Affection is just like artistic creativity. When artists start out, they’re pushed forward by a surge of feeling. “I MUST express myself!” But after a while, in real-life artists who produce a real body of work don’t wait for that surge of feeling before they start working every day. They just go to work. And then the feelings happen. That’s what makes them different from unproductive amateurs who don’t get much done.
It’s the same with affection. When we’re first falling in love with someone, the need to give affection takes us over. But over time... Well, over time most of us prove to be amateurs. We continue to think it’s all about waiting for those feelings to happen before you act. The pros know different.
They know that affection in a post-honeymoon relationship is something you do, and if you do it, that’s how you guarantee the feelings will keep coming.
So right off the bat that’s Rule #1 for keeping affection alive and well in your relationship. Do it. Just do it. Every day. Rain or shine, emotionally speaking.
After all, imagine if you had a rare and beautiful bird who sang the loveliest songs imaginable. You would feed it every day, even on days when you didn’t feel like it, even on days where your bird had clawed your drapes to bits.
Now I said, “Just do it.” What’s that “it” I’m talking about? Affection has more dimensions than most of us may think. You want to get them all in there, just the way a really great meal not only tastes good but smells good, looks good, and feels good in your mouth.
So let’s think in terms of things we all should do.
Rule #2. Show appreciation. The fundamental thing we say that means love is some version of: “Gee, you’re terrific.” Or “I cherish you because...” Appreciation is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to love. In fact, “I love you” without a strong and deep and broad base in appreciation is something very hollow. This is why taking the other for granted is such a major crime. It’s depreciation! So what you do here is have as your goal to say or do something that shows real and specific appreciation just about every time you interact. On a phone call: “It’s nice to hear your sweet voice.” In a conversation: “That’s a really good idea!” When you’re going out: “You look really nice in that outfit.” On a Friday night: “I really appreciate how hard you work.” It could just be an expression of gratitude: “Thanks for emptying the dishwasher.” A net of constant small appreciations is way, way better than the occasional over-the-top greeting card.
Rule #3. Touch your partner throughout the day. Think: a symphony of small caresses. A shower of casual kisses. A routine of random hugs. Yes, timing and occasion are important, and people’s preferences vary, but most couples’ day-to-day lives together are a desert of these little physical demonstrations of affection. They cost nothing, and the return on investment is better than anything you’ll find on Wall Street.
Rule #4. Listen. There is no more powerful expression of affection than this: when your partner starts talking, you drop everything and give them your full attention. Yep, that’s the rule: attention = affection. Keeping in mind that inattention = disaffection. You give affection by paying attention. That’s it: I’ve run out of ways of making this point. Now it’s in your hands!
Rule #5. Be supportive. We’re all limping in one way or another. Struggling to make it in some part of our lives. In what part of your partner’s life are things a particular struggle, either this very day or during this period? Wherever there’s a struggle, the thing you do to provide support—from showing encouragement to taking the kids out for the day—will be just about the most affectionate thing you can possibly do.
Rule #6. Make time for your partner. Time is the blood of life. Every part of our lives that doesn’t get time dies. And yet when it comes to our partners, giving time seems the one thing that’s most postponable. But it isn’t. It’s just the way relationships die before we even know there’s a problem. The only way to make this point seriously is to say: Go out of your way to make time for your partner, on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. That’s the only way it’ll happen.
Rule #7. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Let’s say you come home totally exhausted on a Friday night. You’re thinking of spending the whole weekend lying around the house. Which would you appreciate more: your partner greeting you with the prospect of whisking you off to a fancy ski weekend or your partner offering to go food shopping so you can totally rest all day Saturday and Sunday? The fancy ski weekend may be the much, much better gift, but the food shopping will be much, much more appreciated, because you’ve put yourself in your partner’s shoes. The fertile soil out of which productive affection grows is the time you spend thinking about your partner as they really are, the way they really live, in terms of what they really care about. Nothing says affection more than showing you’ve thought about your partner.
Follow these seven rules and you’ll immediately be in the top 1 percent of couples. If there’s too big a hurdle of anger and resentment to get over first, you’ll definitely need Why Couples Fight.