Lost that loving feeling this Valentine’s Day?

Three books to strengthen your relationship this Valentine’s Day

Does it surprise you that Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular days to get engaged? Whether you are just engaged or in a long-term relationship, you don’t want to lose that loving feeling. No matter what day of the year it is, you want a harmonious and long-lasting relationship.

Marriage and loving relationships can enrich our lives in so many ways. But we cannot take our relationships for granted. If we don’t nurture them, they won’t last much longer than a box of chocolates or a vase of roses.

This summer, my husband and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. Through good times and bad, our connection to each other has deepened. Over the years, I have read books about relationships to strengthen the bonds of our marriage.

No matter what stage of a relationship you are in, below are tips from three books that have impacted my relationships: The Desire Map, The 5 Love Languages, and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

How do you want to feel in your relationship?

Love. Seen. Connection. Harmony. Passion. Comfort.

In The Desire Map, Danielle LaPorte asks us to step back and look at all areas of our lives. One of the key life areas is relationships and society. Satisfying relationships are the key to our whole lives. Here are a few questions from The Desire Map to ask yourself about your romantic relationship:

What am I grateful for? I’m grateful for this because…

What’s not working? I’m dissatisfied with this because…

How do you want to feel in your relationship?

To feel how I want to feel in my relationship, then what do I need to do, experience, and have?

The key feelings I want to feel each day are known in the Desire Map process as core desired feelings. In my marriage, I try to combine my wedding vows with my core desired feelings.

At my wedding, I vowed to live a life of love, laughter, and adventure with my husband. To feel “deep connection,” one of my core desired feelings, nurturing our love is essential. (The techniques from the two books below help me to do this.) I also try to feel curious and creative to find ways to add laughter and adventure to my life. A ping pong table purchased for Christmas has been a great way to add laughter and play into our family’s life.

Learn a new language: your love language

Have you heard of the book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Dr. Gary Chapman? As the book’s title suggests, there are five different love languages. Everyone has a primary and secondary way that they prefer to receive love.

If you know your partner’s two love languages, you can understand what they need from you to feel loved. This knowledge is especially necessary if you don’t share the same languages. My love languages are quality time and physical touch. Until I read this book, I did not understand that my husband’s acts of service were the primary way he shows his love. As he craves words of affirmation, I tell him as much as I can how much I appreciate all that he does for me.

There are several ways to determine your love language. You can take a free quiz. Read the book. Often the ways that you like to show your love is also how you prefer to receive love back. Or read the descriptions below of the five love languages:

Words of affirmation

If this is your love language, you need compliments — verbal and written — to feel appreciated. Bonus points if you sometimes compliment your partner in front of other people. A toast to someone at a party is a perfect example of public words of affirmation. Insults or puts downs harm a person with this love language more than other people.

Valentine’s Day tip: Write your loved one words telling them how much they mean to you and why. Be as specific as possible.

Acts of service

If this is your love language, actions speak louder than words to you. You feel loved when people do favors for you. You appreciate when someone else does tasks for you like cooking a meal, taking out the trash, or doing the laundry. Acts of service do not have to maintain gender stereotypes.

Valentine’s Day tip: Give a coupon for a service or services you will do for them. Or do a task and leave them a note or send them a text to let them know you took care of it because you love them.

Receiving gifts

For people with this love language, gifts are visible symbols of love. When they receive a present, they know that the person was thinking of them when they purchased the gift. If you worry that this love language could get expensive, it is the thought that went into the gift not the cost of the gift that matters.

Valentine’s Day tip: Normally, I do not like how commercial Valentine’s Day is but in this case make sure you give a tangible gift.

Quality time

Those who value quality time crave undivided attention. They understand that time is one of the precious gifts they can receive.

Valentine’s Day tip: A date where you focus all your attention on them. Yes, that means putting your phone away.

Physical touch

Welcome and appropriate physical touch is the final love language. Holding hands, hugs, kissing, sitting close together, or a foot rub are all possible ways that a person with this love language. This language is about way more than sex.

Valentine’s Day tip: Make sure you touch them when you leave and come back together today (and every day).

Want your marriage to endure? Seven Principles for you.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John M. Gottman Ph.D. offers scientifically-proven techniques to improve marriages. It all boils down to learning how to have an emotionally intelligent marriage.

John M. Gottman knows his stuff. He is a psychology professor at the University of Washington who has been researching romantic couples for more than 40 years. In less than five minutes, he can predict whether a couple he is observing will divorce with 91% accuracy.

According to John Gottman, there are seven principles for an enduring marriage. Below is a basic explanation of all seven:

Principle 1: Enhance your love maps.

In other words, be intimately familiar with each other’s worlds, know what makes them tick, and to know their hopes, fears, and dreams.

Principle 2: Nurture your fondness and admiration.

This is the primary antidote to contempt, which can ruin marriages. Fondness and admiration are both crucial to a long-lasting romance.

Principle 3: Turn toward each other instead of away.

If your partner bids for your attention, affirmation, love, or connection you need to notice. If you miss it, this is known as turning away. Bids need to come from both spouses.

Principle 4: Let your partner influence you.

If you do this, you can move from “me” to “we” and stop viewing your relationship as win or lose.

Principle 5: Solve your solvable problems.

There are two types of problems in marriage: perpetual and solvable. Solvable problems relate to situations. If you can find solutions to your solvable problems, you are better equipped when future problems arise.

Principle 6: Overcome gridlock.

Gridlock relates to perpetual problems in a relationship. The solution is to find the hidden motivation behind the problem.

Principle 7: Create shared meaning.

When you get married, you are two people coming together to create something new together. Some of the ways Gottman suggests include creating rituals, goals, and symbols.

To learn more about the seven principles, I strongly recommend visiting the Gottman Institute.

Beware of the Four Horsemen and treat them with proven antidotes.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman points out four dangerous behaviors that can destroy relationships. If we know the four behaviors, we can prevent ourselves from falling prey to them.

Dr. Gottman calls the dangerous behaviors the four horsemen. They are:

  • Contempt: #1 predictor of divorce
  • Criticism
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling

Watch this 2-minute video from the Gottman Institute for prescribed antidotes to the Four Horsemen.

Homework to strengthen your marriage

John Gottman assigns homework to couples he works with to strengthen their marriages. It takes just minutes a day totaling five hours a week. I’ve added in the love languages that each homework assignment could meet.

Weekly date: 2 hours once a week.

This is the most time intensive of his homework assignments. If you have young kids, your weekly dates might not all be able to be out of the house.

Love languages: quality time, words of affirmation and physical touch. Whoever schedules the date or childcare provides acts of service. I’m sure you could sneak small gifts in too.

Partings: 2 minutes a day x 5 work days

Before you head off on your separate ways, try to know at least one important event that is happening in their day.

Love languages: Quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch. You could sneak a note with words of affirmation or a token into their bag or car.

Reunions: 20 minutes x 5 work days

Have conversations at the end of the day to debrief and reduce stress.

Love languages: Quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation.

Admiration and appreciation: 5 minutes a day x 7 days a week

Over the course of the day, how can you show your admiration and appreciation for your spouse?

Love language: Words of affirmation

If you and your spouse have core desired feelings, you could also find creative ways to incorporate those into this homework as well.

Why not use the FREE Soulful Habit tracker to track your homework?

Still curious?

The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts

I love the podcast By the Book. Hear Jolenta and Kristen’s experience living by the The Five Love Languages for two weeks.(February 8, 2018)

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

Find a Gottman Institute trained certified therapist


Kelsey Cleveland is a Desire Map facilitator who helps women in transition figure out how to set goals based on how they really want to feel. She is also a freelance writer who writes articles, essays and blog posts and is working on a book-length memoir.

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