Sunday 25 September 2016

Dear Mary: 12 ways to keep the lovelight in their eyes

Sex therapist Mary O'Conor is in a unique position of having had people open their hearts to her. Here's her advice on how to keep love alive

Mary O'Connor

Published 15/02/2016 | 02:30

You can take steps to keep love alive.
You can take steps to keep love alive.

I've been spending a lot of time in a hospital over the last few days as a very dear friend battles for her life having had a brain aneurysm. Her husband and I have had many conversations about the meaning of life and the meaning of love, and so when the Editor asked me to write a piece for Valentine's Day on keeping the love alive, it seemed strangely apt.

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So how is it possible to keep love alive in a long term relationship?

It's all very fine at the beginning when the couple can't wait to see each other, there are butterflies in the tummy at the prospect of what's ahead, the sex is great and the world is a wonderful place. But when the relationship develops and the couple end up marrying or living together with a long term commitment, how does one keep the flame alive through all the ups and downs that inevitably happen?

Try not to change your partner.

Instead look at yourself and how you can change.

When I was young, autograph books were all the rage and girls got each other to write something memorable along with their autograph. I came across mine recently and one girl had written, "Girl's Thoughts Before Marriage -Aisle. Altar. Hymn. Girl's Thoughts After Marriage -I'll Alter Him."

This got me thinking that when people get into a relationship the very things that they found quirky and interesting in the partner early on very often become the things that then annoy them.

I remember a friend gushing to me about her new boyfriend's wonderful beard and how it was so cute when stuff got stuck in it. Fast forward a year and she was telling him that the beard simply had to go, that it was gross when things got stuck in it.

So instead of trying to change your partner, ask yourself if there is something that you can change in yourself to make things better between you.

Learn how to handle rows.

It is natural that couples have disagreements.

The danger is that these disagreements can escalate into full blown rows and cause great damage. Remember that one person doesn't have to be right - the couple can agree to disagree. There is little point in keeping on at it like a dog with a bone when the disagreement is about something minor.

So ask yourself if it is really worth pursuing - rate the subject on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 to 3 should be abandoned immediately and you will find that most things fall into this category.

Tell your partner that you love them.

The wife of a couple who have been married for over 50 years told me that every morning when her husband wakes up he tells her that he is glad that she married him and that he loves her.

The love between this couple is palpable, even after all those years, and I'm sure he has contributed greatly to this by telling her he loves her every day.

'Love ya' is fast becoming the sign-off of choice on most telephone calls - ever since 9/11 when the last conversation people had with those who perished were about how much they loved them. As a result it is somewhat overused, but telling your partner that you love them - and by doing so imply that you accept them with their faults - is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

Somebody's got to dance on the bed.

This remark was made to me by a lady who had a marriage that worked because she kept things vibrant and exciting by planning things for them to do together that were out of the ordinary.

Her husband was very conventional and lacking in imagination and she felt they would have broken up many years ago but she decided to work hard at making their marriage a success. She was speaking figuratively - I didn't ask about their sex life as she was not a client - but the words conveyed a freshness and sense of humour.

So if you feel that you are stuck in a rut then plan to do something completely different, and do it together. Bungee jump, water ski, surf, hike, or if you are older and all of that sounds too strenuous, take a dance class or a Yoga For Beginners class - anything that will bring a sense of adventure into your lives.

Try something different in your sex life.

Speaking of dancing on the bed, one of the problems in being with only one partner in a long-term relationship is that couples tend to do the same thing over and over when making love.

They know what works for them, and they do it. However it can be quite exciting to change things occasionally. For instance, changing the venue - even a different room is good - and not always following the same routine can make a difference. Or try clothed instead of unclothed, vary the lighting, make love without having intercourse - in other words using the imagination to increase arousal leading to a more exciting experience.

Think before you criticise.

Criticism can be extremely hurtful. So before saying something that is obviously critical, ask yourself if you were having an affair with your partner, would you be saying the same thing to them. If you wouldn't, then zip your mouth and think of some other way of getting your point across in a less offensive way.

Communicate. The happy relationship is all about communication. A good idea is to spend ten minutes at some point in the evening to tell each other about the high point and the low point of your day. It is amazing what comes up and how discussions get going and it is a really valuable communication exercise.

Maintain your outside friendships.

While any couple will have mutual friends it is also important to maintain separate friendships.

This ensures that there are times when either partner will be out with their friends, or away for a weekend, and this gives an added perspective to the relationship.

It also means that couples do not become totally dependant on each other.

Keep a sense of humour.

We Irish are blessed with an amazing sense of humour - we certainly need it given the weather we have to put up with.

It is no coincidence that there is always a lot of storytelling and joking at a funeral -it certainly helps to reduce the tension.

Try to see the humorous side when things are getting you down and then share it with your partner.

Show that you are thinking of them.

When your partner says that they would really like to have something or to do something, take a note of it and say nothing. If you are able to make it happen then surprise them with it.

It doesn't have to be something big, and it doesn't have to be for a special occasion. Just show them that you care - and that you listen.

Do something that you don't necessarily want to do.

If your partner has their heart set on going somewhere - a gig or a concert or a road trip -and you are not at all interested why not go along with it, without complaint, just because you love them and you know it will make them happy.

You will both feel good and very loved and that's what it's all about.

Be each other's best friend.

If you can say that you are then you are doing everything right. Best friends can drive us mad but we love them for what they are with all their faults, acknowledged or otherwise, and we know that they feel the same about us.

Happy Valentine's Day to all my readers.

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