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Suddenly you are on a couple’s retreat…
…in your home.
…with no bartender.
…and limited toilet paper.
The unpredictable side effect of social distancing is that it put millions of couples at home together indefinitely.
It’s like being forced into a couple’s retreat during the Hunger Games.
- Who can use the least amount of toilet paper?
- Who has to go to the grocery store for supplies?
- Did you just cough?
- Who gets the last banana? (I haven’t seen one for weeks.)
- How many Netflix shows can we watch in a row?
What is a Couple’s Retreat?
A couple’s retreat is a period of time where a couple must spend all their time together. In a couple’s retreat, couples have the opportunity to perform bonding exercises, experience new activities, and face the challenge of staying together 24/7.
The success of a couple’s retreat can make or break a relationship.
After being quarantined for weeks, couples in Xi’an China filed for record numbers of divorces. Endless hours together can put a new strain on relationships.
…or is it an opportunity?
How many times have you wished to have more time with your partner? More family time? To have a better relationship? Guess what? Now is the time!
(And since you have no choice, you might as well make the best of it.)
Let’s reframe this time period as an impromptu couple’s retreat. What can you do right now to strengthen your relationship?
The first tip might surprise you … good! Most people don’t think about learning as an investment in their relationship. But I feel incredibly strongly that:
Couples that learn together, stay together.
This is actually backed up in science. Researcher Carol Dweck has found that people with a Growth Mindset lead happier, more fulfilled lives.
What is a Growth Mindset?
People with a Growth Mindset believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.
What can you learn WITH your partner? Sit down together and fill in the blanks:
I have always wanted to learn:
A skill I have always wanted to be good at is:
I am curious about:
Then pick one together! These can be big or small—from making sushi to learning a new language. I always have a running learning bucket list going and so does my husband. Recently we decided to compare notes and pick something to do together.
We are starting a kitchen garden together! We just planted pomegranate, fig and mandarin orange trees. I am telling you, it was better than a date at a fancy restaurant.
Divide and Conquer
This might sound silly, but when you are sharing a space it can create all kinds of headaches and questions.
- Who cleans the kitchen if we both share the kitchen?
- Does someone get to claim the dining room table as their impromptu office?
- If you start the laundry do you have to finish it?
- Who gets to watch their show on the big TV?
I recommend getting very clear on the expectations in your shared space—from cleaning to zoning to chores. Here’s how:
- Make a list of every chore that has to be done. Make one big list of EVERYTHING. And I do mean everything. From cleaning gutters in the winter to replacing the smoke detector batteries. Then assign them and schedule them. When they are pre-determined there is way less fighting.
- Zones. If you are both working from home it is important to think about who gets what work space and how that should be respected (cleanliness, noise, etc). If you both share a TV, who gets to watch when? If you both make breakfast or lunch separate then who does the dishes? Make a list of all of your zones and divide based on priority.
Ask 36 Questions for 36 Days
This is the most powerful piece of advice in this article. Researcher Arthur Aron found that there are 36 questions that can make people fall in love. These 36 questions are amazing.
Do a challenge with your partner where for 36 days you ask one question a day. Over breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Spend 20 minutes asking and answering each. It is an incredibly easy way to bond. Start with these…
- Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? Why?
- What would constitute a perfect day for you?
- When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
- All 36 deep questions right here.
My husband and I do these every year since our answers change!
Not on a couple’s retreat? You can even do this in a long-distance relationship!
Ask & Offer
Living together means compromise. But you have to ask for those gives and takes. The biggest mistake couples make is they assume the other knows what they want. This is almost never the case.
I’ll give you a personal example. I drink tons of water, tea, coffee, juice, you name it I drink it. But I often never finish my glass. I also have no problem drinking two-day-old tea (gross for some I know). Well, I didn’t realize until LAST WEEK (and I have been with my husband for 14 years) that this drives him crazy. Oops. He finally blew up and told me. So now I make a point to gather my glasses at the end of the day. If I had known, it would have prevented an argument and he would not have been stewing about it for 14 years! Oops.
Here is your chance to prevent future arguments. Are you ready? Let’s play a game I like to call:
Ask & Offer!
Here’s how it works. You sit down with a stack of post-its or flashcards. Each partner makes a list of all the things they WISH they could have in the home from the other. Suggestions might be:
- I wish Vanessa would put away her water glasses.
- I wish Scott would pick up his socks.
- I wish Vanessa would turn down her music while she is in the shower.
- I wish Scott would hang his towel after the shower.
Write down as many as you can BEFORE sharing them. (Otherwise you might get tit for tat requests later). Once you have written down all you can think of, start with your most coveted one. Share. Discuss. Compromise. Hopefully for every ask of yours, you can offer to help with theirs.
In a win-win you each get 90% of your requests! And if you only get 10%? That’s OK! Better than where you started!
What is romance?
Romance is an intimate expression of love. Romance is often expressed to another in mysterious, surprising, or new experiences. In the beginning of a relationship, romance is usually high as a couple’s experiences are novel and exciting. As a relationship progresses, the feelings of romance decrease unless it is consciously worked on.
Romance does not just happen. You have to plan it.
Does that sound super unromantic? I’m sorry. Romance can just happen. But it often doesn’t. And why leave something so important up to chance?
A 2014 study by German psychologists studied 245 couples between 18 to 30 years old over a period of 9 months. Here’s what happened:
- They analyzed couples’ degree of neuroticism by measuring how they reacted to possible negative life situations.
- Over the course of 9 months, they found that neuroticism decreased over time when being in a romantic relationship.
That’s because being in a relationship filled with romance literally gives you confidence. People with romance in their lives tackle challenges more head-on and are less pessimistic about challenges in their life. This is especially important if you are high on the neuroticism scale, as being romantic may even lessen feelings of anxiety and depression!
So how do we keep the fires of romance burning? I love to plan a date night at least one night a week! Here are some romantic date night ideas for couples:
- Book a reservation at a nice restaurant (ask for their most romantic seating!).
- Go on a ferris wheel at an amusement park.
- Set up an intimate board game night with your partner.
- Go to a ballet or dance class.
- Take a long walk at the beach.
- Cook a homemade meal and light some candles.
- Have a wine tasting night.
- Make a photo album of all your favorite memories.
- Have a campfire and roast your own marshmallows.
- Write poems or stories for each other.
- Prepare and have a picnic at sunset.
Don’t want to go big? No problem! Not every romantic gesture needs to be grand or expensive. In fact, the little romantic things can be more important since you can do them more frequently than date nights. Here are some ideas:
- Carry some napkins in your pocket for your partner whenever you go out.
- Wipe away your partner’s food and sweat from their face.
- Shelter your partner from the harsh summer sun.
- Leave the toilet seat down.
- Make breakfast before your partner wakes up.
- Sing or play a song for your significant other.
- Do the laundry/make the bed/take out the trash when it’s not your turn.
- Give your partner an oil massage with nice music and candles.
- Send a loving text message to your partner.
- Leave love notes around the house for your partner to find.
- Cook together.
The bottom line is the more you think about your partner and take action to make him/her feel special, the more romantic you’ll be!
Here’s a challenge for you: do one small romantic thing from the list. Then, plan and have one romantic date night with your partner!
Plan A Special Date For…
Ok, you are probably not going to like this one, but it is REALLY important. This was a game-changer in my marriage. First, let me describe the problem.
Every couple has the things they hate doing. Usually:
- Replying to wedding invitations (and figuring out what to buy them)
- Booking travel
- Calendar planning
- Doctors appointments
After work, we were exhausted…
We would talk about our day, make dinner, watch TV, go to bed, and repeat. On weekends, we wanted to relax and play. So things never got done… or we waited too long and had to do them at really inconvenient times.
Here’s the fix. Set aside:
- One 2 hour time period every week: Basic cleaning, bills, calls.
- 1 afternoon (or day if you have a lot of cleaning or errands) every month for travel, deep cleans and check-ins.
- 1 day every 6 months to do all your doctors appointments.
I know that on December 15th and May 15th, I book all of my family’s doctor appointments. Dentist for my daughter, me, and husband. Annual check-ups. Eye doctor. You name it, we do it all at once. This has been life-changing.
- No more daily nagging — Did you do xyz yet? Will you do xyz tonight, please, please, please?
- Less forgetting –– If you sit down to do everything all at once you save so much time and remember so much more.
- It goes faster — when you are both sitting in one place, with your phones and computers, TV off, you just do it better and faster.
- Less fighting — you do not fight as much because you do not miss as much.
Speaking of fighting…
Identify Your 5 Battles
Research has found that couples fight about the same 5 things:
- Free Time. Is one partner working too much and the other too little? Couples that don’t have enough time for each other often get into arguments.
- Money. Partners often have different feelings of security when it comes to money.
- Housework. Who is doing the most housework? Arguments happen if one partner is feeling the housework load is unfair.
- Physical Intimacy. Relationships are a give-and-take, so one partner may feel neglected if physical needs are not met.
- Extended Family. Some couples may even argue about each other’s extended family. Not all families get along!
The key takeaway is to identify your 5 battles. Which of these issues is the most pressing in your relationship? Write down your top 5 battles. When you’ve got that written down, here’s how to fix your fights:
- Have a new mindset: how to fight better. I want us to shift the focus to fighting “better” as opposed to fighting less. Why? Fighting better is about having discussions, not arguments. It is about respectfully hearing the other person when perpetual problems come up. It’s also a lot of pressure to try to fight less. We all want to fight less, but the point of this article is to deepen understanding and that can mean discussing more.
Find Your Childcare Strengths
If you are parents, then you have to work even harder to strengthen your relationship. Here is my best piece of relationship advice for parents:
Find your parenting superpowers.
Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. For example, I am really good at singing, arts and crafts, puzzles, and baking with my daughter. Stereotypically, my husband is good at flying her around the house, tickle parties, and running around the backyard. Great!
Once we identified this, we decided to NEVER do the other one’s strengths (unless we really wanted to). That way, we can trade places to give the other breaks. After my husband has run my daughter around the backyard, she is exhausted and ready for a puzzle with me.
We also both love to read to her, so that is our family activity. Find what you are naturally good at as a parent and stick to it—more than that, hype it up. I have gotten more into baking since having Sienna. My husband has now become an expert tickler. And best of all, my daughter is thrilled!
Avoid the Landmine
Are there topics that make you anxious? That make you fight? Some couples believe that they should cover ALL topics, and leave no stone unturned. But there’s one big problem: there are some topics that cause the other partner to feel angry, sad, or misunderstood. And the worst part? There’s no good way around it. I call these taboo topics landmines.
Landmines are triggering because your partner will feel angry whenever the topic is brought up. You’ll know you’ve hit a landmine in a conversation when you both feel like you’re only getting angrier and angrier with no clear agreement. Here’s where couples mess up: they keep bringing up these landmines.
If you want a relationship to last, you have to learn each other’s triggers and avoid the landmines at all cost! Here’s the first step:
Identify your relationship triggers. For example, I do not like to hear about terrifying global news because it makes me anxious. My husband loves to share random pieces of horrifying news. I realized this was a trigger, and we stopped it—and thus we avoided a potential landmine! What taboo topics do you have in your relationship with your partner? Here are some common ones:
- Physical insecurities
- Past traumas or bad events
- Negative news
- Lack of friends
Once you identify you and your partner’s landmines, write them down. The key to avoiding landmines is not to get rid of them—
Landmines will always be there, but the most important thing you can do is avoid them.
When you and your partner agree to avoid each other’s landmines, you’ll avoid a heated argument or a sad partner. Don’t feel bad for not coming to a mutual understanding with a taboo topic—sometimes, the best solution is to just agree to disagree and move on.
Find Your Ground
Have you ever been so close with your partner that you start to take on their ideas and say the same things? Spending time with your significant other is great, but when you start to lose your own identity, things can get a little scary. Here are a few question for you:
- Have you stopped pursuing a hobby since you met your partner?
- Have ever chosen to watch TV/cuddle with your partner/be comfortable instead of doing something you were supposed to do?
- Have you ever put your partner’s happiness above your own?
If you answered yes to any of the above… you may be losing your ground.
Here’s the thing about relationships: they are beautiful, fun, provide great happiness and joy, and are one of life’s greatest treasures. On the other hand, if you invest too much time in your partner, you’re not investing enough time in yourself.
Here’s how many long-term relationships go:
- Two people fall in love.
- They get comfortable with each other, and stop working on themselves.
- They slowly start to lose attraction for each other.
- They either learn to accept a less attractive partner… or their relationship crumbles.
And I’ve seen it time and time again, in many of my friends who’ve had long-term relationships. The reason is simple: since we already score a partner, we spend less time making ourselves more attractive to potential mates. That’s why it’s important to find your ground (and stick to it). Here’s how:
- Make a list. This list should include your favorite hobbies/activities that you like to do (which don’t involve your partner).
- Carve out “me” time. This time can be as little as an hour or two a week, but make sure you dedicate time to spend doing the things you love.
Remember, all good relationships start with two full people, not two halves.
Hopefully, by the end of your couple’s retreat, you’ll come to see your partner in a newer (and more refreshing) light than you ever did before.
Bonus: Find Your Attachment Style
Did you know there are tendencies and patterns of how we connect to the people in our lives? This can deeply affect your relationship. For example, securely attached people tend to be less anxious and more satisfied with their relationships. People who anxiously attach tend to worry more about their relationships. There are also avoidant attachers who tend to be emotionally distant from their partners. You might not even realize it, but your attachment style could greatly affect your relationship with your partner. Check out our quiz to find out your own relationship style!