I Don’t Forget to Wear My Red Dress; He Always Brings Me Flowers

red-dress-flowers-0212134This Valentine’s Day I’ll put on a red dress, organize my work day so I have a nice, long break, and meet my husband for lunch. The next day is our anniversary, which we’ll celebrate with family, and then we’ll party again Sunday with just the two of us at our favorite local French restaurant. This is our 33rd Valentine’s Day together and our 32nd wedding anniversary, so we’ve had a lot of practice and know how to celebrate.

When we first met, we were immediately attracted to each other; we knew the relationship would be important, but we were both careful because each of us had been married and divorced. You might be wondering what went wrong in our first marriages. The answers are commonplace—all four of us were too young and immature to sustain a relationship or choose the right partner, and our families did not provide us with good examples or support. Although each of us decided to divorce our first partners, we both felt like failures. Even when divorce is the right choice, it is difficult.

Since our first marriages weren’t successful, we took it slow. Although our values were similar, our backgrounds were different, and we knew that could be a source of problems. Most important of all: I had a young son to protect.

So we waited a year—actually, one year and a month—and got married the day after Valentine’s Day. Everything went really well at first, but after a few years things got hard; we were both under familial and economic pressure, and our different backgrounds no longer seemed so interesting—in fact, they were the source of arguments. Now, some people say never go to bed angry, and that sounds like a good idea if you can do it, but speaking for myself, I sometimes went to bed angry, dreamt angry dreams, and woke up even angrier the next day. My husband and I had to learn how to fight—to state our opinions, stand up for ourselves, censor those nasty hurtful remarks that don’t lead anywhere good, to fight clean and then let it go. No arguing by phone, email, or text; it’s too easy to fling daggers, to inject short, mean one-liners that might feel satisfying in the moment but are destructive. Disagreements can be magnified when you’re not in each other’s physical presence. You need to see your partner’s face, look in his or her eyes, and feel his or her emotional reactions. Don’t rehash old history, either, and avoid prolonged, angry silences.

Life together started looking grim to both of us, but we knew the realities of divorce and didn’t feel like a replay; we thought we could work things out together. We were determined. So we stuck it out, learned how to communicate better about our likes and dislikes, and studied up on the importance of compromise. It seemed far away, but we remembered that we loved each other. Even when we were angry, my husband gave me flowers every single Friday, and I always made him fresh bread.

We also both took long, close looks, first at each other, then at ourselves. Maybe it should have been the other way around—we might have looked at ourselves first. What were we each bringing to the other? What could we leave behind? It’s easy enough to see your partner’s faults, but how about your own? One of the great values of a long marriage is the ability to look at yourself in the context of a steady and reliable other. You can learn a great deal about yourself and give yourself a shakeout and cleaning as you take responsibility for your disagreeable attitudes. It gets very important to learn how not to wound the other person, to learn how to say things people may not want to hear but say them in a way that is useful, so they can take those things inside themselves and digest. Don’t wrap your statements in sugar, be honest, and be kind, too. Let me repeat: Always be kind, learn to hear what other people have to say, and say things in a way the other person can hear. Having a therapist helps, even if you’re a therapist yourself. An outside person brings clarity.

This sounds like a lot of work. Is it worth it? I think so. We’ve been married a long time, and the hard times were over long ago; our love keeps growing, and we have plenty to say to each other—in fact, more now than in the past. Our closeness is still developing—amazing as that may seem considering how long and how well we know each other by now.

Two last things to make your relationship last: First, change things up. Try doing things differently. Learn something new together. Vary your routines—it’s healthy for yourself and your marriage, too. Secondly, flirt.

Six Basic Components of a Successful Relationship

  1. Mutual attraction
  2. Similar values
  3. Determination to keep love alive
  4. Kindness
  5. Celebration
  6. Put on your red dress; show up with flowers

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Shan

    Shan

    February 12th, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    Flirt! I love it! And this is actually one of my husband’s favorite things for me to do because those of you who are like us who have been married for a while know that to keep it alive you have to work on that marriage all the time! What better way to do it than to flirt like you did when you were dating? It makes things fun, keeps things sexy and gives you some excitement even when you might not feel like it. I don’t know about you but I want to know that I am loved and I know that my husband does to, and this is just one of the ways we can keep things light hearted and fun.

  • Old enough to know better

    Old enough to know better

    February 12th, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    This is beautiful.
    And makes me sad.
    Because we don’t have this.

  • bella

    bella

    February 12th, 2013 at 4:43 PM

    Great story! Thanks for sharing!

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    February 12th, 2013 at 5:39 PM

    Hi Shan-
    Thanks for writing your feelings and sharing the fun!

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    February 12th, 2013 at 7:57 PM

    Hi Old Enough-
    I’m sorry you don’t have this– and encourage you to try.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    February 12th, 2013 at 7:58 PM

    Ciao Bella-
    Thank you!
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Dave

    Dave

    February 13th, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    Life is hard and marriage is hard, and I have found that one thing that couples who get divorced loses sight of is how much they actually did once love each other. But it’s like they forget or just stop trying to impress their partner.

    Why is that? Why do we think that we have to stop trying just because we get married? I am always trying to find new ways to show my wife how much I love her and I think that she is always trying to do the same thing for me. It doesn’t always have to be something romantic, but there are so many ways that you can show her that you care.

    And those are the little things that he or she will always remember and realize that they would miss if the two of you are not together.

  • Gavin

    Gavin

    February 13th, 2013 at 2:46 PM

    Never is it harder to think positively than during an argument.Although my control over anger is not something to boast about,I have learnt to ask myself if I really want to hurt my wife, the woman I love so very much. That thankfully helps me calm down or even take a time out, but it stops me from saying something unpleasant and that is all that matters.

    It’s easy to lose control in such a situation but a little strategy can help in a big way.So I encourage all of you to employ your own little strategy and help your marriage and yourself :)

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    February 13th, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    Well said, Gavin and Dave- sounds like you know how to make marriage work. Good for you, and thanks for sharing your strategies.

  • P.L

    P.L

    February 13th, 2013 at 11:59 PM

    Oh marriage is not an easy road. It’s not just about the fun and frolic and the song and dance..It’s also about the commitment and effort, it’s also about the undying love, and its also about making sacrifices. If we can remember this we can all help us and our partners. Happy Valentines day.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    February 14th, 2013 at 11:27 AM

    Happy Valentine’s Day, P.L.- and all who read this.

  • Natalie

    Natalie

    February 14th, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    It gets on my nerves to see how some people just take their marriage and their partner for granted.All the wooing comes to a screeching halt,the candle lit dinners go extinct and all that’s left is daily chores with no stepping outside of the routine.Marriage needs work and effort and people need to understand this,Especially the ones who think they are capable of taking up this responsibility in the first place.Yes marriage is definitely a responsibility!Think deep if you can invest into the responsibility people.Keep the fire alive,enjoy your marriage.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    February 15th, 2013 at 4:51 AM

    Yay Natalie- you’re right- use your imagination and keep the fire alive!

  • barry

    barry

    February 15th, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    now I know how our marriage and relationships turn out depend a lot on the compatibility with our partner.but as you have suggested – it is important to not lose temper, to be careful and treat you partner with kindness and respect – what if both the partners are bad at doing that? shouldn’t it cancel out?I mean if I say nasty things to my wife and don’t really mean it and she does the same, wouldn’t it mean we both understand that the other did not mean it, and be okay with it?

    I would like your perspective on this because I am someone who has a hard time putting a lid on my temper and saying things out in the heat of the moment.If my future partner is similar to me or at least someone who knows and understand I don’t mean it ,then would things be okay?

    Thank you.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    February 16th, 2013 at 7:19 AM

    Hi Barry-
    Good question- You ask, “if you both react in anger and say nasty things you don’t mean, do you in effect cancel each other out, since you both do the same thing and know you don’t mean the things you say?” So is it OK to just say anything?

    I don’t think so. I think it’s key to learn how to express your anger without going on the attack. This takes a long time and lots of effort, but it’s worthwhile. Learning to treat yourself and others, especially your partner, with “kindness and respect,” as you say, is key to a good and long lasting relationship.

    If you both serve each other a poisoned cupcake, you both get sick. Better to take cooking lessons together and learn how to serve up a healthy meal.

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