Maybe you’ve booked an overnight stay at a cozy mountain resort. A weekend getaway somewhere warm. Perhaps you’ve planned a couples’ day at the spa or an unforgettable candlelight dinner at home.
Wait, what’s that? You’re not planning anything elaborate to celebrate your undying passion and devotion to your spouse? Oh, me either. My big plans for Valentine’s Day include wearing my yoga pants and catching up on missed episodes of Downton Abbey. My husband and I will likely sit beside each other on the couch. I say likely because there is a good chance that neither of us wants to sit on the middle couch cushion and in that case, at least we’ll be sitting within two or three feet of each other.
I’m mostly kidding. Not about Downton Abbey, of course — we’re dreadfully behind — but about how we only occasionally sit by each other. Actually, that part is true, too, but it isn’t because we aren’t madly in love with each other. It’s because we have kids that usually sit in between us and because both of us like to lean on the armrests on either end of the couch. We usually share a blanket if that counts for something.
If your Valentine’s Day plans look similar to mine, take heart. Just because you aren’t getting all gussied up for a night on the town doesn’t mean you and your spouse don’t love each other. It’s more likely that, like us, you have a hard time finding a babysitter or loathe battling the crowds at local restaurants and you’d rather enjoy having a low-key night at home.
Going out on Valentine’s Day isn’t requisite for a happy marriage, but spending time together is.
It can be difficult to keep the romance alive when you’re in the throes of parenting, working, volunteering, or whatever else it is that fills your days. Although it is difficult, it’s not impossible. All good things require effort, and a good marriage is worth time and effort. I’m no marriage expert, but I have been happily married for almost 10 years and I’ve learned a thing or two about what keeps my marriage strong. I’ve also interviewed dozens of relationship experts throughout my career as a journalist and picked the brains of family and friends who have decades of marriage under their proverbial belts. Here are five reminders for a strong marriage — even if you stay home on Valentine’s Day:
1. Spend time together doing something you both enjoy
You like to run; your husband likes to play baseball. So when you have free time, he does his thing and you do yours. There is nothing wrong with having separate interests — opposites attract, after all — but try to find at least one activity that you both enjoy that you can do together. This could be as simple as finding a TV show you both enjoy or going to the gym together. If you really want to surprise your spouse, suggest taking lessons or learning about one of his or her favorite hobbies.
2. Make time for date nights
This ubiquitous piece of relationship advice is ever-present for a reason. Regular date nights are important — no, crucial — for maintaining a strong marriage. Date nights give you a chance to have fun together (see tip No.1) and momentarily escape from the pressures of everyday life. If you can’t find or can’t afford a babysitter for younger kids, try setting up a childcare swap with some neighbors. Or, you can plan dates at home (see Pinterest for more ideas than you could ever possibly implement). The important thing is that you’re spending kid-free time together.
3. Bite your tongue
If you ever have the urge to say something potentially unkind or hurtful to your spouse, resist the urge. Nine times out of 10, when I bite my tongue instead of saying something critical, a few hours later I can’t even remember what I was going to say. On the odd occasion that I do have a legitimate grievance to air, taking time to think about what I’m going to say helps me avoid blowing things out of proportion and present my thoughts in a more calm, collected manner.
4. Go somewhere overnight (or longer) at least once a year
If you’re a parent, it’s hard to escape the pressures and tensions that come with child-rearing. Even when you’re on a date, it can be hard not to talk about the kids — after all, they are a common interest. That’s why it’s important to annually take at least one night away from your kids and your home and your honey-do list. If you can swing it, a week away with no kids is heavenly. It will allow you to reconnect and remember that you do, in fact, have more in common than just the kids.
5. Focus on their needs
If you feel busy, overwhelmed, stressed out and tired … your spouse probably does, too. Instead of dwelling on what you need your husband or wife to do for you, try focusing on what you can do for them. You’ll feel an increase in love as you serve your spouse and come to really appreciate just how much they do. The upswing is that they’ll probably feel more like helping you, too.