriage.
Those factors can include societal pressures. Meghan and Harry have broken tradition for how they are “supposed” to behave as royals. For that, they’ve faced a lot of criticism.
You and I don’t know what that’s like, of course. But I bet you and your husband have defied expectations in other ways and caught flak — in ways large or small — from others. For example, maybe you make more money than he does, and your friends and family make passive-aggressive remarks.
Some pressures that Harry and Meghan have faced will feel more familiar to other couples. They’re still new parents: Baby Archie was born last May. They have had (or are rumored to have had) difficult times with both sides of their family. And talk about work pressures! How would you like media attention on every aspect of how you did your job?
Meghan and Harry move in a different world than we do. But stress is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter how wealthy or famous you are. Constant, intense stress will take a toll on your relationship. That’s just how our brains are wired.
When you are under great stress, your brain goes into
fight-or-flight mode. You are definitely not
in “let me connect with my partner” mode! Under stress, you might …
Have trouble processing information.
Not really hear what your husband is saying.
Become defensive and have difficulty being open
Get “stuck in your story” and keep repeating your position.
Experience tunnel vision.
Have trouble solving problems.
When you and your husband are constantly stressed, you will
regularly behave in these destructive ways. And that will alienate you from
each other. Your relationship will get stuck in a negativity spiral.
What If You Stepped
Based on Harry and Meghan’s public statements, it’s clear
that their stress has been building and that they felt their unprecedented move
was necessary to protect themselves and their son.
I believe that we can all learn something from that. If
outside pressures are causing extreme stress in your marriage, you have to make
easing those pressures a top priority. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if it
feels like you’re breaking a norm. Even if other people don’t like what you’re
So what would create the space for less stress and more
connection in your own marriage?
Can you take some things off of your jam-packed
schedule so that you have more breathing room and time for each other?
What if you stopped trying to match your
friends’ lavish lifestyles so that you could finally pay off that debt that’s
been stressing you out?
Do you need to start limiting time around people
who don’t support your marriage (even if they’re family) and find a new
community that will validate and celebrate you?
Meghan and Harry show us that real love is very different
from what we learned from fairy tales, even for a prince and a duchess. But
they also show us we must take a stand for our own happily ever after.
If you’re ready to prioritize your relationship, I invite you to pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. It has lots of practical advice for busy couples who want to maintain their bond amid all of today’s stresses and outside pressures.
What’s the most romantic thing you can do for your husband this Valentine’s Day? Planning a special dinner? Choosing the perfect gift?
Those gestures are wonderful, of course, but the most powerful thing for your marriage might actually be showing your excitement when he tells you he aced a presentation at work or that he hit his exercise goal for the month.
Recent research highlights the value of celebration, positivity and enthusiasm in creating a happy relationship. That might seem intuitive, but it’s something we often overlook. We tend to talk about the strength of a relationship in terms of how a couple weathers challenges or hard times together. But the way we handle the “for better” part of “for better or for worse” is just as important.
A UCLA study found that the way dating couples discussed positive events was more closely related to the health of their relationships than how they talked about negative events. Another study discovered that sharing good news with someone else and getting an enthusiastic response enhances the value of the good news to the sharer and strengthens the relationship with the responder.
And just last year, a brain-imaging study added more evidence for the power of positivity. New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog describes the study as showing that “the relationship satisfaction of longtime married elderly women is particularly related to the neural activity they show in response to their husbands’ displays of positive emotion, rather than negative emotion” and notes the possibility “that marital happiness goes hand in hand with sensitivity to our partners’ positive emotion.”
How can you use these findings to strengthen your own relationship? Christine Carter of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center recommends remembering to share your own good news with your partner and reacting with enthusiasm when he shares good news with you. The key word here is “enthusiasm.” A distracted “that’s nice, Honey” just doesn’t have the impact of genuine interest and excitement. We all have an innate need to be “seen” and cherished by the people who are important to us. When that happens in a relationship, the bond between partners strengthens. Also remember that all the seemingly little positive and negative things you do in a relationship add up over time. Responding enthusiastically when your partner has good news is a great way to make a “deposit” in the emotional bank account of your relationship — and ensure that you’re ready for any “withdrawals” in difficult times.
To learn more about infusing your relationship with positivity, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love. And don’t forget to throw in a few high fives (figurative or literal!) for your husband amid all the hearts and flowers of Valentine’s Day.
We spend an awful lot of time and money (an average of about $135) trying to make Valentine’s Day special for our partners.
We expect all those flowers, boxes of candy and fancy dinners to stoke the fires of romance and passion in our relationships.
But if you’re part of a longtime couple, those run-of-the-mill Valentine’s Day ideas might not be doing it anymore — especially if you celebrate the same way every year.
I’m a pragmatist — even about romance. So why not spend your time and money on some Valentine’s Day ideas that actually work?
Why We Get Bored
First, let’s take a quick look at why those Valentine’s Day roses that made you heart flutter the first year of your marriage don’t have quite the same effect on you now (and how something similar happens on a larger scale in marriage).
Roses haven’t gotten less lovely. The problem is that if your husband sends them every Valentine’s Day, you’ve gotten used to them. They no longer bring the novelty and surprise that psychotherapist, Esther Perel, says is essential to igniting desire.
And, just as you’ve gotten used to the roses, chances are you’ve gotten used to the husband who sends them. Maybe he made you swoon when you first met, but now you don’t know notice him as much because he’s so familiar to you.
That’s the challenge of relationships: The longer you’re together and the more deeply you know each other, the more connected you are as companions, but that same deep familiarity chips away at passion.
But knowing this is a normal shift in relationships doesn’t stop us from wanting to feel passion again the way we did in the early days of our relationship.
So what do we do?
The Real Keys to More Passion
To fire up your relationship, try adding some novelty and variety. Luckily, we have a romantic holiday coming up that’s a great excuse to do just that. Here are some Valentine’s Day ideas based on what research has found actually stimulates desire and passion.
Keep growing together. Take a class together, or go to an exhibit or talk on a subject that intrigues you both. When you try new experiences and keep learning, the relationship keeps you stimulated and helps you grow as a person. That’s exactly the kind of relationship in which passion thrives!
Change up your routine. If you’re more of a stay-in-and-watch Netflix kind of couple, choose a new movie that will get your pulse racing. Instead of making reservations at the same restaurant you always choose for special occasions, try somewhere new that serves a cuisine you haven’t tried. Likewise, skip your usual favorite weekend getaway this year to explore a different destination.
Strengthen the relationship habits that have been clearly linked to passion, such as: (1) thinking positive thoughts about your partner (2) thinking about each other when you’re apart, and (3) being very affectionate (kissing, hugging, holding hands) when you are together.
If you’d rather take a quieter route to passion, never underestimate the value of just being present for each other. Remember the New York Times story about how to fall in love with anyone that was so popular on social media last month? As the story shows, being fully present is one of the greatest drivers of passion. We all want to be seen by another. Put your phones up and connect through touch, eye contact and deep listening.
You’ll find more ideas about cultivating passion in my book Strong Women, Strong Love. I wish you a Valentine’s Day filled with true passion and connection!