To say that we lead busy lives is an understatement. Every day, I meet with clients whose schedules make my head spin.
For women, it’s not just doing everything, but thinking about everything: the so-called “mental load.” Most women tell me that their partners are more helpful around the house than men of previous generations, but women still tend to be the household “project managers.”
For example, a friend recently told me about her son’s doctor’s appointment. Her husband was in charge of getting that task done. But although he was the one who loaded him into the car and met with the doctor, my friend was the one thinking of all the logistics. The night before, she had to remind him of the appointment time, when they’d need to leave, the temperature outside and what their son should wear — and, oh, don’t forget a snack.
I hear story after story like this from my female clients. Does it sound familiar? Exhausting?
That mental load takes a lot of energy to carry. When there’s too much to do, something gets put on the back burner. Sometimes, that’s necessary; but unfortunately, it’s often the relationship that gets pushed aside, and not just for a little bit.
When we have hundreds of open “to do” windows in our brain and don’t feel like connecting, we take that as a sign that it’s ok to close that window. Over time, we grow more disconnected, which makes us less motivated to connect. It’s a vicious cycle, and it leads to unhappy marriages.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The cycle can be reversed with a bit of hard work. Below are four ways to stay connected with your partner even when life remains crazy.
1. Let Go of Relationship Myths
Though our experiences tell us otherwise, many people still hold onto the false belief that relationships are supposed to be easy. Movies, TV shows, and books teach us that love is magical and effortless. That if you and your partner really love each other, things will just fall into place spontaneously.
But anything worth doing in life takes effort, and relationships are no exception.
Romance is a planned event. Don’t believe me? Think back to when you were dating. You didn’t randomly have three hours of free time — you each actively cleared your schedule and planned to do a fun activity together. Why should now be any different?
Yes, there are times in life when it’s understandable to take the focus off your relationship. But you can’t consistently put it last and expect it to survive.
2. Put Your Chemistry to Work For You
Oxytocin and dopamine are two of the chemicals that flood our brain during the “in-love” stage. They are the reason we feel can’t stop thinking about our partners when a new relationship begins.
Over time, the level of the chemicals in our brain starts to lower, as does our obsession. The good news? We can increase the level of both of these chemicals in relationship to our partners with small actions.
First, remember the power of physical touch. A 20-second hug or kiss immediately releases oxytocin to our brain, lowers our stress levels, and makes us feel more connected with our partners.
Second, don’t stop trying new things together. Our brains like variety, and when we do new things, it releases dopamine. When we experience new things with our partner, our brain connects the dopamine release to our partner and strengthens that connection.
3. Make Things Routine
I know this sounds like the opposite of romance (and what I just said about trying new things). We tend to equate romance with spontaneity, not schedule. But hear me out.
The more routine something is, the less energy we spend thinking about it . . . and the more likely we are to actually do it.
So what kinds of romantic routines can you incorporate into your relationship? Here are a few ideas:
Create a specific “hello” and “goodbye” routine that includes that 20-second hug we talked about.
Set 15 minutes aside every single day to share about your day, joys and stresses alike.
Put a regular “sex night” on the calendar. Some people cringe at this thought, but when life is busy, it’s not enough to wait for the magical free time when you both feel like it.
Schedule a monthly date night for every month. Don’t let yourself move it for any reason.
4. Make Your Partner a Good Character in Your Life Story
What we tell ourselves has a huge impact on how we feel. If you’re constantly focused on all the things your partner didn’t do — or did wrong — of course you’re going to feel irritated and disconnected.
Instead, try to look for the things that they’re doing right. Remind yourself of the qualities you love and appreciate. Rewrite your mental narrative to include your partner as a protagonist, not an antagonist.
Don’t just tell this story to yourself, either. Look for opportunities to brag on your partner to those around you, too.
Irene Schreiner is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in Downers Grove, IL. She educates people about healthy relationships and assists them in developing the skills needed to achieve health in all areas of their lives. For additional tips on relationships, visit her website at Solid Foundations Therapy or you can follow Irene on Facebook.