Becoming A We: 4 Ways To Shift Your Thinking To Thrive In Your Relationship

One of the challenges adults experience early on in an intimate partnership is establishing the ‘we’ in their relationship. When two single individuals have spent a great deal of time living and working independently, otherwise operating as a ‘me’, the path to discovering the ‘we’ can feel complicated. Even mundane decisions like household cleaning or figuring out whose family to visit for holidays require compromise. Especially if you’re someone who identifies as self-reliant or self-sufficient, it can sometimes feel like a major shift to depend on someone in an intimate way. Whether it be grieving a loss or sharing your fears, we know that the degree to which partners are able to be vulnerable with one another and hold a space for one another significantly influences the depth of intimacy they feel in their relationship. Keep these tips in mind as you reflect on developing the ‘we’ in your own relationship.

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Opening up is hard to do…but so worth it.

What opportunities do you have to let your partner in? Take the chance to let your partner care for you when you aren’t feeling your best either physically or emotionally. Yes, you could probably take care of yourself (that’s the ‘me’ talking) and self care is important. However, letting your partner in by allowing them to care for you will help you deepen the intimacy you already have.

Discuss your visions for your future.

How do you envision your life moving forward with your significant other? What goals do you have as a couple? Developing shared dreams together can be a really intimate experience and is also a way for you each to stay connected to your passions.

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Strive for balance.

When it comes to a daily-routine and your social life, which activities will you stay involved independently and in which ones will you include your partner? Maintaining friendships and hobbies that are important to you outside of your relationship is healthy, as is making time to spend together and grow as a couple. Exploring your expectations for how each of you want to spend your free time is one of the best ways to stay on target.

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Create positive vibes at home.

Merging homes within a relationship can be a big step for many couples. Each of you likely have preferences about the way in which you keep your home, so creating space for each of your needs and hearing new ideas is an important process. When thinking about your home, consider, what do each of you need to feel relaxed and at peace?

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Becoming a ‘we’ is an adjustment, especially if you’ve been a ‘me’ for quite some time. It’s also something that more than likely no one has ever taught you how to do before. Be patient with yourself and remember, therapy is always an option if you find yourself feeling stuck.

Dear Boomers, Please Stop the Pressure. Love, Millennials

As a psychotherapist working with individuals and couples across the lifespan, I often notice situations where people are in distress due to a conflict caused by generational influence. Lately, I have come to notice an association between stress amongst the millennial generation as it relates to generational attitudes. Millennials, individuals born between the years 1977-1995 (a.k.a. Generation Y), report experiencing significant pressure about how to speed up their lives, in particular in their relationships. When exploring the source of such pressure, parents and familial influence were identified as strong influences.

Parents of millennials are likely to be a part of the baby boomer generation, individuals born between the years of 1946-1964. As every generation brings with them their experiences of critical events in history, they also have their own contemporary attitudes. It is not uncommon for parents to use their perspectives to teach their children how to navigate life’s challenges. Whether these challenges include acquiring jobs, commitment in relationships, significant purchases, building a family, etc., parents’ teachings are inherently based upon their own experiences and attitudes. This can become particularly challenging when there is a discrepancy between parents and their (adult) children. One millennial shares their understanding of the difference between generations…

“I think millennials feel the most pressure. It (the future) is on us because we want change. We stray from the boomer mindset of one for ourselves and think more openly about the collective. We’ve learned from the boomers, who really lead the way!”

Tasha, 30

Some believe their parents have good intentions yet separate motivations for building success…

“I think boomer parents try to pressure millennial children into the boxes they put themselves in to succeed…like the idea that you have to work for a corporation. Boomers saw jobs as security for their families whereas millennials don’t see money as the be-all end-all. We care about what we work for and want fulfillment in our daily jobs. The hardest part of our generation is the balance between security and personal fulfillment.”

Sarah, 30

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Others share that they feel pressured to take their parents’ preference into account in making major decisions…

“We all want our parent’s approval, especially when it comes to the people we date. I think that family and other adults have put on pressure on me to date within the religion I was brought up in. Also, being someone in a relationship for over 3 years now, a lot of adults start to ask about engagements, marriage and kids just because it seems like a logical next step. I want to get my feet off the ground, I want to travel, gain a little life experience before settling down. It’s a different generation; the baby boomers were all married with kids before 30, I just don’t see the millennial generation going in that same trend. I think it’s important that you really know yourself and are truly ready before you commit to marriage or children.”

Danielle, 22

Another shares that they accept their parents’ attitudes are different than their own and have a mutual understanding of approaching life differently…

“My parents try to influence my dating decisions but it doesn’t necessarily work. I understand that they’re from a different time. They got engaged in college, married at 23 and had two kids by my age. They don’t really understand our generation’s trepidation for marrying early, and that’s okay. Would they prefer I settled down earlier? Of course. Are they happy I’ve taken my time to find the right person to eventually settle down with? Absolutely.”

Thomas, 28

How do you believe generational patterns influence you? Feel free to contribute your ideas and comment below.

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**All participants’ names have been changed to protect their privacy in their quotes above.

Texting, Sexting and All Thing Tech: How to Use Our Devices With Love In Mind

We’ve all done it and we’re all guilty of it. Enjoying and utilizing our devices. It’s impossible not to these days. Whether we are expected to be on-call for our employer or we are having a rapid fire texting conversation with a friend, it’s hard to distance ourselves from our ever-so-smart phones, tablets and laptops.

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Honestly, it’s very hard to make a case as to why we should distance ourselves from our devices. Especially when we are often rewarded for being technologically savvy; knowing how to use our devices to share or acquire information via the internet is a skill. There are millions of jobs that have been created in technology, social media and marketing because of the fast-paced internet driven world we live in. So I’m going to tell you to put your devices down. Rather, my hope is to share with you a few ways we can use our devices to turn up the heat in our relationships!

Turn up the heat with a thoughtful message. Randomly sending your partner a quick message or leaving a voicemail lets them know that you’re thinking about them. Be sure to include a specific reason…”I just heard about this awesome new exhibit and I know how much you love contemporary art. I couldn’t help but think of you. Hope you’re having a great day!”

Snap a photo to spark the warm and fuzzies. See a cute puppy or mural on your way to work that you know your partner would adore? Take a quick photo and send it to them to let them know they’re in your thoughts. Just be careful to hold off while driving!

devices 3.jpegSpeak their language. Is your partner an avid baseball fan? Find out when his or her team is playing and check the score midway through the game. Shoot your partner a text letting them know you’re glad their team is up by 4 or you’re sorry their boys are getting slammed, will certainly catch their attention.

Reminisce about the early days. One of the greatest features about our devices is that they are capable of backing up and storing our messages (if we want them to). If possible, upload your message history and revisit a time when you and your partner did not know each other as well. Print out a segment of your messages and read through them together. It will be a nice surprise and you can share your reactions about what you were like back then. **If you don’t have a history of messages or emails, simply share a memory of how you experienced one another during courtship.

Anticipate their company. Let your partner know you are looking forward to seeing them later (or whenever you expect to see them next). This builds anticipation for you and them, which will make reuniting feel that much more exciting.

There are plenty of ways to use our devices to spark excitement and rev up the romance in our relationships. A little bit of mindfulness can go a long way when it comes to the way we text/call/beep/or snap. Having a tough time remembering to message your sweetie? Try setting a reminder on your device or marking your calendar to use one of these tips!

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What To Do When Your Best Friend Tells You Their Relationship Is Falling Apart…5 Practical Tips

Relationships are never a cake walk. Even people in the strongest, most secure relationships experience an ebb and flow amidst challenging life events, family stressors, conflict cycles and emotional hardship. The odd thing is, our culture encourages us to keep these aspects of our relationships private, continuing to fuel the widespread myth that relationships should always be sunny and effortless.
So, when your friend comes to you and tells you that his or her relationship is crumbling to pieces, it may come as a surprise. Whether you’ve known they have been struggling for a while or not, it may be confusing for you to know quite what to do or say to your friend.
5 Practical Tips To Keep In Your Back Pocket:
1) No matter how fired up or distressed your friend may seem when he or she shares the news, remember that nothing is permanent until it is. Your friend may be stressed out and believe it is the end of their relationship, but this may just be a rough time for the couple. Be patient and sensitive to his or her feelings and remember that it is better to act cautiously about any final decisions.
2) Whatever you say, avoid bashing your friend’s partner. Nothing good ever comes from spending hours bad mouthing exes. If anything, it will create more negative energy. However, do allow your friend to vent about how their relationship stress is impacting them, if they choose to.
3) Keep this information private unless instructed otherwise. Sealing your lips will demonstrate that you respect boundaries between your friend and his or her partner’s relationship, which also shows maturity. They must work out their own issues independently. Getting involved may create more problems than solutions.
4) Offer up an activity that you both enjoy. Hiking or walking in the park (with or without dog), ordering in comfort food, catching a flick, rock climbing, going to a karaoke bar, shopping at your favorite boutiques or thrift stores, grilling out in the yard and attending a sporting event are all great options and may be neutral distractions. Your company is most important, so leave choosing the activity up to your friend.
5) Stay Connected. Now, more than ever, your friend needs you to be a friend and a considerate one. So, all that emotional supportiveness you tuck away when you’re throwing back a few and hanging out, now is the perfect time to open that box and bring it back out. Whether it means checking in with your friend via phone or text message daily or allowing them to crash at your place for a couple of days, your actions will speak volumes.
You know your friend best, so if there is something they particularly look for from you (your sense of humor, innovative ideas, passion for adventure, creativity, etc), this is the perfect opportunity to let it shine. They’ll appreciate your efforts more than you know.

The Beginner’s Guide to Energetic Love

Energetic Love has the capability to transform our relationships. This stems from understanding that love is not simply a noun – a product of something we create, but also a verb. Love is an ongoing and evolving process. Energetic love is the act of loving (with energy).

We energize our love by increasing our awareness of ourselves and our partners and through this insight, we are able to love more intentionally and authentically. Energetic love also implies that loving itself requires energy, which is true. Love is an active process and one that does require our body, mind and spirit. If we love without energy, it may not be as sustainable or meaningful.

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So, how does one practice Energetic Love?

Balancing individual and interpersonal awareness with proactivity. Examine what is going on internally and externally in your relationship:

  • Consider your own understandings of love; think about this as your love template. How do you feel loved? If you have a partner, how do they make you feel loved? How do you express love to others or a partner? What ways does your partner feel love and express love? Gary Chapman’s book, Love Languages is an excellent resource for understanding how we “love” one another and receive love ourselves.
  • Fill in the blank. When we understand that our partner feels loved by _____ we can use this information as an opportunity to speak their language in the way that we act (using energy).
  • Embrace imperfection. We are human and cannot possibly do everything right all of the time, no matter how nice that would be. When we make mistakes such as forgetting an important date or to unload the dishwasher, it is important to acknowledge these moments and use them as learning opportunities. Consider saying to yourself or your partner, “I am not perfect, but I will try to ________ in the future”.
  • Forgiveness. We do not always show up in our relationship the way that we hope to and our partners do not always show up for us the way we hope they will. When these moments occur, embrace the disappointment, sadness or uncertainty that follows and direct your energy into a conversation on how to be more on target next time.

There is great wisdom that can come from our interpersonal awareness of how we love and experience love. When we are not getting something from our partners that we need in order to feel loved, we ought to communicate that in a benevolent way. When we are not loving our partner in the way that they need, we can use this information to channel our energy into more productive and meaningful loving.

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How do you practice Energetic Love? Feel free to share your ideas below!

How Long Should I Wait Before Having Sex With My bumble Date?

The decisions you make about your body are entirely yours. Sex included. stocksnap_iagn87yfpzOften after going out with a new special someone, we chat with our friends, coworkers or family about the experience. Then what happens? Opinions. Lots of them. These people who are close to us impart their ideas about the date (or series of dates), “He took you where?” or “She said what?” and then we download a new perspective entirely. See how easy it is for our inner circle to influence our decisions…

Let’s make this decision YOURS.

Sex brings up a lot for people whether it be intense emotions, past experiences, ideas about commitment, concerns about STIs/unplanned pregnancy, body image, cultural understandings and religious beliefs, etc. If you consult every person from your inner circle, they may each give you different answers based on their own beliefs.. making it more complicated than calculated. What matters most is what you believe and whether you feel prepared to engage sexually with this other person.

The right time to have sex for one person is unlikely to be the same for another, so there’s no quantitative one-size-fits-all answer.  However, here are a few of my favorite questions to consider when making your decision:

Can you talk about being intimate while you’re not in the heat of the moment?

Discussing what you desire in an intimate relationship with your date, while you are fully clothed and sipping coffee, can be just as sexy as that steamy kiss you shared last Friday night. Think of this as foreplay for your brain. It also helps clear up any expectations you each may have.

If you were sexually intimate right now, what do you imagine that would be like for you?

Sometimes new (sexual) experiences are exciting and other times they feel scary. If you notice that you feel uneasy about having sex right now, I’d encourage you to embrace that and not make any decision that doesn’t feel right to YOU. Identifying the source of the discomfort can be helpful to determine: What might help you feel more comfortable? Many people feel anxious about having sex because they worry about unplanned pregnancy or contracting an STI. One strategy to yield the nerves would be to talk with your partner about your beliefs about contraception and plans for safer sex. Pro tip: Make your next date a trip to the local clinic to get tested together for STIs.

What are 5 things you like about this person that are not visible to the naked eye? 

This one may sound silly, yet it is important to like our partners if we are taking stock in exploring their bodies sexually. Now, maybe you don’t feel that being “in love” is a prerequisite for sex, totally fair.  However, if you are going to be trusting your body with someone (and during sex, trust is involved), finding 5 things you can appreciate about him or her should be easy to do. Think about it this way: if you knew your date didn’t like you as a person, would you still want to be with them sexually?

What are the tradeoffs of waiting to be sexual?

If sex were a car and desire were gasoline, then distance is desire’s gasoline. That first moment when you greet your date after nearly a week and you’ve been thinking about one another frequently, KABOOM! Those few days apart (that distance) is what makes your first interaction feel so powerful and exciting.

So maybe you both have been kissing a lot and that feels good right now and you are considering taking things to the next level sexually, awesome. Here’s a question: if you waited a little while longer (maybe a day or a few more weeks), what would you gain instead? Often when I ask this question, people seem confused but their answers usually reside with closeness, greater confidence, a deepened sense of trust, more developed commitment, increased awareness & Desire, Desire, Desire. stocksnap_to66ycnjnjTaking the time to really understand the person you swiped right will likely enhance your sexual experience in the long run, keeping the anticipation flowing until you are both ready to embark on this sexual expedition.

5 Things to Remember Before Bringing Your Significant Other Home for the Holidays

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Holiday season is among us –a time of year that is most traditionally known for its cheerful spirit, prevailing gratitude and generosity. So why does bringing your significant other along make you want to run? Sometimes things that are supposed to be exciting like Thanksgiving dinner or holiday parties with the entire family are particularly stressful.

Let’s say you are anticipating that your mom is going to comment on how you still haven’t lost the “freshman fifteen” you have been hanging onto since college and your dad is going to try to have a serious conversation about your future, suddenly the upcoming holiday celebrations don’t sound so exciting. Add a stubborn grandparent, a dysfunctional aunt and uncle and a younger cousin who always boasts about their achievements in your face to the mix. Sounding fun yet?

So bringing your special someone as a guest to your family holiday celebrations might stir some things up for you and that is a-okay. Here are some tips to help you survive this holiday season riding the love train and not the stress express.

  1. Give Them A Scouting Report. Run through everyone your significant other will be meeting so it will feel less overwhelming when they walk in the door. If there are a lot of names to remember, try using a pen and paper to draw out the family tree or look at family photos.
  2. Make an S.O.S. Plan, Just In Case. Intentionally plan for stressful moments to happen. This way, you adjust your expectations so you can work together if sh*t hits the fan. For example, if you know certain topics (i.e. the election) will cause your special someone’s blood pressure to skyrocket, discuss an exit plan for you to step in if they are feeling overwhelmed. On the other hand, if you have beef with a relative, now is the time to tell your S.O. which person “not to piss off” and in what circumstances you might be on edge or need some extra support.
  3. Expect ALL Of The Relationship Questions: How long have you been together? Where did you meet? What was your first date like? Relatives love to ask about your relationship for a million reasons, especially those curious younger children. So, prepare yourselves in advance by playing the “20 Questions” game to help one another feel confident in your responses.
  4. Review The House Rules. Rituals and traditions are important to some families. If your family says Grace before Thanksgiving dinner and your guest is not religious, let them know so they can decide if they want to participate. Make sure to give your S.O. the heads up about any topics that are off limits or whether foul language is permitted.
  5. Beware of Sensitivities. If your S.O. is super introverted or has a low tolerance for large groups of people, you might consider initiating one-on-one conversations with a few of your relatives who share common interests as opposed to a table with everyone. Or, if you know your family members are carnivores and your partner is vegan, now might be a good time to talk about bringing a Field Roast or some dairy-free eggnog.

Just remember to introduce your guest… Ahead of time! Tell your family about your S.O. by sharing your top five favorite things about them. Keep it brief, but make sure you emphasize that they will be coming with you to the celebration and it is important to you that they feel welcomed. Plus, the host will appreciate this as they are probably taking a head count for dinner and will want to know much food to prepare.

Now, you are ready to relax and enjoy the holiday season!

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Dare To Be Direct.

Are you and your partner swimming in circles when it comes to making decisions? No need to let indecisiveness ruin your relationship. Consider trying direct communication.

Sharing what you want directly will likely help your partner understand exactly what you are looking for and how they can play a role in making that happen. Here are some pro-tips for delivering a direct request:

1. Identify what you are seeking from your partner/lover. Is it quality time, problem solving, listening, some perspective, a fun adventure, etc.?

Figuring out what it is that you want first is key. If you are clear on what you want, this will boost your confidence when it comes to the next step.

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2. Spell it out for them (with words). After all, we are human, not telepathic. We will be more successful if we let our partners know exactly what we are looking for from them as opposed to expecting them to guess what it is that we want.

This is the difference between saying:

“Hey babe, I’d really love to take a walk and get some mint-chocolate chip ice cream after dinner”

& “Hey babe, what would you like to do after dinner?” (while secretly hoping our partner suggests ice cream).

When we wait for our partner to catch up with us (a.k.a. read our minds), it can take awhile or worse, we become upset that they don’t understand. Stating exactly what you want will keep them in the know and prevent misunderstandings.

3. If you catch what you’re seeking, what will that bring you? Sometimes it can be helpful to share with your lover the significance behind your request.

Consider these examples:

“I’d really like if we could spend the afternoon just the two of us because quality time would make me feel appreciated and relaxed”

“I’d prefer if we could go to the grocery store and run errands in the morning so that I am not worrying about it later on when we are at the show”

Sharing the why behind your request may actually help your partner attune to it better, especially if they know that the impact will lift you into a brighter mood.

4. Practice.

The best way to become skillful at these requests is to deliver them often and check in to see how they are working. When you share your request, what feedback are you noticing from your partner?

Paying attention to how your partner responds when you are communicating directly will be essential to your future success. Are they understanding you? Do they have your undivided attention or distracted with other things?

What tone of voice works best? Maybe  your partner hears you better when you speak with them in a calmer voice or maybe it is when you use a more vibrant tone. These are clues to pay attention to and practice.

Dare to be direct (in communicating). You’ll be thankful you did!

If you’re still feeling stuck, consider consulting a couples therapist for some relational skill building on the topic of interpersonal communication.

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Conquering Conflict @ Your Boiling Point

We all have limits, metaphorical boiling points if you will. You surely remember, those moments when in any relationship your friend or partner is continually toying with lighting a match and turning on the burner underneath you. Maybe it shows up as your friend will not back off from challenging your political ideas or your availability to attend their bachelor party the same weekend as an important event scheduled at work. Perhaps it shows up as your partner reminds you to put the dishes away, pick up your laundry from the floor or pay bills after you have had a trying day at the office.

Such moments are often described as frustrating or intense and can contribute to overall stress. Let’s say your base layer of stress is already at a 7 out of 10, it doesn’t take much for someone to turn up the heat another notch. What happens next?

In my experience clinically, the most common reactions I see are a combination of something in between these scenarios:

  • The feeling many people describe as “I just cannot take it anymore!” comes over and then you explode at your partner, yelling at them and perhaps saying things you do not mean that are hurtful. This fighting continues and creates tension which then becomes distance between you both.
  • The presence of negative self-talk “I can’t do anything right” emerges as we draw away from the relationship and blame ourselves, internally sulking and de-sensationalizing. This type of conflict might appear as one or both people become reclusive or initiate the silent treatment.

So maybe you identify your own pattern of dealing with conflict, however similar or different from these examples. Now return to your boiling point, remember what that felt like. What’s happening within you right now?

Neurologically, here’s what is actually happening in your brain and why it might be hard to communicate clearly…

There are two areas in our brain that are centrally activated during our interactions of conflict – the limbic area or emotional brain, which includes the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Within the limbic system, our amygdala appears petite, yet it can have a powerful impact as it is responsible for responding to fear and rage. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) orchestrates thoughtful decision-making abilities and is our source of reasoning and good judgement.

When we are in the midst of an argument with a partner or friend, perhaps fearful of what may come of the interaction or we become angered by the threat of feeling attacked, our amygdala reacts and takes charge. Simply put, our emotional brain takes over making it very difficult for us to communicate clearly to our partners and friends. This makes sense because thoughtfulness in this moment would require sufficient PFC functioning. Mona Fishbane, PhD., clinical psychologist and family therapist, describes this limbic area activation as “the low road” of reactivity and the PFC activation as “the high road” of thoughtfulness in her application of neuroscience to her psychotherapy work and in her book, Loving With The Brain in Mind, which is an excellent resource for couples.

So, in order for us to decrease reactivity and increase thoughtfulness during moments of conflict, the PFC must communicate with the amygdala to calm it down (the brain is wired for this process to occur). We can activate this process in our PFC by engaging in calming behaviors – think diaphragmatic/deep breathing, meditation, a short walk, time to recollect, reflection, releasing tears, calming thoughts.

When we engage in calming behaviors during intense moments where our emotional brain has taken over and our PFC has gone off-line, we can actually open the pathway of communication between our PFC and amygdala, bringing our PFC back online. While these processes take time to learn and integrate into our daily lives, they are effective with the right amount of coaching and support. Perhaps you may find psychotherapy to be a useful outlet.

The Power of Choice

Now, return to that boiling point one last time. Your blood is feeling as if it is boiling, you’re annoyed and you can feel the heat. Maybe you’re on the edge of conflict and it’s uncomfortable for you or maybe you are cycling your way through it, but here is some good news. You have the opportunity to choose what you want to do in this moment and how you want to react. What route will you take?

Be Your Own Valentine.

Not feeling the love this Valentine’s Day? That’s okay. You’re not alone.

February’s frigid temperatures and scant sunshine have had a history of dampening spirits, requiring us to really dig deep if we want to stay motivated and connect to our loving intentions. Throw in the task of trying to figure out a special way to celebrate Valentine’s Day and too often we are left with a pile of stress.  It’s a shame that a day focused on love can create such chaos. As you shop for a great gift, plan the perfect evening, or indulge in your favorite chocolates, consider these reflections…

Open your heart and your mind.

If your date doesn’t go according to plan, just know that some of the greatest love connections blossom in the moment, spontaneous or random moments that would not be nearly as meaningful if they had been planned. Trade in your blueprint of the perfect evening for possibility. The possibility of what happens in between perfection and paranoia. You might be surprised, perhaps even exalted.

Love isn’t in the air, unless we surround ourselves with it.

It’s highly unlikely that we will suddenly feel a ton of love unless we choose to create love in our lives. We might have to be extra mindful or bundle up a little tighter to make those opportunities happen in the winter season, but ultimately, love requires our energy and attention.  When we make conscious efforts to treat others in a loving way, we open our hearts to receiving love.

Celebrate efforts and love often.

If you ask people in happy relationships they will likely tell you that love does not just happen on one day of the year- it happens every day if we want it to last. Love requires us to be thoughtful, respectful and kind to our partners all the time as well as having patience and a sense of self-awareness, which cannot be cultivated overnight. Expressing gratitude for the time and energy we’ve invested into our relationships reminds us of what it truly means to love and embrace love.

Self-love = the greatest gift of all.

Cupid may want everyone to feel the romance on February 14th, but if that’s not where you’re at, that’s totally cool. Take this opportunity to treat yourself with extra love and do things that promote love in your life. Maybe it’s a bubble bath or a sauna session, seeing a movie, rock climbing, or reading a good book and a homemade meal is just what you need.

However you decide to spend Valentine’s Day, choose something that feels completely right to you. Treat yourself if you want, and relax if you don’t. Everyday you have the chance to be your own valentine, so what will it include this year?