“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:

Strengthen Your Relationship With This Simple Checklist

“The gifts of caring, attention, affection, appreciation, and love are some of the most precious gifts you can give, and they don’t cost you anything.” ~ Deepak Chopra

We often think we need to go to great lengths in order to please our significant other. It is not, however, necessary to bring home a bouquet of roses every night, or spend hours perfecting our physical appearance. The truth is that both women and men respond well to small, consistent acts of love that we can literally do every day, and for zero dollars. I give you…the “Triple A Checklist.”

The Triple A Checklist consists of three actions to focus on in a relationship: attention, affection, appreciation. We all need attention, affection, and the feeling of being appreciated. As human beings, we crave meaningful connection with others; it is hard-wired into our DNA. So if we can fulfill those needs for our partners, the end result will inevitably be increased relationship satisfaction for both parties…and who doesn’t want that?!  Let’s look at each “A” in greater detail:

Attention

We all have millions of distractions vying for our time and attention. Giving attention means deep listening, being totally present, having empathy, and trying to see from our partner’s perspective. It means we are not in a hurry to give advice and react; not in a hurry to interrupt; not in a hurry to get back to the Bachelor or our text messages. This means putting the phone down, making eye contact with our partner, and really, really interacting with him/her. Our body language shows we are deeply listening. For those whose love language is quality time, having their partner’s full attention is incredibly meaningful and fulfilling. Giving attention in this manner can do wonders for any and all relationships!

Affection

The literal definition of affection is a gentle feeling of fondness or liking. Affection is deep caring and commitment. There are a myriad of ways to express affection–from a sincere compliment, to quality time spent together, to physical touch, and everything in between. Studies have found that the amount of affection we express to our partners best predicts our commitment; and, conversely, the amount of affection we receive from our partners best predicts our satisfaction. Just give a few more kisses throughout the day, offer a back rub or head scratch, hold hands, cuddle during a movie, or hold on to that embrace a moment longer than normal. Affection is powerful. And it can be so easy to give!

Appreciation

In the beginning of a relationship we appreciate everything about the other person. They seem perfect in our eyes and even those crazy things they do are somehow endearing. But after a few years of leaving the cap off the toothpaste (even after repeated requests to change this behavior), this “cute” behavior suddenly becomes deliberate disrespect. Appreciation means focusing on what they do well or what wonderful attributes they have, instead of the little things we dislike about them. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will.” Appreciating the good in our partners will overshadow whatever quirks they have that we dislike. This type of appreciation is necessary to ensure relationship longevity.

Giving attention, affection, and our appreciation to our partners can do wonders to a relationship. I have seen it firsthand; these small steps can be repeated daily to communicate love and commitment to our partners. I encourage you to resolve today to do the “Triple A Checklist each day. If we give our significant other the attention he/she needs, the affection he/she longs for and the appreciation he/she deserves, the end result will undoubtedly be happiness!

(As always, should you find your relationship needs a little more work or attention, my door is wide open. Start by scheduling 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:

The Not-So-Secret Recipe to a Successful Relationship

Cluff Counseling - Older Couple Walking TogetherSuccessful relationships don’t just happen on their own; they emerge when two people invest great time and effort in them. These seven tips are tried and true in improving and prolonging meaningful relationships!

We all have those couples we admire. For me, it is Gordon and Marjorie; I have watched this couple interact since I was a teenager, and have marveled at the deep love they clearly shared for one another. They were so attentive to each others’ needs, spoke about each other with great respect, and their mutual adoration was apparent to all. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I see many couples each day who are working to enrich and improve their marriages. Sometimes marriage is not all we think it is going to be–life gets busy, sickness happens, children come, jobs are lost, arguments arise, until suddenly you feel distanced from our partner and the spark that brought you together seems to be missing. This is why up to 50% of marriages in the United States ends in divorce. Although there is no such thing as a perfect marriage, there are consistent patterns researchers have found in couples with marital longevity. Here are seven of the tried and true tips to turn up the love and work towards a lifelong union:

  1. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to give active attention to the moment. It takes effort, but does wonders for relationships!
  2. Commit to recommit. Commitment is a choice–one that spouses must make each and every passing day. Renewed commitment, demonstrated through words and deeds, is the springboard to a long-lasting partnership.
  3. Be playful. Remember the flirty dating days when you and your significant other would tease one another endlessly? Where did that behavior go? It may have taken a backseat to the rigors of work and the perpetual piles of laundry adult life often requires, but you can easily bring it back. Having fun and being playful is is a predictor of relationship satisfaction and is thus an important dimension of a successful relationship.
  4. Work at it. Relationship maintenance behaviors are critically important to the sustained health of any romantic partnership. These behaviors include but are not limited to the following: Expressing positive emotions, being open, giving relational reassurances, using your social circle to support your relationship, willingly sharing the work/responsibilities that come with your long-term relationship, attending marriage classes or seminars together, reading marriage or relationship books together, etc.
  5. Let it go (cue Frozen song). We have all had an argument with our significant other that started with socks on the floor and ended with big blows to the confidence. We let something small and insignificant trigger a massively unnecessary argument! To this I say (or sing), let it gooo. Let go of the unimportant. If it is not going to matter tomorrow, it does not matter today.
  6. Talk it out. I see many individuals who internalize resentment and miscommunication. Not only does that damage you, but it damages your important relationships. If there is an issue, use your words. Talk through it with your partner. If you find this process to be overwhelmingly difficult, contact me today and we can make a plan to improve your communication skills. I can assure you that learning to talk through conflict will improve many aspect of your life–not just your relationships!
  7. Express love. This seems obvious, but it is one of those small things that disappears after the dating days have bled into the rituals and responsibilities of married life. There are countless ways to show love and this will vary according to how each individual receives love (I highly recommend referring to the 5 Love Languages to understand how you can personalize your demonstrations of love for your partner). Whether it is affirming words, acts of service, quality time, gifts, or physical touch, find what speaks to your spouse and show your love for your spouse regularly.

These seven steps are incredibly simple, but amazingly effective. If you practice mindfulness, recommit daily, be playful, work on your relationship, let go of the small stuff, use your words, and show love, your relationship can weather the storms of life. When times get tough and you feel tempted to throw in the towel, remember that no relationship is perfect and that it takes great time and effort to build a lifelong, successful relationship. If you find that you and your partner need a little coaching to get on the right path, book a session with me today. With consistent work and focus, your relationship can be like Gordon and Marjorie; you and your partner could some day be the couple that others look at with admiration and strive to emulate.

Resources:
Psychology Today: “7 Secrets to a Successful Relationship”
Gary Chapman: The 5 Love Languages