Date Night at Home: Quarantine Style

Quarantine might be hard, but don’t let it be hard on your love life. Whether you’ve been dating a short time or have been married for years, I have some stay-at-home date ideas that will strengthen your relationship!

I know I have written about quarantine the last couple weeks now…but can anyone think about anything else other than how crazy things are in the world?! It is tough, but I know we can make it through this with our most important relationships intact!

One thing that I have heard frequently during this quarantine is that couples are needing a way to reset and reconnect; lovers are wanting to feel more love during this difficult time. So while all of the usual ideas (eat out, see a movie, etc.) are off the table, let’s explore what the two of you can do from the comfort of your own home:

  • Prepare a candle-lit dinner
  • Read a book together
  • Make a music video
  • Watch a movie (don’t forget the popcorn!)
  • Have a picnic
  • Order take out
  • Enjoy a themed dinner/movie (I once did this with the movie “Prom Night”–prom dress and all!)
  • Make fondue
  • Have a bonfire
  • Roast smores
  • Have a dessert bar
  • Throw a backyard movie night
  • Watch a sports game
  • Watch a concert
  • Battle with a video game night
  • Have a board/card game night
  • Do a puzzle
  • Create a DIY photo booth
  • Decorate your living space for an upcoming birthday/holiday
  • Go indoor camping
  • Have a “no electricity” night
  • Be artistic: Draw, do watercolor, paint, etc.
  • Play Twister
  • Karaoke night
  • Dance party
  • Turn your home into a spa
  • Talk about dreams and goals
  • Plan a vacation
  • Dream together about travel destinations
  • Make a bucket list
  • Take a personality or love language test
  • Play a conversation starter game like Would You Rather…?
  • Walk and talk
  • Watch home videos
  • Go through old photos
  • Create a photo book
  • Make delicious food: Homemade ice cream, bread, pizza, donuts…!
  • Have a nerf gun war
  • Start a movie marathon
  • Decorate mugs for each other
  • Go star gazing
  • Peruse Pinterest for fun meal ideas
  • Cuddle
  • DIY together
  • Go indoor bowling
  • Play music together
  • Build a fort (throwback!)

Of course these are just a few of millions of ideas! What you and your partner choose to do is up to you, and there are endless possibilities. Remember that the goal is to connect. Sitting near each other while you are each on your devices does not count as a meaningful date or quality time. Yes, a movie night is fun, but be sure to spend time talking to your partner too. I selected the above activities because they encourage you to put away the distractions and give each other your undivided attention. Some of these do not require much time, but would be greatly beneficial to your relationship. No matter what you choose to do for your quarantine style date night, remember that the purpose is to connect with each other. Humans are literally wired for connection! We all need it! It will help you more than just survive this quarantine.

When you set aside time, specifically for your partner, I promise you will feel more connected and happier.  Please comment below if you end up doing one of these suggestions, or if you have another creative idea you would like to add to the list. And if you feel you and your partner could use some help connecting with each other, I offer online sessions. Please do not hesitate to contact me to schedule a session!

Hang in there this week of continued quarantine craziness! I am right there with you!

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.

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Re-Spark the Flame: Affection

“Sometimes a partner withdraws affection because he or she is struggling with stress, mental health issues, illness, or trauma, and they are inwardly focused and stop paying attention to you.” ~ Brian Jory

In most romantic relationships, physical chemistry usually starts out hot and heavy. The relationship is novel and exciting, and affection and physical touch are likely constant. But as time passes, that consistent craving for intimacy may start to taper off. What can you do if you find your relationship having less heat that you would like? 

By the time you come to the realization that your partner is not affectionate anymore, it may seem like it happened all of a sudden. In reality, the affection has been slowly disappearing for quite a while.  Physical intimacy, like daily kisses, may turn into every few days, hugs happen only when forced, and even sex becomes less and less regular. Relationships naturally go through stages; moving out of the honeymoon stage when your partner and intimacy is all you think about is normal and okay. You and your partner can be completely in love while not having sex every night or touching constantly. 

Why does decrease of affection happen in relationships? There are several reasons; naturally, adding children to the equation can result in a lessening of affection as the demands of childcare become consuming. Another reason is work and financial stressors that emotionally drain you or your partner. Additionally, it is sometimes easy to take your relationship or your partner for granted as other things demand your attention. Many people deal with illness, mental health issues, and all sorts of self-esteem matters that simply require greater amounts of attention than before. Some may become obsessed with a hobby. Others can be abusing alcohol or drugs. Others still are depressed and do not know it. So if your partner’s affection for you has decreased, please do not immediately take it personally or think your partner is being unfaithful.

Whatever the case is for you and your partner, just know this: You can get the spark back! Below I have listed several suggestions that I use with my clients, as well as suggestions from other relationship professionals. These suggestions have been written as if the reader is the one whose partner has rescinded affection. Regardless of whether you are on the giving or receiving end of the loss of affection, here–in no particular order–are several suggestions I would make to turn up the heat a little bit:

  1. Talk. The first thing is to talk about how the lack of affection feels to you. “Do you feel abandoned because of the recent (or not so recent) loss of affection in your relationship? Do you miss their touch or kind words? Express your own feelings rather than blame your partner. This shows that you respect their reason for pulling away from you and are willing to consider their feelings. Blaming them for pulling away may only drive them farther away.
  2. Looks department. It is a special thing to not feel like you always have to look your best about your partner. Your relationship is safe; you feel loved no matter what you wear or look like. However, if you are trying to re-spark affection, upping your game in the looks department every so often might do just the trick. Curling your hair or putting on extra cologne may take you back to the glorious dating days when affection was second nature.  Attraction is easy in the beginning of a relationship because it is all new and exciting, but as a relationship matures, you need to work at it and keep adding fuel to the fire of attraction to keep it burning strong.
  3. Identify Love Languages. I have written at length about Love Languages (links included in the references section below) because I believe they are a powerful key to strengthen any relationship. Know how your partner receives love. Speak his/her love language. 
  4. Give genuine compliments. It is so easy to be critical when you have been in a relationship for awhile. Oftentimes the bad is easier to see than the good, and you have to make an added effort to recognize your partner’s strengths. Though you may assume your partner knows things you like about him/her, I invite you to verbalize these positives to them. Remind your partner why you love him/her by giving sincere compliments. This is a sure way to break down walls and foster closeness!
  5. Express gratitude. In a similar vein, do not assume your partner knows how grateful you are for him/her. Express your gratitude for all he/she does!
  6. Initiate affection. If you are feeling distant from your lover, I recommend getting close…physically. Sit close. Hold hands. Rub his back. Kiss her cheek. There are so many ways to be affectionate without having sex; intimacy can exist without sex, and sex can exist without intimacy. Go back to your dating days when that physical closeness and constant contact was something you sought out. 
  7. Keep promises. It is hard for me to want to be close or vulnerable with anyone if I am questioning their priorities or loyalty. If you are like me, you want to know that you can trust your partner with your affection. Be worthy of that affection by following through, keeping your word, and being honest. 

Loss of affection in a relationship is not the end of the world or your relationship. The good thing about realizing your partner is not affectionate anymore is that it can be fixed. Talk about your feelings, consider getting “dolled up” every so often, speak your partner’s love language, give compliments, express gratitude, initiate affection and keep your word. The final suggestion I have for boosting affection and connection in a relationship would be to seek help from a therapist. I am trained in and passionate about healing relationships and will be your relationship’s number one advocate. Do not hesitate to contact me today to schedule a session!

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

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The Magic of Saying No

“Whenever you say yes to something, it means you’re saying no to something else.” ~Susan Biali

We all feel badly when we have to say no to something or someone.  It is so much easier to say yes when people need help–even if it comes at personal expense. Though selfless service is necessary and admirable at times, there are other times where it is more applaudable to say no. Saying yes to everything means you will be spread too thin and will not able to get things done well or at all; it is physically impossible to take on something new without slacking on something else!  This post will focus on the magic of saying no in hopes of giving you the courage to say so when appropriate.

(Disclaimer, I am not specifically referring to saying no in relationships regarding boundaries and physical intimacy–though that topic is incredibly important. I will write about this specific subject in the future. Instead, I am referring to saying no instead of yes when asked to take on additional responsibilities that you simply cannot accommodate.)

Whether you have been asked to help watch a pet or child, pick something up, drop something off, or take on additional responsibilities at work, you have certainly been asked to help. Oftentimes it feels like yes is the only acceptable answer, even if it comes at great personal expense. Saying no means you could potentially hurt, anger or disappoint the person you are saying no to. You may fear appearing selfish, lazy, or uncaring. You want people to love (or at least like) you. So you inconvenience yourself and say yes.

However, saying no is actually a sign of strength because it shows that you know yourself and your limits. It allows you to give of yourself fully, within your limits, and not overextend or exhaust yourself. Having and maintaining personal boundaries can build important relationships by fostering honesty, openness and trust. (I am not suggesting you immediately decline an opportunity to help someone when asked. I believe in the power of service and have written several times about its power.) Saying yes when the answer should have been no only leads to frustration and resentment. Learning to say no can be a magical skill when used appropriately!

Now, let’s discuss the steps involved in the art of saying no:

Step one: Honor your time and priorities.

Time is an extremely precious commodity for everyone. There are only 24 hours in a day, so you must choose to spend your time wisely. Even if you do happen to have some extra time (which for most of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want or need to spend that time? Does it honor what is most important to you? Are your priorities in line? If you are asked to take on a new commitment that will cut into your valued family time, it may make saying no easier.

Step two: Take a moment + Raincheck

When someone asks for help, instead of giving an immediate (most likely affirmative) response on the spot, say that you need to check your calendar and will get back to him/her. If you end up needing to say no, maybe volunteer yourself to help in the future when you are more available. This can assure them that you are willing and want to help, but are unable to at the moment!

Step three: Do not apologize.

A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. Your time is your time. How you choose to spend your time is your choice. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about safeguarding your precious, finite time!

Step four: SAY NO.

You may cringe at the very thought of saying the abrasive, n-o word to someone. That’s okay! There are many ways around this that will still get your point across. Let’s say your friend asks to borrow your car, and you are less than excited about the idea. Here are seven ways to assertively, yet diplomatically, decline:

I prefer to be the only one driving my car.“

I prefer not to lend out my car.”

It doesn’t work for me to lend out my car.”

It’s important to me that I keep my car for my own use.”

“Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to lend you my car.”

I’m uncomfortable with letting others drive my car.“

I made a promise to myself that I’m not going to let other people drive my car.”  

Notice that all of these suggestions are “I” statements. This puts ownership on you and therefore makes it more difficult for the listener to dispute. If someone is persistent in wanting you to do what he or she wants, keep repeating “no” using any combination of the statements above. Hold your ground until the person realizes you mean what you say.

Remember, saying no does not mean you are an uncaring, selfish person. It simply means you know and honor your time, priorities, and limits. Saying no protects you, earns the respect of others, and frees you to spend your time doing what is most important to you. It is actually quite magical! Setting skillful boundaries is an act of self-compassion. It is liberating and it is your right.

Next time you are asked to help someone, consider your priorities and how you wish to honor your time, pause before answering, offer a raincheck, do not apologize if you are busy and cannot feasibly rearrange things, and if necessary, say no. Remember that there are only 24 hours in a day. In order to spend it wisely, sometimes it will be necessary to say no! As always, please feel free to contact me with questions, and click here if you would like to schedule a session.

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

Resources:

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.

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