I was recently thinking about love.

Actually, I’m always thinking about love, except when I’m planning what to cook for my beloved.  Ok, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

Still, we did meet when I decided to start a new u3a group I called ‘Come Lunch With Me’.  He was one of the people who called.  So food is a particular enjoyment for us.  Planning it, preparing it, sharing it, savouring it.  Sometimes we like to try something new.

But back to my thoughts about love.

After all, loving relationships, relationships that are satisfactory, fulfilling and productive are my business and I pride myself on walking the talk.  But it’s more than that.

I’m curious about relationships, all kinds of relationships – romantic, family, social.

I want to understand what makes us tick, what works and what doesn’t work for us.

I like to figure out what are we’re really thinking, what we’re really feeling and how this affects us and our relationships.

And I’m particularly curious about my husband Dave – what makes him tick, what matters to him, why he thinks as he does, what is fundamentally important to him, what makes him feel great – apart from me!)  And I’m, particularly keen to figure out what it is about us that makes me feel safe and cared for and loved.

Lately, I’ve become intrigued about how our childhood experiences influence our attitudes and beliefs about how relationships work – even today, irrespective of gender and age.

Here’s a personal example:

My parents were married 50 years and they absolutely adored each other.

My Mum always wore lipstick and drummed it into me that a woman should always make herself look attractive for her husband.  She also insisted it’s important to play a little ‘hard to get’ to make sure her husband would never take her for granted.

There was always a lot of affection between them, appreciation and respect.  They valued each other.

My Mum regarded my Dad as her hero and he saw her as a loyal and a firm companion however challenging the times – and, believe me, in Argentina, in those days, times were seriously challenging.

One of the things my Dad would do that stayed with me was leave my Mum little love notes for no reason at all.  She stuck them all on a board in the kitchen and would look at them every single day.  She knew them all by heart long after my Dad died and long after the ink had run and made the words illegible.  My Mum knew she was loved.

I don’t think much has changed since then, not fundamentally, not when it comes to our needs around love.

We still need to feel valued, cared for, appreciated.  We still need to feel loved, we still need to feel we matter to our beloved.

But I worry that many of the skills, actions, thoughts and behaviours that make the other person feel loved have largely been forgotten.

Far too many of us start knowing exactly what it takes to feel that wonderful feeling of love only to gradually start focusing on the things that irritate us about each other, including me in my first marriage.

We start to take each other for granted and allow life’s challenges to take the focus away from each other.

But here’s the thing:

Actions do speak louder than words – even clichés have some truth in them.

Tender touching, hugging, kissing (the routine and unthinking peck on the cheek when you leave home or come back doesn’t count), doing fun things together, planning fun things for the future, having interesting conversations that can, sometimes, become heated but never judgemental where different opinions generate curiosity rather than defensiveness.

I just read an article that shows that simply holding hands can stimulate feelings of love.

Holding hands, the article goes on to explain, not only decreases the stress hormone, cortisol, it also increases the love hormone, oxytocin.

First, holding hands decreases cortisol by making the other person feel content and connected.  Then it releases serotonin and dopamine, both known to affect anxiety and depression.

This was a huge ‘Aha!’ for me because, when Dave arrives on Fridays, we first hold each other as if we’d been apart for years.  Then we go and sit down, hold hands and share with each other what happened during the week.

In case you’re wondering, Dave and I are a ‘live apart together’ couple.

And here’s the thing:

After a few minutes we both feel the stresses from the week falling away and being replaced by a sense of calm and contentment.

That article started me thinking that a huge failing in our education system is that nobody teaches us love skills or even the skills we need to foster positive relationships.

And yet the research is inarguable.  We need good relationships to be happy.

The most influential one is the study carried out by Harvard’s Grant and Gluck which, for over 75 years has tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study), and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944 (the Glueck study).

Due to the length of the research period, this has required multiple generations of researchers.

The conclusion?

According to Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one thing surpasses all the rest in terms of importance:

“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Isn’t it time we all learn the skills that enable us to build loving and positive relationships?

Here’s a summary of the skills that can transform a flagging romantic relationship:

  • Touch non-sexually – hold hands, give hugs, put your hand to your partner’s cheek to show affection.
  • In one of his articles, Prof. John Gottman, the American psychological researcher and clinician who did extensive work over four decades on divorce prediction and marital stability says that kissing is a lost art.

He recommends the six-second kiss where you’re fully present, not when you’re rushing out of the door.

  • Do fun things together.
  • Plan new and enjoyable activities together.
  • Talk to each other – not just about your children or work.

Talk about what matters to both of you.  Make sure you keep to positive subjects instead of constant complaints about work, your boss or other people, certainly never about politics!

Talk about why you like or don’t like a film, a book, a video, some event you went to, something you discovered, your views and opinions.

By definition, talking requires listening – real listening, not just waiting for your turn to speak or worse, interrupting and defending your point of view.

Listening without judging, listening with curiosity is a powerful skill.  You might learn something new about your partner however long you’ve been together.

And that’s just the start.  Plus, you know what they say, practice makes perfect.

So, start practising!

It’s not always easy to rekindle the love in your relationship, especially when the big challenge is how to change your habits, that ones that damage your relationship but the good news is you don’t have to struggle all by yourself.

Give me a FREE call on 0903 795027 or send me an email – sue@sueplumtree.com and let’s figure out your first steps.