Don't Sweat the Small Stuff in Love:5 Easy Ways to Be More Intimate

No matter how great your relationship is there is bound to be stress. What matters most is that you remember little disagreements are a part of life. As Richard Carlson, Ph.D., the author of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff says, "The very fact that two people are together lends itself to some inherent issues: the need to compromise, forgive, accept differences, and sacrifice." What better time to start making these changes than on Valentine's Day? Straight from Carlson's follow up Don't Sweat Guide for Couples, here are five ways to fend off frustration and have more time what really matters in your relationship -- the romance.

Five Ways to Be More Intimate, Loving and Stress-Free in Your Relationship
adapted from The Don't Sweat Guide for Coupes

Make everyday activities romantic!

1. Read the Same Book

Growing together instead of apart requires that you share life's learning curves with your partner, day after day, in a variety of ways. If you're both readers, read the same book, either separately or aloud to one another. Talk about your reactions to it. The content of the book becomes a shared experience that draws you together. With each choice to learn and grow together, you build a history of mutual support and an inventory of engaging activities that bond you and make you interesting to one another. By comparison, the things that lead to stress and friction will be boring. You won't want to expend any energy on them.

2. Turn Ruts into Rituals

A rut is a path so well-worn that it makes change very difficult. Take, for example, the daily habit of reading the newspaper at the breakfast table. Many partners resent having to stare across a coffee cup at a page of newsprint. From that irritation sprouts any number of others, simply because the day begins with a shared behavior -- shared by one reading silently, and the other not addressing it constructively -- that is ultimately damaging.

Now think about this. Reading the newspaper at the breakfast table can enhance a couple's time together if they consciously make that choice. Discussing what they've read and making frequent eye contact can transform an off-putting habit into food for mutual enjoyment and growth. A routine of watching a certain television show or video together can become a cherished ritual.

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3. Make Meals into Dates

It used to be the cultural norm that a family sat around a table at the same times daily and ate together. Many families today are lucky if they find even one night a week when they're all in at the same place long enough for a single dinner together. But this is a choice that can be changed.

Perhaps one or both of you enjoys cooking. In that case make meal preparation a significant part of your time together. Make regular dates to try new recipes. Maybe you enjoy a certain kind of take-out food at the end of a long work week. Maybe you love a farmer's breakfast on Saturday morning. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that the only time you can have a date over a meal with one another is when you go out to a restaurant.

The point is this: The stuff that makes life sweetest requires down time. Many of us declare that we can't fit one more thing into our crowded lives. Fine. Then reclaim one aspect of life that you have to include anyway. Make dates of meals. Turn them into slow time when you can remember how good life can be and how glad you are to have the partner you have.

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What to do if you've had a bad day

4. Be the Bright Spot in Your Partner's Day

Consider the typical scenario in a long-term relationship. Partners go their separate ways for the day's work. By the time the couple reunites, they've often spent the best part of their energy away from one another. If you're able to take time quietly sharing together, reunion time can be about working out details of your mutual life.

First, allow for decompression time to change into different clothes, sit down with a cup of coffee or take a short walk. Your partner's or your desire to take a breath before getting into the business of relating is not an insult. When you're ready and able to take time with one another, make sure that attention is given to each person. Perhaps one of you has the more compelling need to talk or the more interesting stories to tell, but both of you have had a day. Share and share alike. Nothing communicates love and sympathy better than taking an obvious interest in someone other than yourself.

Oddly, good news from your partner's day is sometimes harder to handle than bad. You've had a bad day, and maybe you're a little blue. Your partner marches in with a beaming smile and announces a raise, a problem solved, or a great idea. Don't rain on your partner's parade. Good news can be scarce enough without having it dashed by a lousy mood. Muster the enthusiasm to smile, and make congratulations the order of the day.

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5. Think with Your Heart, Feel with Your Head

What happens when an off-handed remark from your partner hits you the wrong way? Do you feel hurt, angry, or shaken? These emotions have the potential to become so prominent that they diminish your ability to reason. Your heart is in overdrive while your head idles. Yet this is precisely the moment when you need to use your head to consciously put your most realistic, constructive, positive thoughts in gear. Before you attack your partner based on complete emotion, admit the probability that your mate has and will screw up, because that's human. When your head talks to your heart like this, you will be able to clarify what was meant in what your partner said. Then you will be able to let the hurt go.

On the other hand, perhaps when confronted with confusion or conflict, you lead with your head. Thoughts, like feelings, have a way of picking up momentum that can quickly escalate misunderstandings. You may find yourself stuck on a merry-go-round of doubts and fears and seek to feel better by lashing out. Or perhaps you rush to judgment and cease to listen because you've already found your partner guilty as charged. Now start using your heart. The minute your mind starts turning down those dark corridors of doubt, judgment, and negativity, you need to draw on your reserves of love, and let emotion transform your thinking.

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Adapted from The Don't Sweat Guide for Couples: Ways to Be More Intimate, Loving and Stress-Free in Your Relationship c 2001 by the editors of Don't Sweat Press, Foreword by Richard Carlson, Ph.D.

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