- Valentine's Day is looming large on the horizon, and everywhere you look, commercials, magazines, store displays, and more are focused on helping couples plan the "perfect" February 14 celebration. Yes, if you're in a relationship, it is important and enjoyable to celebrate your love on this special day. However, Todd Patkin
has some advice for married couples especially: Romance, roses, chocolates, and champagne are only a small part of what makes up a marriage. The truth is, it's the 364 days that surround February 14 that can make or break the quality of your relationship. So if you want to give your spouse the most meaningful Valentine's gift of all, commit to putting daily thought - and yes, work! - into your relationship.
"I believe that many marriages simply deteriorate because couples allow their relationships to run on 'autopilot,' but still expect them to stay healthy and exciting, especially around holidays like Valentine's Day," explains Patkin, author of the new book "Finding Happiness: One Man's Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and - Finally - Let the Sunshine In" (StepWise Press, 2011, $19.95). "But the truth is, like everything else in life, relationships don't work that way. We must learn to put as much - no, even more - effort into our marriages as we do in trying to succeed professionally or keeping our gardens, houses, or cars looking top shelf."
Furthermore, Patkin asserts that a happy marriage is the cornerstone of a happy life - if your marriage isn't good, you're going to have trouble feeling fulfilled in other areas as well.
Patkin's Nine Tips
• Recommit yourself to your marriage every single day
: Believe it or not, your marriage vows weren't a one-time deal. No, you and your spouse probably aren't going to stand in front of your loved ones and recommit yourselves to one another on a regular basis. But if you want to cultivate a strong and happy marriage, you should start each morning by making a renewed personal commitment to keeping your relationship healthy and rewarding.
• Evaluate where your self-worth comes from
: With very few exceptions, we human beings tend to base our sense of self-worth on the things that are most important to us. It's common to hear people proudly say, "I'm a financial advisor," or, "I'm the manager of my division at work," or even, "I drive a Cadillac
!" But how often do you hear, "I am the world's luckiest husband," or, "I have the best family in the whole wide world"?
• Verbalize to your spouse the things you love and appreciate about him or her all of the time
: Did you know that the things you think about and talk about influence how you experience the world around you? It's true! So why not spend time thinking about how great your spouse is and then verbalizing those thoughts? Start by reminding yourself of all of the reasons why you fell in love in the first place, and then list how much more wonderful your partner has gotten since your marriage. Also, tell her (or him!) how much she means to you, how much you love her, and how beautiful she is 10 times a day.
• Acknowledge the little things your spouse does, and return the favor
: In a similar vein, constantly perform small but meaningful acts for your spouse, and don't be surprised if he or she starts to do the same for you (if he or she doesn't do so already, that is).
• Learn - and then do - what makes your spouse feel most loved
: Say, for example, that you love to receive gifts. Whether it's a big-screen TV or a lowly fridge magnet picked up during a friend's travels, you feel acknowledged and appreciated whenever you're handed a wrapped box.
• Don't let resentment build
: When you live in fairly close quarters with another human being, it's inevitable that sooner or later you're going to annoy each other. (In fact, at times you're probably going to want to kill each other.) While it's not a good idea to nit-pick with your spouse each and every time you feel a teeny bit put out, it's also unhealthy to let issues and negative feelings build up and fester.
• Take responsibility and stop trying to fix your partner
: There's a lot of finger pointing going on in marriages. After all, it's easy to identify and list all the ways someone else is getting it wrong. (Plus, it just feels good to be "right.") But how much good does all of this complaining and accusing really do? After you finish berating your spouse for yet another of his or her supposed failings, does the quality of your life actually change? Probably not.
• Figure out what your strengths are and play to them
. As much as possible, you and your spouse should each play to your strengths within your marriage and back away from your weaknesses. If
• Date your spouse again
: When you're newly in love and in full courtship mode, you do everything you can to spend every free moment with your partner. Eventually though, work, kids, responsibilities, and life in general tend to get in the way of your relationship with your spouse. The two of you stop doing fun things with only one another, and it's easy to go weeks at a time without having any serious conversations that don't revolve around work, money, or kids. That's why it's imperative to set aside time to date your spouse.
"I hope that once you begin celebrating, respecting, and loving your spouse as I've just described, as well as prioritizing your marriage every day, you'll find that the whole dynamic of your relationship changes," Patkin concludes. "I hope that you'll begin smiling more, feeling better, and experiencing more 'spark.' It's true: Everything—and especially our own happiness—really is, to a huge extent, about our relationships with other people. And I think Cupid would agree!"
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