As Andie from “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” would shriek in horror: “You let our love fern die! Are you going to let us die???”
First of all, what a great movie.
Second of all, Ahh, the honeymoon phase. The period in a new relationship when text messages incite anticipation, couples spend time together in enthralling activities like ax-throwing and wine tasting, and we delight in getting to know the endearing quirks of our potential long-term partners. We spend time getting to know someone until, eventually, we decide to take it to the next level.
When couples move in together and the attachment bond is set, the script can suddenly flip. Text messages that once sent a shiver of excitement through our bodies now serve as begrudging reminders to pick up items from the grocery store, feed the dog, pay the bills, and take care of errands. The daily text from our partner asking us if we need anything from the store feels less like a thoughtful gesture and more like an automated message. Date nights spent at restaurants, concerts, and other riveting venues are now spent more frequently at home Netflix-and-chilling while we scroll mindlessly through social media. The once-adorable idiosyncrasies of our partner now grind our gears.
In the honeymoon phase, it was thrilling to watch our relationship bloom. Moving in together was a culminating moment in which our relationship was at “peak flowering.” From that point on, however, we tend to get comfortable, and we may notice that our relationship starts to “wilt.”
Neglecting a relationship is one sure-fire way to ensure its end. Divorce attorney and HelloPrenup’s Co-Founder and CEO Julia Rodgers cautions, “It is easy to get into a routine and start taking each other for granted after years of being together. This can be particularly true after years of marriage. You may wake up several years in and wonder how you got to this point, you are bored, and the spark seems to be long gone. This is when you need to put in the most effort, and if you do, your relationship will likely be stronger than ever before.”
When you find yourself in one of these predicaments, simply water the plants.
When we water our plants, we pay attention to our relationship. We notice subtle changes like our partner feeling down, extended time without showing physical affection, or a growing list of incomplete chores. In those moments, we need to act quickly to care for our relationship, for if we don’t, it may wither and die. Like the love fern.
Just like a home may gather dust, bacteria, and mold, so too, can our relationships develop a funk whose stench pervades other realms of our lives. In a time where date nights may be limited due to social distancing protocols and venue closures, couples may need to resort to creative measures to nurture their relationship at home. We suggest using household chores as a way to water your plants — both figuratively and literally.
Yes. Seriously. Chores. That thing you and your partner, and every other human being on this planet despises.
Chores can amplify the often monotonous vibe of a long-term relationship. They can also become a burden if expectations aren’t set from the beginning and communicated explicitly, or if one partner is pulling more of the weight.
Let’s look at a few household chores and reframe them as opportunities for nurturing your relationship. It is always a good idea to make decisions founded on your shared values as a couple. With each chore, we’ll emphasize a shared value for you and your partner to identify with and talk about how to turn once-drab household chores into opportunities for sustaining your partnership.
We’re starting with…you guessed it…growing a garden!
What better way to “water the plants” than by literally doing it? Partners who attempt to grow a garden together typically approach the project through the shared values of patience and tenderness. Couples who find themselves getting easily frustrated with each other’s nuances may benefit from the obstacles that inevitably come with gardening (i.e., dry spells, downpours, and garden invaders). A walk in the garden when you both get home from work can be a great avenue for catching up with each other and acknowledging the slight growth in your surroundings and in your relationship. It encourages celebration of the small, special moments in life. Through nurturing seeds to germination and beyond, we can learn to approach our partners with the same tenderness.
The couple that cooks together, stays together.
Cooking together can be as dramatic as a Shakespearean play…way more entertaining than whatever Netflix show you’re not watching as you stalk celebrities on Instagram. A couple’s outlook will determine whether the experience leans more toward comedy or tragedy.
Those who enter the kitchen with a commitment to their shared values of courage and creativity may find their relationship reinvigorated by creating a physical representation of their love. The kitchen is a great place to try out new flavors or cooking methods, which can encourage us to try other new experiences in our relationship. The process of paying attention to ingredients and technique is like learning how to speak a new love language, which can be both frustrating and exhilarating. It’s also a great place to make mistakes, laugh about them, and show grace towards one another. If couples can learn to laugh at themselves when the stakes are low, they will be less likely to punish their partners with resentment for perceived mistakes or flaws. If comedy and tragedy aren’t on the menu, put on a romantic playlist to set the vibe!
Sundays are for dance parties.
How many Sundays have you woken up to a stinky trash can, full kitchen sink, overflowing clothes hamper, and mildew-covered shower curtain? Not exactly a great way to start your Sunday Funday. Great way to initiate an argument of who was supposed to do what and when. While approaching a giant list of chores can feel daunting and deflating, adding an element of entertainment can channel shared values of playfulness and spontaneity. When you can create diversion and novelty in your home, you disrupt the monotonous, stagnant fog that tends to hang chronically over a relationship. Additionally, you end up having so much fun that the experience serves as a reminder of your collective ability to dance yourself out of any gloomy relationship funk. What about creating a shared Spotify playlist in order to switch up the mood from chore to chore?
Sometimes, you just have to let things unfold.
There are two chores couples struggle with the most: prenups and laundry. Just kidding, kind of. Folding clothes is hardly the most painful of all the chores, and it is particularly conducive for talks that require shared values of curiosity and openness. The minutes we spend straightening out our clothes can be a great segue into a conversation geared towards straightening out our conflicts.
When we start to bring up a topic that is sensitive or triggering, that tends to activate our nervous system. Many couples struggle in keeping their relationship alive because they stop bringing up topics that might set off an argument. While they may keep their frustrations inside, it’s hard to contain resentment.
Having difficult conversations is essential to nurturing our relationship. For those of us whose nervous systems get particularly activated in conflict, it can sometimes help to grapple with a palpable object as a means of transferring excess energy. This tactile aspect can also aid us in our processing. Just as we can learn how our partners stow their different categories of clothing, we can also pick up on how they process and make sense of different experiences, and respond accordingly.
Bills, bills, bills.
Can you pay my bills?
Can you pay my telephone bills?
Do you pay my automo’ bills?
Anyone? Anyone? Yes, It’s Destiny’s Child. We love pop culture references here at HelloPrenup.
Moving in together and owning a home typically comes with a whopping pricetag. Money can be a contentious subject in a relationship, especially when it comes to a prenuptial agreement (more on money personalities in a relationship here) When you think of contentious, you might imagine rigidity or defensiveness. If you find yourself swapping out date nights for major household repairs, mortgage payments, and utility bills, it may be challenging to find creative ways to “water the plants.” Turning the end-of-the-month bill session into an opportunity for nurturing your relationship involves flipping the default nature of financial conversations. We advise approaching bill-paying sessions through the shared values of thoughtfulness and generosity. Use the session as a time to discuss your greatest dreams for the future, and to make steps toward achieving those goals. Want to buy a house? Put together a realistic plan on how to get there. Want a prenuptial agreement? Check out HelloPrenup.com. See? It’s easy!
But in all seriousness, using the monthly “bill paying night” as an opportunity to talk about goals makes it less about losing and more about future planning.
All it takes to nurture a wilting relationship is an eye for turning bland, routine moments into opportunities for connection and fun. When two people in love can develop that mindset, their relationship functions like a garden that can weather any elements that threaten its livelihood.
So in the next moment when you find yourself bored, irritated, and uninspired with your relationship, look to your partner, look to the home you share together, and instead of complaining or starting the same old argument, extend an invitation to grow.
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