I have to start out by immediately clarifying: therapy is incredible and it’s completely transformed my life. Personally, I like to shout from the rooftops how much I love my therapist, and how working with her over the past few years has totally transformed my life and how I live day-to-day inside my own mind. My therapist has been there for me since my first date with my now-boyfriend. She’s seen me through saying, “I love you,” for the first time, meeting his parents, taking him home to Texas to meet my family, and so much more. But when, after a year and a half of dating, we decided to move in together, we started to wonder if we could benefit from having a session together. I thought when I mentioned this to my therapist, she’d be over the moon to have us both in. But it turns out, she had a plan for us to avoid couples’ therapy all together.
Since my boyfriend and I are both so used to having our individual weekly sessions, our minds naturally drifted to the idea of couples’ therapy before any other option. It all started a little over a year into our relationship, when I started to notice that we were both feeling kind of stale. As a result, our communication suffered. We were both in the midst of a lot of life changes, and we were figuring out how to balance our personal careers with this new life we were building together. My boyfriend was starting a new business, I was switching jobs, and in just a few short months, we’d be living together for the first time. Neither of us had ever lived with a partner before, and it started to get in our heads a bit of what that would mean for us as a couple. In the back of our minds, we were wondering if it was the right time to move in, or if it was one of those things where the timing would never be “perfect” and you just had to jump into it. But in New York City, you don’t really have the opportunity to wait for when the timing is right; you’re more or less chained to when your lease is up. Evidently, we were left feeling like we had no control. Most of our fights were about not seeing each other enough during the week, but did that automatically mean we were ready to move in together?
Like any couple, my boyfriend and I have vastly different communication styles. I like to bring up problems the second they arise and have the energy to tackle any issue at any point in the day. My boyfriend, however, likes to wait until he’s fully processed his thoughts to bring things up to me. It bothers me because more often than not, I can tell something’s wrong, and I usually end up bugging him until he finally breaks down and shares. When I told this to my therapist, she said that, of course, if couples’ therapy was something we really wanted, we could come in — but after hearing what we were going through, she didn’t think it was necessary.
Instead, she told me about a date idea that she often suggests to her clients who are married with children. Basically, the parents go on a date once a month where they aren’t allowed to talk about the kids at all. This sounded nice enough, but we didn’t have kids, so I didn’t see how this applied to me. But alas, my therapist is a true genius, and she quickly shared how my boyfriend and I could tailor this idea to our relationship.
On date night, she encouraged us to avoid talking about work. And it wouldn’t be just any date night — she also gave us a structure to follow. We’d begin by showering each other with compliments and love, then tackle our concerns and issues, and end with a fun activity. Ending on a positive note would help us feel like we had a successful and loving date night. Here’s how it went for us.
Plan A Date Night Where You Aren’t Allowed To Talk About Work
Conversations about work have been a trigger for me in our relationship, since my boyfriend is self-employed and the lines of work and his personal life are super blurred. When we finally saw each other at the end of a long day, I wanted us both to be able to put our phones away and focus on each other, but he didn’t always have that luxury.
On our date night, since we weren’t allowed to talk about work, I got the attention from him that I had been craving. It was a very easy opportunity to talk about what we both needed from each other going forward.
Start By Complimenting Each Other And Saying What You Appreciate About Your Partner
My therapist suggested that we open up the evening on a positive note, so it would be easier to dive into any concerns later. We took turns sharing little things that we appreciated from the other person that happened recently. I acknowledged both the big stuff and the small, even down to the really sweet text message he sent earlier that week. The point of this was for us to show us that all the nice things we do for each other are noticed. They add up and make us appreciate and love each other even more.
Then Go Into Any Relationship Concerns
Remember in Broad City when Lincoln and Ilana had a yearly check-in on their relationship over dinner and agreed to new “rules” and what they both needed to be happy? This is kind of like that. Once we made each other feel safe by showering each other with compliments, we went into anything that was concerning us. In this space, I was able to really expose all the lingering nerves I still had about moving in. Because my boyfriend was just complimented, he was able to really listen to what I was saying without being on the defense. The same happened when it was his turn to talk; I burst into tears (happy ones!) when it was time for him to shower me with kindness, so by the time he brought up his issues, I really felt safe and open to hear what he had to say.
End By Doing Something Fun
Because the vibe can easily get killed when you’re airing out your relationship concerns, you want to make sure to end on a high note and have some fun during the date, as well. For us, we finished out the evening asking each other some of the New York Times’ 36 questions that guarantee you fall in love. I loved hearing what constituted a perfect day in my boyfriend’s eyes, and I loved even more providing my own answers. It was an easy and lighthearted way to end the evening, and since we were already in love, answering the questions was pretty low-stakes and we could just have fun with it.
Doing this date night routine in its entirety really allowed us to tackle the issues and fears we had around our decision to move in together. By the end of it, we were totally exhausted. I’m glad we did the date routine at home over takeout, because I cry super easily and wanted to be in the comfort of my own home. All it took was my boyfriend to say one nice thing to me for the floodgates to open and turn me into a weeping mess. It’s comforting to know that the next time a huge issue pops up, we have a plan in place to figure it out together.
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