Share the Love this Valentine’s Day

“You don’t love someone because they’re perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they’re not.” ~ Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

Whenever you think of Valentine’s Day, you likely think about a fancy dinner and a bouquet of red roses. While that is one way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, there are so many others. A simple Google search for, “Unique ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day” will bring up a myriad of articles with fun (and even free!) ideas for you. I looked through several of these articles and saw suggestions like, “Have a bonfire!” or, “Go ice skating!” There are infinite ways to celebrate your relationship this Valentine’s Day, you really cannot go wrong! Because many may be single or may have recently lost a loved one this year, I encourage you to think about the holiday differently this year.

Make a paradigm shift away from roses and overpriced Italian food. If Valentine’s Day really is about spreading love, that applies to anyone you may feel love towards or appreciation for–a significant other, a parent, a child, a friend, a neighbor, etc. Instead of celebrating love or a romantic relationship, focus on celebrating someone important in your life. Treat it almost like his/her birthday. Consider–and then tell him/her!–what you admire, appreciate, and love about him/her. Think about his/her strengths, admirable qualities, and how he/she inspires you. Here are some prompts to get you going:

  1. Qualities you admire in him/her:
  2. Important lessons he/she has taught you:
  3. Favorite memory with him/her:
  4. Why or how you were initially drawn to him/her:
  5. A time he/she made you laugh memorably hard:
  6. His/her celebrity doppelganger:
  7. How he/she has helped you in your life:
  8. Where you would be without him/her:
  9. Something fun/exciting you will do in the future together (bucket list item?):

Those ten prompts are sure to give you ideas for how to celebrate that important person in your life. Doing this is step one.

Step two is then to tell him or her! This can be done in so many different ways; I recommend you try to deliver your compliments in a way that your partner is most likely to accept and appreciate. You can simply tell him/her face to face over dinner. You can write an epistle that can be read and reread. You can record a movie, write a poem, arrange a message in your letterboard, write it in chalk on their driveway, include it in a note with a simple gift…there is no right or wrong way. The key is to be direct and sincere in telling him/her what specifically you appreciate in him/her. Regardless of whether you are communicating your love and appreciation towards another adult or a child, everyone receives commendation well. This simple act can go such a long way! Children, especially, thrive on receiving positive affirmations and sincere praise.

Admiring strengths is one way that we can bring out the best in each other and grow together. When you are aware of someone else’s strengths, and communicate your appreciation, you help that person reach his/her full potential. Not only does research prove this, but I have seen it in countless clients! Seeing the good in others not only fosters feelings of love and appreciation, but it also begins a perpetuating cycle of looking for (and seeing!) the good in each other. And that is a wonderful place to be.

If you are feeling stressed by the thought of the impending Valentines Day, take heart. This is a free and easy but meaningful idea that you can implement this V-Day, 2019. Instead of celebrating love or a relationship in a cliché or expensive way, celebrate admirable qualities in someone important to you. This idea may be especially useful for anyone who has an important relationship that has undergone trauma, and who may be feeling unsure whether that bond is even worth celebrating. Regardless of your relationship status, we could all use a little more appreciation. This simple suggestion might be just what the (love) doctor ordered! Should you have questions or would like to schedule a session, please do not hesitate to contact me. My door is always open!

Wishing you and yours a lovely Valentine’s Day!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Adding Affection To Your Agenda

Adding Affection To Your Agenda - Cluff Counseling - Denton Couples Therapist“Great marriages don’t happen by luck or by accident. They are the result of a consistent investment of time, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, affection, prayer, mutual respect, and a rock-solid commitment between a husband and wife.” ~Dave Willis

Last month I posted about scheduling time to be with your partner sexually. In this post, I want to add onto this idea of scheduling time for your partner. Think back to when you and your partner were dating. How did you display affection? What did you do to let your partner know you were interested in him/her? Did you hold hands often? Give back rubs? Bear hug? Link arms when walking? Now let me ask, how are you displaying affection TODAY in your relationship? If you are like most people in a long-term relationship or marriage, there is noticeable decline in your level of PDA or even private displays of affection. So this post is all about amping that up to increase the connection in your relationship.

Here is the truth. The best relationships and marriages engage in a lot of touching…sex being only one form of touching. Yes, it is the one our minds typically go to first as the healing or unifying display of affection, but there is a great deal of power in non-sexual affection as well. Researchers and love experts, Gary Smalley and John Trent, have written that, “8 to 10 meaningful touches a day is really a minimum requirement for a woman to stay emotionally and physically healthy.” And the same is true about men; I have found through years of counseling that both men and women crave affection and want to feel valued!

Are you and your partner sharing 8-10 meaningful touches a day? Most of us are so busy with life that the answer to this question is an unfortunate no! If this includes you, start by asking your partner how they like to receive affection and share with them specific ways you like to be touched. Use the list below to help you and your partner brainstorm ways you each like to be touched. It is important to note that if one partner has experienced trauma, there may be some types of touch that are triggering for them.

  1. Rub his arm
  2. Kiss his cheek
  3. Put your arm around her
  4. Hold his hand
  5. Play footsies
  6. Rub his leg
  7. Touch her elbow
  8. Run your fingers through his hair
  9. Touch her back
  10. Give him a bear hug and hold on
  11. Run your fingers over her cheek
  12. Kiss his neck
  13. Put your arm around her waist
  14. Hug him from behind and put your cheek next to his
  15. Kiss her gently on the lips
  16. Squeeze his bum
  17. Touch your forehead to hers
  18. Rest your head on his shoulder
  19. Dance with her
  20. Whisper in his ear
  21. Sit close together
  22. Spoon in bed
  23. Give him a scalp massage
  24. Hold her face in your hands and stare into her eyes
  25. Squeeze his hand

I would recommend choosing one a day, and committing yourself to implement it into your relationship. Aiming to do one a day allows flexibility–you have complete freedom in deciding what you will do and when you will do it. As you increase your levels of affection, you will notice that it will become reciprocal–your partner will begin to do the same. It is as if you will light a match that will turn into a rolling fire.

By definition, affection means a gentle feeling of fondness or liking, which can certainly include verbal expression. Here are three ideas: First idea, challenge or schedule yourself to say, “I love you,” three times a day. Second idea, express love and adoration in public. Many couples, who have been together for a long time, eventually act like they are simply sharing groceries when in public. No! Go back to the dating days! Shower your partner with affection, both verbal physical, in private and in public. And the third idea would be to tell your partner he/she is handsome/beautiful at least once a day. Pretty doable, right?

Scheduling sex can provide needed closeness, but only if regular, loving touch is a normal part of the everyday marriage or relationship. Expressing affection to your partner is powerful and can set you on a path to both heal and strengthen your relationship. I urge you to take the time to schedule closeness today–whether that is sexually or affectionately. And if you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure about how to implement this counsel, please feel free to contact or come see me. My door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Adding Sex to Your Agenda

Adding Sex to Your Agenda - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy“We all need attention, affection, and the feeling of being appreciated in our life, and it is great when you can give and get that from your partner on a regular basis.” —Lawrence Lovell

If you are like me, anything and everything important needs to go in my calendar. If I want to get something done, I need to write it down. I have found that if I do not make time for the important things, life gets in the way. I have to block time out for exercising, for religious worship, for sleep, as well as for my parents, friends, and other important people in my life. In like manner, scheduling intimacy is something I often recommend to clients because it can easily get pushed to the bottom of the list. I would imagine that you and your partner could benefit from penciling one-on-one time into the calendar!

This post will be the first of a two-part series on scheduling intimacy. This week we will focus on planning time for sexual intimacy, and the second Saturday of November I will post about scheduling time to be close to one another non-sexually.

When you are dating someone new, you are both willing to make sacrifices to create space and time for each other. But as time passes, life catches up. You may feel you are too busy and do not have time to read a book for fun, much less spontaneously have sex. For many couples, scheduling sex is the only way to ensure it actually happens. While it may be sad to recognize how life has forced sexual intimacy to take a backseat, I would encourage you to not get discouraged as you have the power to create a new sex life!

First, the refutation. Some couples are hesitant about scheduling intimacy because they envisioned their life as one overflowing with spontaneous passion. They feel that putting physical intimacy on the calendar can feel a little awkward, unromantic, forced, contrived. Additionally, they imagine that scheduling intimacy will make it more of a chore or a to-do than a pleasureful release.

While the above fits for some couples, this does not work for the majority of couples I have seen. Busyness and a life of passion often do not mix. If you wait until both you and your partner are overcome with passion, you will be sexually active much less than you want to be. To those that feel awkward about literally scheduling sex, I understand. Communicating sexually is awkward for most couples, so communicating about when to be sexual can definitely seem awkward!  One partner often has a higher sex drive and thus wants sex more than the other partner. Scheduling when to have sex is one way to honor both partners’ needs, while ensuring that sex is an active part of the relationship.

Relationship experts say scheduling intimacy can be a great thing for busy couples. Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist based in Beverly Hills, Calif., advises scheduling intimacy for couples who have kids under 10 years old, as well as for couples who struggle with different sexual appetites and stressful jobs. She says these couples often put more of their libido into their careers and work, and when they come home, they are overcome with exhaustion.

Here are some suggestions to get you started scheduling sex:

Option one: Write it down. Put your partner’s name in the Friday night spot, the Wednesday lunch hour, or maybe the Sunday afternoon space after your religious worship. Instead of looking at it like yet another to-do, build anticipation for the event!  Consider scheduling sex similar to being excited for reservations at a new restaurant. Talk about it beforehand, think about it, send text reminders about it, get dressed up (or down) for it, etc.

Option two: For some, writing it down makes it too distant or contractual. If you would prefer, simply verbally agree on a day/time with your partner–and be consistent. Always schedule on the same day, but be flexible depending on your partner’s work schedule and mood.

Option three, a wider window: Try something like, “If I wake up before you and the kids on any given weekday, I will initiate sex with you” or “any naptime that the kids are all asleep at once is game time.” This will ensure that both people are showing that they are committed to their partner’s happiness, not just to the schedule. Making the window wider may actually increase the number of times you have sex because it is not so much pressure, but it is still scheduled in your mind and can keep you accountable to your partner.

Two final words of advice: First, give “freebies.” Freebies go both ways; if either you or your partner is not feeling it at your scheduled time, a free pass can be given. Neither of you want to force sex because that could be detrimental to your relationship! Then be sure to add in some physical affection (freebies) at unscheduled times. Second, plan your sex date around a time when both you and your partner will have the most energy: it may be an early morning before the workday begins and the kids wake up, or an afternoon session on the weekend.

Scheduling one-on-one time solely to invest in your relationship takes ongoing effort. It can be hard to say no to all the other responsibilities. Dr. Walfish says sex can become intoxicating; “Once it is scheduled, it becomes a part of your regular life. A lot of people can develop a desire for it once it becomes weekly. Then, they miss it when it’s not there.” By scheduling sex and committing to a schedule that works for the both of you, sex can become a valuable and enjoyable part of your relationship again. In fact, as a consequence of such schedules, good, natural and instinctive habits may well develop and thrive over time! Keep in mind that while sex is perfectly natural, it is not always naturally perfect. Like anything worthwhile, sometimes it takes work! If you and your partner have questions or would like additional guidance, I am here for you. Contact me or schedule a session today!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

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How to Give The Perfect Valentine’s Gift

If there were a way that your partner could know exactly how to please you or let you know he/she loves you, would you want to learn more about it? Imagine how happy it would make you feel if your partner communicated love to you in a way that really spoke to you! Well, such a thing exists–it is called Love Languages. Dr. Gary Chapman has done extensive research to find solid grounding for these five love languages, and has even designed a quiz to help you discover how you receive love. Understanding your love language (and your partner’s!) can lead to meaningful changes in your relationship…and what better gift to give this Valentine’s season than individually designed love tactics?

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner…are you ready? As usual, Hershey’s Kisses are flying off the shelves at grocery stores, Tiffany’s diamond advertisements are abounding, and florists everywhere are selling overpriced red roses. Is that stuff really what your partner wants? Is she or he a person who likes gifts in the first place? Maybe you are stressing over getting the “the perfect gift” when all they would really like is an intimate dinner date with you. Or maybe you ladies are out there sewing into the night to make your man a quilt when he really just wants to spend some quality time with you. The thing about Valentine’s Day, and every other day, is that you need to know how your person receives love. Knowing your partner’s love language can help you communicate love and affection in a way that is personally crafted to speak to him or her.

I imagine many of you have heard about Dr. Gary Chapman’s bestselling book, “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts”. These five love languages came after years of research and practice and according to Chapman, each of us fall into one of the five categories: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. I plan to delve deeper into each of these love languages in further posts, but for the purpose of today’s post, I simply want to give an overview of each of the five love languages and hopefully inspire you to consider your partner’s love language this Valentine’s Day:

  • Words of Affirmation. This one is particularly common amongst the ladies. Those who receive love through words of affirmation need unsolicited, sincere, and frequent praise. Hearing that they are loved and–more importantly–why they are loved is the best gift you can give them. Insults and criticism can leave them shattered and are not easily forgotten. Gift ideas: Leave love notes around your living space, write a song, keep a calendar with reasons you love him/her for each day, record yourself praising him/her, etc.
  • Acts of Service. Those who receive love through acts of service will really appreciate it when you do something for them–cook a meal, wash dishes, take out the garbage, mow the lawn, change the baby’s diaper, paint the bedroom, etc. Bonus points if you surprise your partner with acts of service. Gift ideas: A coupon/IOU book filled with acts of service you will do; kidnap his/her car and wash/vacuum it; prepare a special meal (particularly meaningful especially if you are not the one to normally cook); wash the dishes, etc.
  • Receiving Gifts. Those who receive love through acts of service primarily feel loved when they are given a thoughtful present. They look forward to birthdays and holidays where they will be given gifts. These individuals are often expert gift-givers themselves, and take great pride in planning and giving meaningful gifts. They may feel materialistic or vain for receiving love through tangible items that often cost money, but there is nothing inherently wrong with this method of receiving love. Gift ideas: You have to pay attention! What is that one thing he keeps saying he wants? Which shirt does she have saved on her Pinterest board? Notice and remember things they say they want and get it for them. It could be a shirt, a purse, perfume, that Tiffany’s necklace, or something specific to their hobbies that they need (like a GoPro stick for fun filming or a new beanie for skiing.) Make it personal and sparks will fly.
  • Quality Time. Those who receive love through quality time really just need you and they need all of you. Meaning put your phone down. Turn the tv off. Tell your friends to wait. Spend undistracted time with your partner and you will fill their cups right up. The great thing about this love language is that you can spend quality time together in the normal course of your day; you do not need to go out of your way doing something special, nor do you need to buy anything.  Gift ideas: Make dinner, fold laundry, play a game, or even clean together, and you will find that your partner will satisfied and feel connected to you. Easy as that. Make a gift out of it by telling your partner he or she has your undivided attention for the duration of your activity. This does wonders for relationships!
  • Physical Touch. Those who receive love through physical touch need you close. They are huggers, kissers, back-rubbers, forearm ticklers, and snugglers. If you are distant, they feel an undeniable lack of connection with you. If you initiate hand-holding, cheek-kissing, or move cuddling, they will feel your love. Gift ideas: Try gifting a couple’s massage, offering a back rub to your partner, or planning a special, undistracted night in the bedroom. Just be close.

This was a brief overview of each of these five love languages, and it was in no way intended to be comprehensive. There are an infinite amount of examples to define each love language, just as there are as many gift ideas as there are humans on the earth. Tailor your expression of love to your significant other. If you feel unsure what your love language is (or what your partner’s is), I would highly recommend taking the quiz on the 5 Love Languages website. It is particularly insightful to take the quiz alongside your partner–you will learn how they receive love and will be able to tailor your expressions of love to how he/she likes to receive it. And as always, talk about it. Have a candid conversation where you sit down, take the quiz together and discuss how you can be closer through speaking each other’s love languages. Understanding how one receives love, and communicating about making it happen, can really take your relationship to the next level.

If you have been together for years, it may be hard to get out of your routine. Or maybe you have never had a serious relationship. Whatever the case, love languages can be applied to all relationships, sexual or not. You will be better able to communicate with your brother, your mother, your boss, and your neighbor by understanding and applying these principles. If you feel uncertain about how to proceed or would like specific guidance on how to speak your partner’s love language, I am more than happy to help. Please contact me today or schedule your first session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

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The Cure for Loneliness

Cluff Counseling - Anxiety & Depression CounselingAmericans are lonelier than ever. According to Public Radio International, about 50.2 percent or 124.6 million American adults are single today. In the 1950s, that number was around 22 percent! What has caused this great rise in isolation?

In a recent article, featured both in Forbes and Psychology Today, author Caroline Beaton shares a compelling argument that millennials are among the loneliest in American History. She deduces that loneliness is literally contagious, and that we exacerbate the issue by our addiction to social media. It is easier for us to stay at home, glued to our phones alone in our warm beds than to be out socializing with friends, neighbors or acquaintances. These days, social connection does not require a car, a phone call, or a plan… just a click. When we feel isolated, depressed or anxious, it is convenient for us to go online in search of connection. Basically, we use the Internet to alleviate our loneliness…

But that satisfaction is temporary…fleeting, even!

So you may think that the answer is to simply use less internet in order to overcome societal loneliness. While there is definitely some truth to that, there is more to the equation. If we click out of Instagram and put our phones down, we may instead be inclined to reach for the remote and begin another mindless, solitary activity. My advice is simple but timeless, and it goes along perfectly with Caroline Beaton’s follow-up article, “The Solution to Millennial Loneliness.” The cure to loneliness is simply alter your priorities. Place relationships and connection at the top of your list.

I fully recognize that technology and social media are addictive. This is why I recommend we change our priorities and focus on those around us–to be present in the moment. Imagine what would happen if you put down your phone while your parent or partner was talking to you. Or if you actually conversed with all your friends over pizza instead of sharing a meal together while just staring at your phones. I am absolutely guilty of this myself! We need to be assertive with our time. If we are not being intentional about where our focus goes, we will ultimately end up sucked into the distractions all around us.

The solution is to prioritize relationships into your day. Do not let the Internet and social media gobble up your prime and extra time. Make the decision today to forego the next episode of Downton Abbey until a time that your significant other is not looking to connect with you. Set aside time to chat with your father before beginning your homework. Schedule a time (even weeks in advance!) to grab lunch with a friend. A valiant and consistent effort is required to make and preserve relationships…but it can be done.  Prioritize. Schedule time for the ones you love and be present when you are with them. This is the cure for loneliness. Watch out– its effects will be more far-reaching than loneliness itself!

Resources:
Cluff Counseling: “Are You Addicted to Your Phone?”
Forbes:  “The Solution to Millennial Loneliness”
PRI: “Singles now outnumber married people in America — and that’s a good thing”
Psychology Today: “The Loneliness Epidemic and What We Can Do About It”
Psychology Today: “Why Millennials are Lonely”

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