Relationship in need of a bit of attention as we start 2017?

I often say that relationships are like gardens.  They don’t just look after themselves; they require some careful tending and nurturing if you don’t want them to end up overgrown, ugly and unloved.

My favourite reading over the Christmas break was this wonderful article, 1500 People Give All The Relationship Advice You’ll Ever Need by the talented writer Mark Manson.  As a newly wed, he asked his readers for their relationship dos and don’ts and then distilled their answers into the most concise yet comprehensive relationship advice I’ve ever read.

In fact, if everyone were to read this and do their best to put it into practice, we Couples Therapists would be sat at home twiddling our thumbs all year waiting for the phone to ring. It’s that good.

Affairs of the heart

If you’re looking for something romantic to listen to, you could do a lot worse than invest in the wonderful new collection of love songs by the English guitarist and singer-songwriter, Ralph McTell.  The set is called Affairs of the Heart, and you can read more about it here

The CD set is officially released today, although my sneak preview copy arrived on Friday, and I couldn’t be more delighted with it.  The four CDs span some five decades and are beautifully presented, with track notes by comedian and fan Rory McGrath.  If you only know Ralph from “Streets of London”, then you may not be prepared for the range, depth and poignancy of the love songs collected here.  Ralph writes from the heart, whether his subject matter is one-night stands or love in old age.  Delightful.

In praise of premeditated romance

It’s fashionable nowadays to eschew Valentines Day.  “I don’t need someone else to tell me when to be romantic”, people say.  ‘I follow my own rhythm.  And anyway, isn’t it all about selling tacky red hearts and flowers?’

Well, to a point.  But I suspect that, beneath this apparently sophisticated argument, the “myth of spontaneity”, as couples therapist and author Esther Perel[i] called it, is alive and well.  So many of my clients tell me that planning for a romantic time or, God forbid, sex, is just wrong.  ‘It kills the passion; it makes it like scheduling a business meeting; it’s just too contrived’.

I respond thus:

“So tell me.  You come home from a long day to find your partner has spent all afternoon planning a special three course meal.  He or she has chosen the recipes, shopped, cooked, made the table look beautiful, lit candles, chilled some bubbly, put on an outfit you particularly like, and chosen some romantic music.

Do you say, “You’ve cheapened the moment with all that thought and planning … now I feel obliged to EAT that food … couldn’t we have just done something spontaneous like get a bucket of fried chicken?”

I believe that most couples who want to sustain love and sex in their relationship have to jettison the idea that spontaneous is best.  If, ten years into your relationship, you find you both get simultaneously struck by the horny lightning bolt several times a week and have passionate, unplanned sex, well … hats off to you.

But for most of us, something more is needed.  We need to own our desire to make passion part of an ongoing relationship, and then set about making it happen.  What say we think meaningful, not contrived?  Thoughtful, not manufactured? Creating a space for quality time, not setting a schedule? Esther puts it beautifully:

“Committed sex is intentional sex. “I couldn’t resist” has to become “I don’t want to resist.” “We just fell into each other’s arms” has to become “Let me take you in my arms.” “We just click” has to become “Can we click tonight?”

So Happy Valentines Day … and it’s not too late to plan – you never know, something beautiful might happen.

[i] Esther Perel has written a brilliant book on how to reconcile domesticity with eroticism: “Mating in Captivity”, Hodder & Stoughton, 2007.