Good relationships don’t happen by accident. Having a great connection that lasts takes paying attention and good skills. One way to keep the love and romance alive, is to ask each other the following questions, and listen carefully to the answers:

1. How well do you communicate?

Learn to discuss and solve problems together without arguing or fighting. When you can talk about your problems, you’ll stop fighting and competing, and therefore have more time for intimacy. Listen to each other; be interested in each other’s thoughts and feelings. Listening will bring you closer together.

2. How long since we relaxed together?

Regard your time together as sacred (it is—it will bless your marriage.) Touch as often as possible (put your hand on your spouse’s leg while driving; give him or her a little squeeze now and then, hug and kiss each other.) Create a cuddling space in front of the television, on the porch swing, in your bedroom, and use it. Intimacy is the art of making your partner feel understood and accepted, which breaks through barriers. Gentle touch, eye contact, a shared sense of humor and loving words all create an intimate atmosphere. Compliment your partner’s looks and whatever else you admire about him or her regularly. Couples disconnect when they don’t feel interested in each other anymore. To reconnect, make an effort to listen and understand each other’s needs and wants.

3. Do we feel like partners?

The most powerful thing you can do to keep your marriage strong is to form a partnership, a team, based on mutual respect, caring and helpfulness. If you really want to restore the intimacy in your marriage, begin not by complaining, but by seeking to understand your partner. Think of being the partner you want to have as one way of enhancing the partnership. Partners don’t struggle and fight. Partners can disagree, but they focus on what will solve the problem, not who’s right or wrong.

4. What have we not told each other?

Don’t keep secrets or hold a grudges. Talk about what’s bothering you in a rational way. Listen to your partner’s complaints, ask clearly for what you want, and let your partner know why it’s important to you. If you can’t find a way to agree, go for a counseling session. Resentment will destroy your marriage; for the price of one session, before the problem gets too large, you can save it.

5. What are we grateful for?

Let your partner know you appreciate what your partner does, and personality traits like a sense of humor, generosity, practicality, hard work, creativity and companionship. The more you praise what you like, the more you’ll get of it. We all want to be appreciated. When you express gratitude and praise what you like, your partner is encouraged to do more. Think of it as an equation: Celebration + appreciation = motivation.

Once you’ve opened up communication with each other, you can keep your connection open by adopting the following behaviors:

How to keep your relationship happy:

• Learn patience
Discontent and frustration are destructive, because they give rise to hopelessness and despair. If you and your partner can’t solve problems, communicate or get along, both of you will lose hope that you will ever be able to enjoy each other or life together. When you’re frustrated and hopeless, you lack patience and the ability to think clearly and creatively. Patience and good will lead to more intimacy and love.

• Don’t be cool:
Today’s popular culture is cynical and ‘cool’; expressions of love are often looked on as embarrassing and awkward. But, keeping love alive and flowing in your relationship is essential to being happy with each other. Set aside your reluctance, and let each other know when you feel loved, and appreciate (with verbal thanks, with flowers and candy, with dinners out, or special meals at home, with a hug or a kiss) your spouse’s efforts to love you. No matter how awkward you feel at first, you’ll soon enjoy being in the loving atmosphere that results.

• Go for the fair deal:
If you’re worried that your partner isn’t feeling loved or appreciated, don’t let it pass. Ask about it. Bring it up whether you think you are getting a less than fair deal, or a more than fair deal. Make sure whatever agreements you make feel fair to both of you. Give as much as you get. Carry your share in the relationship.

• Don’t resist, listen.
We often have a knee-jerk negative response to what a mate tells us, or wants to do. Instead of replying negatively, “That won’t work...” “We can’t do that...” Try listening and thinking for a few seconds more. You may find out your initial response changes, and at any rate, listening and understanding is not the same as agreeing. When your spouse feels that you care about what he or she is saying, the nature of the communication will change for the better. A partner who feels understood can be more understanding.

• Make eye contact and smile:
Unless your partner is talking about something really sad (job loss, death, etc.) where a smile would be inappropriate, look each other in the eyes and smile while you’re listening. Your companion will automatically feel more understood and cared about, which will change the feeling level of the discussion. Don’t stare unblinkingly, just look for a few seconds at a time, to communicate your attentiveness.

• Touch each other.
Sit near your significant other, and gently place your hand on his or her shoulder, leg, or arm. If you’re in the car, lightly touch your partner’s leg or arm. You’ll find your conversation becomes warmer and more caring. If you’ve been struggling, or are ready to forgive each other, facing each other and holding both hands will help you feel more positively connected and reassured.

• Keep sex alive.
Learn the skills of keeping sex alive in the long term. Don’t expect the same breathlessness as you have early in a new relationship. Instead, make sex about enjoying each other, being close, keeping each other happy. “Better Intimacy, Better Sex” will show you more about how it works.

• Try laughter.
If something frustrating is happening, try easing the tension with a bit of humor. After a difficult interaction with a store employee; on the way out you could say, “That went well.” with a touch of irony. Or, when someone drops something and makes a mess, you could say, “the gremlins are here again.” Or use comic lines like “It’s always something” or “It could happen” to change stress to silliness. Don’t poke fun at your mate, but use shared humor as a way to say “I know this is tough, but we’ll get through it.” Your mate will think of you as someone soothing and helpful to have around when problems happen.

• Use pleasant surprises.
Try hiding a love note in your spouse’s briefcase or lunchbag, a post-it with a smiley face on the underside of the toilet seat, a flower, plant, card or balloon for no reason, or an unexpected gentle pat on the rear or caress of the arm, a hug or a kiss to say "I’m thinking good thoughts about you, and I love you."

• Ramp up the sweetness.
Married life has its unavoidable stresses and strains. To keep things in balance, we need to put a bit of energy into increasing the sweetness between us. Thoughtfulness, ‘thank you’s’ and gestures of politeness and affection are the WD-40 of your marriage. Keep things running smoothly by remembering to add a spritz of sweetness frequently. You’ll be amazed at how good you feel, and how much more responsive your partner is. Politeness, gratitude, pleasantness and loving gestures all add sweetness.

• Schedule time together.
No matter how crazed you are with work, kids and bills, it’s essential to put aside regular timeeach week for the marriage. Have a “date night” which includes a “state of the union” discussion (as described above, but just the two of you) or take a pleasant walk or drive. Keeping connected means things don’t build up to fighting status, and you’ll remember how good you are together. Don’t forget to celebrate and appreciate each other. Motivation comes from celebration and appreciation, so when you spend pleasant time together, you’ll both be more motivated to make your marriage as good as possible.

• It’s a partnership, silly!
Keep in mind that before anything else, you’re partners, so check frequently to make sure you’re not acting like competitors or avoiders. You’re in this thing together, and partnership is what it’s all about.

• Reminisce about Good Times
“Remember when...” is a great beginning to a loving conversation. It creates so much good feeling to remember how you were when you were dating, when you got married, when you first bought your house, when you had your first child, when you got that promotion. Reminding yourselves of your solid history together is a way to increase your bond. Old photos of your wedding, the birth of a child, or a great vacation will all prompt a pleasant chat.

• Brag to friends in your mate’s hearing.
Of course, tell your mate to his or her face how much you care, but also be sure to tell your friends, while your mate is around, what a great guy or gal you married. “Harold is so thoughtful. Today he helped me around the house.” Or “Sue is such a great mom. She really gives the kids a sense that they’re loved and she still keeps them toeing the mark.” Or, “Did you hear? Fred got a big promotion. I’m so proud of him.” Or, “I don’t know what I’d do without Judy. She’s so great with money.” Or, “Doesn’t my sweetie look great today? I’m so lucky.” Don’t worry if your partner looks embarrassed. He or she will also be pleased, and remember your brag for a long time. (Adapted from How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together)

Author Bio: Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage; The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, The Real 13th Step and her newest, How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter. Dr. Tessina was the CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for Love Forever. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, TV, video and podcasts. She tweets @tinatessina

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