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How to stay connected as a busy couple

When you’re in a long-term relationship it can be easy for the romance to fall by the wayside. Conversations full of sparks eventually grow lacklustre, and you find yourself spending less time lookin’ fine and more time in that baggy old ugly T-shirt you got from your work several years ago.

Staying connected can be enough of a challenge for most couples, but when you’re trying to maintain a healthy, happy relationship while also balancing a crazy professional career, side projects, spending time with friends and family, and all the other good stuff that comes with being a responsible, driven adult, it can seem even more taxing to spend time keeping your relationship kickass.

Since the past few months have been such a whirlwind for both me and my partner, John, I figured I’d take a moment on a laid-back (almost) long-weekend Friday afternoon to reflect and share some insight into what’s worked for us so far:

Learn Your Love Language

A few weeks ago I was browsing Reddit, and I came across a thread where one of the posters talked about couples’ “love languages,” and how understanding how both parties in a relationship express their affection is a key component to you both feeling loved.

Here’s an example: I like to clean, and one of the ways that I demonstrate my love is by taking care of chores like laundry, dishes, etc. which I know John doesn’t like doing. I show my love by making his life easier. John, on the other hand, shows his love by telling me every day, singing songs to me and holding my hand, giving me hugs, and being silly.

Many people in my situation would just assume that he’s lazy, or doesn’t care about helping me, but what’s actually going on is that I’m basing my expectations for his behaviour on how I behave, not how he behaves. It’s important to understand and recognize this distinction.

When we take the time to understand how both parties express their love it makes communicating a million times easier, and nobody feels neglected or put-out by their partner’s behaviour.

The test I’m talking about is called The 5 Love Languages and you can take it here.

Practice Active Listening

When the day is over and both your heads are swimming with information from your respective busy days, it can be tempting to want to zone the hell out and not dive into a deep discussion. However, it’s important to ask your partner how their day went and actually listen to the words coming out of their mouth.

It can be tempting to nod your head and give the token “yeah, that’s good” reply, but (spoiler alert) people can tell when you’re placating them, and it’s pretty disrespectful to your partner to tune them out while they tell you about what happened that day.

The best way to avoid the classic “mmhmm, that’s nice dear” reply is to practice active listening. Active listening is when you listen to someone and then reply by repeating back what you’ve heard, either by re-stating or paraphrasing what you’ve heard in your own words.

Not only does this show your partner that you give a shit about what they’ve said, it also helps clarify the message and meaning, and make sure there’s no confusion.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the end of the day (as I sometimes am) it’s totally okay to say “hey, I need some mental downtime, can we chat in a bit?” and then go for a run, or take a bubble bath, or read, or whatever you need to do to de-frag your brain. As long as that communication is there and your partner feels listened to and valued, that’s what counts.

Schedule Some Downtime

One of the most difficult things for super-busy couples to manage is getting some freaking downtime. When you’re both managing extremely demanding careers, going out to events several times a week, working on side projects, and maintaining a social life, it can be extremely difficult to find time to just hang out.

Admittedly, I really struggle with having “downtime” which doesn’t really help. My idea of downtime is usually doing projects around the house, writing, or doing other things that need doing.

Sometimes though, you have to set aside some time and just hang out with each other and enjoy each other’s company. This could mean anything: read books together, watch a movie, make dinner, play video games… whatever classifies as “downtime” for you, do that and do it as often as you can.

Hook Up (aka “Netflix & Chill”)

I don’t want to get into too much racy stuff here, but staying physically connected is such a huge part of any romantic relationship, and unfortunately it’s one of the first things that seems to evaporate the second couples start to get overwhelmed in other areas of their lives.

I’ve experienced this personally, and can attest to the fact that when your physical relationship starts to wane, eventually so too does your attraction to your partner, and eventually any romantic interest you may have had goes away as well. At that point you might as well call it quits because you’re basically just friends at that point (or roommates, if you live together.)

So the next free evening you have available schedule some time with your partner put on a movie that you’ve both seen a million times before (you know the one) and “chill.”

Plan Dates

When you’re busy almost every night of the week it can seem impossible to figure out when to make the time (or the effort, really) to go out for a real, legitimate, you-and-your-significant-other date but it’s so, so important.

Courtship is crucial to maintaining all that other good stuff I talked about earlier in this post. Courting isn’t just about showing up with flowers (though that helps), it’s about putting in the effort, making plans, dressing up and going somewhere spectacular where you have an amazing time together.

We should always strive to be ‘dating’ our partner, no matter how long we’ve been with that person.

One of my favourite dates was the day last summer when John and I biked to Assiniboine Park and explored the zoo together. We packed a picnic, a bottle of wine, and the book we were reading together and had a tremendous afternoon.

— ALYSON SHANE, AlysonShane.com

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