Tag Archives: Gretchen Rubin

Why Personality Tests Are Useful

Lord Voldemort

Lord VoldemortI took a personality test recently. It was one of those memes circulating on Facebook in which you are told which Harry Potter character you most resemble based on your Myers Briggs personality type.

Mine was Lord Voldemort. According to this quiz, Voldy (a classic ENTJ) is all about “ambition, leadership, and borderline-ruthless rationality.” I was momentarily disheartened. I mean, seriously, who wants to model themselves on Lord Voldemort? (My 24 year-old niece, a huge Harry Potter fan in her day, quickly rushed to assure me that Voldemort’s not all bad).

At first –as I am wont to do when confronted with a personality profile I don’t like – I decided that the test was wrong. Until not one, but both, of my children (who seem to be agreeing more and more about me of late) nodded their heads emphatically and said “Oh, You’re totally Lord Voldemort.”

This most recent brush with my inner Voldemort gets at a deeper truth. One of the reasons I like doing personality quizzes is that they don’t just reveal things you are good at, but also force you to confront things that you might not like about yourself.

The latest typology out there that drove this point home for me is Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies. Her typology is quite different to Myers Briggs –  it’s all about how you respond to expectations, both external ones set by others and internal ones you place on yourself.  This yields four types (someone really needs to study why personality tests always cluster into fours…)

There are the upholders – those who respond readily to both outer and inner expectations, questioners who question all expectations and will meet an expectation only if they believe it is justified, obligers, who respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to met inner ones and rebels, who resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. (Take the Four Tendencies quiz here.)

Once you look more carefully at the characteristics associated with each type, it’s not difficult to attach them to people you know.

I was having lunch the other day with a friend, for example, and when I asked how her husband was doing she responded: “Oh, you know, he wakes up every day and no one tells him what he has to do. He has complete freedom. So he’s really happy.” (He’s a rebel, I thought to myself.)

My daughter falls into the obliger camp. She’s superb at following instructions if given an assignment by one of her teachers or told by one of her coaches to start running twice a week to keep in shape. But she can sometimes struggle to hit targets she sets for herself, like reading a certain amount each day or practicing her instruments regularly.

My son is totally different. He is great at doing anything he decides is a priority. I can’t remember the last time I had to remind him to do his homework or to practice his violin. But if the school decides that the boys need to wear a certain tie or tap in with their student ID card when they arrive each day? Then, not so much – unless that external rule conforms to his internal view of what is appropriate. He’s a questioner.

I am definitely an upholder – someone who, as Gretchen puts it – wakes up and asks “What’s on the Schedule and the to-do list for today?” On the upside, upholders tend to be punctual, reliable and self-directed. They are excellent at meeting deadlines. (Rubin is one herself.) But they also struggle in situations where expectations aren’t clear or the rules aren’t established. Because they feel compelled to meet expectations, they tend to feel uneasy when they know they’re breaking the rules, even unnecessary rules, unless they work out a powerful justification for doing so.

In my own case I take this tendency one step further. I tend to walk around with what I call a panel of elders – a semi-circle of aging wise men whom I imagine to be collectively monitor my every move. And so when I confront a setting – as I did quite recently – where what’s expected of me isn’t entirely clear, I super-impose my panel of elders onto the situation at hand, imputing a set of rules that I decide need to be followed, but which may not even exist. Worse, I chastise myself relentlessly if I can’t follow them. (Yes, I’m insane. But it’s all a response to fuzzy rules.)

I often think that growing up isn’t so much about adopting a wholesale change in who you are as it is about learning how to champion your strengths and recognize and combat your weaknesses. Stated somewhat differently, personality tests help me to improve myself, over time.

Oh God! Is that an upholder trait?! Help!!

Image: Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter) by Hersson Piratoba via Flickr

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Improve A Long Term Relationship

two gannetsOn occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s post goes to the heart of keeping a long-standing relationship going. If you’re in one – whether with a partner, a spouse or even a roommate – you know that over time, things can get a bit stale. You start having the same fights over and over. You start completing your partner’s sentences, in a way that breeds boredom rather than intimacy. You know – with agonizing specificity – exactly what the other person likes to eat for breakfast.

So it’s time to shake things up a bit. Change the routine. And also change the way you act towards the other person. You’ll be surprised how well it works. Here are five concrete suggestions for how to do this:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50….

Image: Northern Gannets by Al Wilson via Nature’s Pics Online 

Welcome To RealDelia 2.0

Hello and welcome to the new RealDelia.com!  Notice the snazzy new logo? Matching social media icons on the sidebar? Testimonial and Connect pages? Tasteful yellow accents when you click on the Menu?

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’m not much of one for makeovers, at least when it comes to my own sorry-ass self.

With the blog, well, that’s different. I’d been thinking about giving the blog a makeover for some time now. But  – heeding the advice of many veteran bloggers out there – I wanted to focus first on building good content and a strong readership before expending any energy on enhancing the blog’s look.

But after two years of blogging continually (the 2 year anniversary was January 29th!) I decided that it was time to dress for success.  So I re-designed my website late last month. And today, February 14, 2011, I hereby present you with RealDelia 2.0.

I apologize if you’ve had a hard time getting onto the blog over the past week or so. Speed bumps are inevitably part of this process and we hit a few last week. I’m sure there will be a few more technical glitches before this whole thing is over. So I hope you’ll be patient.

Please have a look around the site and explore. Truth be told, it  isn’t *all*that different content-wise from what I had before. But hopefully the look is a good deal more personalized and professional. Over time, my hope is that I can do a whole lot more with it.

I also wanted to say a few thank yous while I’m at it.

First, to my old friend Gretchen Rubin of Happiness Project fame, who shared her wisdom and insight about blogging with me when RealDelia was just a twinkle in my eye. It was Gretchen who encouraged me to think broadly about this blog’s subject matter and helped me to arrive at “adulthood” as my theme.  Gretchen has had huge and much-deserved success with her own blog and I continue to learn from her every day.

I also wanted to thank the amazing team at Shatterboxx Media, Jamie and Nicole – who came to me via another fabulous blogger, Communicatrix.  They were punctual, professional, personable and – most of all – incredibly open to my numerous suggestions and changes as we went about conceiving a new brand identity for RealDelia. I absolutely love my new logo.

While I’m at it, let me also give a HUGE thank you to my wingman in Chicago, Josh Andrews of Lackner/Andrews. Josh built the site and is responsible for its amazing functionality. He held my hand through the entire process – from the minute I first pondered a re-design all the way through to writing this very first post.  He is knowledgeable, friendly, proficient, and above all, very  patient. If you are in need of a social media consultant, you can do no better than Josh.

Finally, I wanted to thank all of you. It’s Valentine’s Day today, which is normally a time that we think about that special someone. But my oldest brother – who’s a reference librarian and knows a whole lot about a whole lot of things – informed me that in Finland, Valentine’s Day is called Ystävänpäivä (the Finnish word for friendship), and thus Friend’s Day. Unlike many other countries where Valentine’s Day is mainly a day of “Romance,” in Finland it is also the day when close friends send cards and gifts to each other to commemorate friendship.

So because I’m a sucker for all things Finnish, let me raise a virtual glass of bubbly to Jamie, Nicole, Josh and all of you – the readers of RealDelia – who make this whole blogging thing so special for me, day after day.

To friends!

Image: Champagne by ali wade via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. Sorry to be a party-pooper, but I couldn’t help but lead off with my own Scrooge-like take on all the royal wedding coverage over here in the U.K. at www.PoliticsDaily.com.

2. After the British government announced that it would be collecting data on the subjective well-being of its citizens earlier this week, The Guardian’s Tim Dowling came up with some sample questions.

3. Here’s the marvellous Gretchen Rubin over on The Huffington Post with 9 zany assignments to break up your ordinary routine. I *love* the idea of talking for 15 minutes without using the words “I” or “me.” (Good blogging advice too!)

4. Also love, love, love this cartoon at The Oatmeal about what it’s like to work from home, especially the bit about its effect on relationships.

5. Take a look at Erin McKean’s insightful piece in The Boston Globe about what phrases like “I hate to tell you” really mean.

6. Finally, the week wouldn’t be complete without this hilarious piece by Brittany Hunt at The Miscellany News about how to date a Women’s Studies major. (Hat tip: Salon Broadsheet)

Have a great weekend!

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You Think Like A Man

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

A few weeks ago, I posted a link to a quiz on the BBC website called Sex ID that purported to let you know whether you think like a man or a woman. (Warning to those who have yet to take it: the quiz lasts about 20 minutes.)

If you managed to make it through this quiz, you’ll know that a lot of the tasks that they have you do boil down to whether you’re good at reading maps and judging the angle of parallel lines (more typically male traits) vs. whether you can read people’s expressions and identify with them (more typically female traits.)

I’ve since been informed via The Guardian that a new study is out showing that behavioral differences between the sexes are not, in fact the result of fundamentally different wiring in the brain, but rather the result of societal expectations.

Be that as it may (and I’m sure that this is one of those debates that will rage into eternity and beyond), I’ve been giving the whole male vs. female thing some more thought since taking that quiz, where I scored (huge sigh of relief?) as a prototypical-thinking woman. Here are some further indicators I’ve come up with that shed light on whether or not you think like a man:

1. You like reading instruction manuals. While I’m quite sympathetic to Gretchen Rubin’s admonition over on The Happiness Project to read the instruction manual, there is a distinction between doing something because you *ought* to do it and doing something because you enjoy it. I hereby submit that I absolutely hate reading instruction manuals and – as a result – have spent many a frustrated moment by either failing to consult them ex ante or failing to save them somewhere useful ex post. My husband, in contrast, has an entire file full of instruction manuals for virtually every single appliance in our house. Not only does he consult them regularly, he actually seems to enjoys it! And instruction manuals in video form are even better, as with this video on how to take apart and re-assemble my new Brompton folding bicycle. Hey, it’s your funeral, as they say…

b. You like to talk about gadgets. I’ve posted many times on this blog about my husband’s penchant for gadgetry. I don’t think that’s an inherently male trait – many of the things he’s bought for us have been hugely useful and I like them as much as he does. But there’s using them and then there’s talking about using them. And I’ve noticed lately that guys like to spend an inordinate amount of time cataloging, describing and comparing gadgets in a way that women don’t.

c. You read David Pogue’s column in the NYT religiously. Which brings us to a corollary of (b) – David Pogue’s technology column in the New York Times, Pogue’s Posts. Don’t get me wrong. If I’m in the market for a new cell phone or a digital camera, I turn to Pogue first. The guy is unbelievably knowledgable about technology and a terrific writer to boot. But as generic reading material on the order of “Here’s how I’m going to spend my breakfast?” Not so much. Whereas my husband is glued for hours.

d. You like playing strategy games. This may have actually been one of the questions on the BBC quiz; I can no longer remember. But since taking that quiz, my son and I happened to open up Othello, a game that one of his friends gave him for his birthday last year. It’s one of those deceptively simple games that actually requires an enormous amount of strategy on the part of the players. If you’re like me, you take the easy route on this game, maximize your winnings as you go, and ultimately lose. If you’re like my son or my husband, you look like you’re losing all the way along but at the very last minute you win because you’ve been thinking like 6 moves ahead the whole time. (Ditto Settlers of Catan, the greatest game of all time.)

e. You (still) like assembling Legos. Someone recently gave my husband one of those adult Lego kits. It was a model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Falling Water home (see above), a painting of which is hung in our living room. I think Legos are really cool, especially this new architectural series. But, much like gadgetry, it’s something I’d rather admire than actually build. So if this had been given to me as a present, it probably would have languished somewhere in a closet, taking up space on my never-ending “should” list. Whereas my husband spent weeks with the kids building this house, which now adorns the mantle in our living room right in front of our picture. (He’s in good company, btw. Apparently, to kill time during a recent trip abroad, English football legend David Beckham confessed that he spent a night in a hotel constructing The Taj Majal.)

As I read this over, I realize that it may provide more of an insight into my marriage than it does into generic male/female brain differences. Then again, I do think that having a division of labor is key to a happy marriage, so maybe that’s a good thing!

Image: falling water lego side by happy via flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Tips For Adulthood: How To Be Less Impatient With Your Kids

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I offered suggestions for how not to over-parent. This week’s list addresses a different parenting dilemma:  how not to lose patience with your kids.

Because we’ve all been there, right? Those ready-to-pull-your-hair-out moments are the very stuff of raising children. Your daughter won’t eat a thing at dinner. Your son refuses to practice the piano.  She won’t wear anything in her closet. He’s chronically late. As parents, sometimes we’re tempted to throw our hands up in despair and just…scream.

In our household, the latest please-don’t-let-me-strangle-you issue is bedtime. I recently read about a study which found that what matters when putting your kids to bed isn’t so much what you do (e.g. nursing, telling a story, reading a book) as how you do it. When the mother did those actions while feeling warm and positive, the baby slept well, on average; when the same types of things were done by a mom who was irritable or brusque or distracted, the children were more likely to sleep poorly.

But lately, because my kids have had some trouble adjusting to the new house…the heat…the sunlight…the everything, they haven’t been going to bed easily. Which has made me, well, “irritable and brusque” might be putting it mildly.

That’s not the parent I want to be. So here are five strategies for not losing patience with your kids when they aren’t doing what you want:

1. Tell yourself it’s a vacation. When you’re on vacation, anything goes. You stay up late. You lie in bed. You read novels and eat tons of food. The normal rules don’t apply. That’s precisely what makes it a vacation. Lately, I’ve tried employing the same strategy when my kids won’t go to bed on time. Even though they’re still in school (British schools have a different holiday schedule than the U.S.) I tell myself that they’re already out of school so that I don’t get tense when they’re up past their bedtime. Because if we’re already on vacation, who cares if they’re up late? (I used the same strategy when I took a week off of blogging to send my novel out to agents. I treated the week “off” sort of like a sick day so that I wouldn’t feel guilty about not blogging.) The idea is that by changing your expectations, you change your behavior.

2. Leave the room. Literally. Or the house, if another adult is there. This is a particularly good strategy if you feel yourself losing your temper and don’t want to blow your stack. Go into another room and give yourself a time out. Or go for a walk. The distance itself will help you cool down.

3. Change the incentives. This follows directly from Gretchen Rubin’s 8th Happiness Commandment, “Identify the Problem.” For a long time, my kids used to eat breakfast right when they woke up. That was fine, except that it meant that when we went upstairs to get dressed, something invariably went wrong (usually with my daughter, who’s exceptionally fussy about what she wears). And so we’d end up barely managing to get dressed, brush teeth, brush hair and get out the door to school without a major blow-up. Then one day a light bulb went off. What if they got dressed first? And they wouldn’t be served breakfast until they had their clothes on? Boy, did that minor tweak in our morning schedule change behavior. My son now flies into his clothing so that he can dive into that bowl of cereal. My daughter still takes way longer to get ready, but rarely so long that it makes us late. And I’m much less irritable as a result.

4. Count backwards from a four digit number. This is a new one to me but a friend swears by it. You pick a number – any number, but it has to be four digits  – and count backwards by at least five. It’s sort of like the proverbial “count to ten” rule one often hears with regard to managing children’s tantrums, but apparently the complexity of the numbers and needing to go backwards makes it more effective.

5. Identify with them. Sometimes when I catch myself being frustrated by my kids’ behavior, I try to remember an instance where I behaved similarly in my own childhood to see if – by identifying with them – I can feel less annoyed. This is obviously a tough strategy to implement when you’re in the thick of a conflict, but it can be profitably employed when you sit back and take a long-term view of a situation. My son’s been going through some peer-pressure related stuff of late and I found myself getting exasperated and just wanting to go in and “fix” his social life. And then I remembered a time when my parents expressed dismay about my friendships and how frustrated I’d felt that they didn’t understand where I was “at” at the time. And once I did that, I immediately felt much less impatient with my son.

How about you? What strategies work for you when you want to be less impatient with your kids?

Image: a sleeping kid by mitikusa via flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1.Well, folks. Sandra Tsing Loh has once again knocked it out of the park. Here she is in The Atlantic, talking about how women these days are married to their houses.

2. One of the main ways that I stay connected to U.S. politics (and American pop culture) is by watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. If you’re also a fan, then you’ll also love this interview with Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee in Salon about Bee’s new memoir.

3. Like Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project fame, I also embrace novelty and love working with others. Be sure to read Gretchen’s post on the power of creative collaboration, which includes a link to the comic she co-created with Chari Pere entitled “Gretchen Rubin in The Quest for a Passion.” Lovely.

4. If you follow the World Cup – and even if you don’t – you must watch this hilarious rendering of last week’s famous World Cup match between England and USA…in lego. (Courtesy of The Guardian)

5. Finally, another must-see video of what the help desk was like in the Middle Ages.

If you enjoy my Friday pix, please do follow me on Twitter! I’m there posting links like these all week long!

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Continuing Education: The Importance of Experimentation

I went to a three-hour lesson on pod-casting on Sunday afternoon. It was the first in a two-part course I’m taking at London’s adult learning centre, CityLit. The course is designed to introduce beginners to the art of internet broadcasting.

I’m a big fan of taking classes in adulthood. Since moving to London four years ago, I’ve taken classes in fiction writing and acting. In Chicago, I took classes in freelance writing and memoir. And once, many moons ago, I took a class in beginning Hebrew (not to mention the continuing ed. class to end all continuing ed. classes: I’m Jewish, You’re Not.)

According to a report released jointly by the Penn State University Office of Outreach Marketing and Communications and University Continuing Education Association in 2006, up to 45 percent of colleges and university enrollment in the United States is from adult learners. Revenues for continuing education rose 67 percent at the institutions surveyed in this report from 2004.

People go back to school as grown-ups for lots of different reasons. Sometimes, it’s to pursue a hobby. You try something new (or return to something old.) You meet new people. You get out of your comfort zone. Above all, you have fun. (And yes, for the record, I’m still eyeing that course at CityLit entitled Actors Singing From West End to Broadway.)

Sometimes you go back to school because you need to re-tool professionally. From 2008 to 2018, the labor force is projected to grow more diverse and have more workers age 55 and older. Simultaneously, the highest-paying jobs – those that require at least a bachelor’s degree – are expected to increase at a rate faster than that of overall job growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. So it’s  a good bet that we’ll be seeing more Americans – particularly boomers – sharpening their pencils and buying new notebooks as they gear up for a second or third career.

But the main advantage of adult education is that it enables you to experiment. Chris Brogan – guru of all things social media – talked about this recently. Brogan thinks about experimentation in terms of labs. (He’s currently experimenting with a new travel site called Man On The Go.)

His main point is that experimentation is crucial to growth. Why? Because you test drive new ideas. You collaborate. You enjoy the fun of failure, as Gretchen Rubin likes to put it. Above all, you create ideas of your own, rather than just reporting on the ideas of others.

Which is why I’m learning how to podcast. I’m not yet sure exactly how I’ll incorporate podcasting into my life, and whether it will be more of a hobby or something that I use in work. But I have a few ideas. More importantly, I know that if I don’t start experimenting now – creating a lab, as it were – I’ll never find out.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll be the next Cezanne

*****

Apologies that my weekly tips for adulthood post did not appear yesterday. Due to the editing schedule over at www.PoliticsDaily.com, that particular post will come out next week.

*****

And speaking of Politics Daily, be sure to check out my post today on the new Pro-Islam ads running in London. It’s kind of the UK’s answer to the whole “What Would Jesus Do?” campaign. Except that it’s “What Would Mohammed Do?” Check it out…

Image: Podcasting by hawaii via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Five Ways To Stay Positive While You Move

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

We’re moving in exactly one week. And so I’m pretty single-minded right now. When I’m not actually doing something connected to the move, I’m thinking about the move.

I’ve fessed up before to just how very much I hate moving. (Some would say irrationally so. I name no names.) But I’m also trying to take my own advice from last week’s volcanic ash crisis and remind myself that “Ce n’est pas gràve.”

And it really isn’t all that “gràve.” In fact, there are a lot of positives that emerge when you move house and they aren’t just the simple pleasures of decluttering.

In that spirit, here are five ways to stay upbeat during a move:

1. Reconnect with your kids’ childhood. One of Gretchen Rubin’s four splendid truths is that “The days are long but the years are short.” She employs this principle to capture what it’s like to be a parent:  how those long, seemingly endless days of reading Good Night, Moon and potty-training dissolve – overnight – into adolescence. Her point is that you really need to savor your kids’ childhood while it lasts because while it may feel long in the day to day, it’s actually fleeting. (I had this same realization last year while re-reading Peter Pan with my daughter.)

Moving helps you to savor their childhood. Because of the many things you unearth as you re-open those frightening storage containers that you hid in the depths of your closet when you first moved in are the myriad art projects, report cards, essays and birthday cards that your kids have done over the years. My own favorite was a picture that my son drew when his (quite progressive) nursery school did a unit on Martin Luther King. I’d forgotten all about this picture, which used to hang above the desk in my old office. It depicts a sort of Monsters, Inc.-style version of MLK addressing an audience with a disproportionately large microphone while saying “I hope that one day Black people and White people can be friends.” Priceless.

2. Reconnect with your own past. You may not have any kids. But you’ll still be forced to take a trip down memory lane as you yank stuff out  of those dusty old cupboards. I found a pair of my father’s orthopedic shoes. He left them here on his last visit to London in October of 2008. We saved them so that we could give them back to him on his next visit. But he never came back. He died, suddenly, of a heart attack in March, 2009. Back when he was alive, I hated those shoes. They were large and clunky and a visible reminder that the body of a man who used to take jump shots in our driveway well into his 50s was slowly giving out on him. (It ended up giving out on him much more quickly than we expected.) But seeing those shoes again actually made me happy. They were a tangible reminder of his presence in our lives. And I needed that.

3. Allow yourself to let go of the *shoulds*. I’ve written before about how many of us go through life tethered to an endless list of things that we feel we ought to be doing, yet never quite manage to accomplish: making photo albums, reading the Bible, joining a gym. During the course of going through my files the other day, I came across some notes from a Hebrew class that I took while pregnant with my son and which I’ve schlepped around with me for (gulp) ten years. The thought was that some day I’d get my act together and really learn Hebrew. Well folks, I still haven’t let go of the goal of figuring out my relationship to Judaism. But I think that I’ve finally acknowledged to myself that despite my best intentions, that process will not entail learning Hebrew (a least for the foreseeable future.) Toss. Ditto my hopes of ever actually using that over-sized fish poacher that we got for our wedding. After twelve years doing noble service as a de facto spice rack, I think it’s finally time for me to dispatch that particular item from our lives. Phew.

4. Imagine new vistas literally and figuratively. One of the most exciting things about moving is that it offers the prospect of a whole new neighborhood to discover. There will be new cafés, new book stores, new dry cleaners – not to mention new neighbors!  I love change so imagining these things is always a way to motivate myself when I just don’t feel like calling the Gas company to request new service or whatever arduous task lies at hand. It’s a bit like singing My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music, if you’ll forgive the cheesy Musical analogy. And change in one’s physical scenery can also furnish a new take on life psychologically. Out with the old and in with the new, and all that good stuff. I really believe that.

5. Trust that things will be better once you make it to the other side. Like childbirth, if you really remembered all the gory details, you’d never move more than once in your life. And yet, most of us do it several times. So, yes, moving is painful but it also does come to an end. And when the clouds part, there’s a whole new world to explore.

*****

For those of you who’d like to hear my latest thoughts on this unbelievably exciting British election, please head on over to PoliticsDaily.com.


Image: Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King by zug55 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Improve A Long-Term Relationship

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s post goes to the heart of keeping a long-standing relationship going. If you’re in one – whether with a partner, a spouse or even a roommate – you know that over time, things can get a bit stale. You start having the same fights over and over. You start completing your partner’s sentences, in a way that breeds boredom rather than intimacy. You know – with agonizing specificity – exactly what the other person likes to eat for breakfast.

So it’s time to shake things up a bit. Change the routine. And also change the way you act towards the other person. You’ll be surprised how well it works. Here are five concrete suggestions for how to do this:

1. Make a small gesture. Happiness blogger Gretchen Rubin lists “Give Proofs of Love” as one of her resolutions. By which she means that it’s as important to demonstrate your love to someone else as it is to love them. Perhaps even more important. There are lots of ways to show someone you love them. You can buy them a new car. Book an appointment with a career counselor. Decorate their room with their favorite things. But you can also do small things. In my case, I noticed one morning that my husband’s toast had popped out of the toaster and was ready to be buttered. While that’s not normally something I’d do for him (speaking of breakfast routines), one day I decided that I’d do it, just to be nice. Guess what? He noticed. And thanked me. Then I did it again. He thanked me again. And I realized how even a tiny gesture can speak volumes.

2. Defer to your partner on a decision. If you’re in a long-term relationship, chances are you’re making loads of decisions together all the time: where to live, which school to send the kids to, how to balance career/family. Some of those can and must be done together. But occasionally a decision will come along where you can afford not to weigh in as much as you otherwise might. In my case, it’s our upcoming move. I’m a bit of a control freak. (In case you haven’t noticed.) And in an ideal world, I’d probably approach our move somewhat differently than my husband would. But I decided a few weeks ago that I was going to defer to him on this one. He’s less spastic (for lack of a better word) than I am about moving. And it just seemed like a real shame to try to micro-manage this particular event in our lives (and all the stress, anxiety and quarrels that would likely provoke), so I  just let him take the lead. And you know what? We’re both more relaxed about it now.

3. Make A Sanctuary. Once you’ve spent years in a relationship of any sort, it’s easy to start letting other parts of your individual lives (work, kids, relatives) invade your space together. Try not to let this happen. Obviously, you can’t seal off your relationship completely. But you can at least try to protect it. I had one set of friends (a couple) who made a rule that “all work stays at the door.” By which they meant that their bedroom would be a sanctuary. They were both allowed to work in the evening – they had to, sometimes – but when they were finished working, all work had to stay by the door literally outside their bedroom. I thought this was a great idea.

4. Carve out Time. Of course, a sanctuary isn’t any good to you unless you actually spend some time there. So in addition to demarcating your private space, you need also to do things together inside it. Whatever you enjoy most. In my own case, my husband and I try to set aside time every night to talk about the day and then watch something together – a DVD commentary, a BBC documentary, The Daily Show. Another couple I know makes a point of eating dinner together every night after their daughter goes to sleep (*he* cooks, mind you!), even if it’s 9:30 or 10 o’clock at night.  Still another couple I know takes a run together once a week in the morning and stops for tea mid-way through. It doesn’t really matter what you do, but that you do it together.

5. Go On An Overnight Getaway. Ok, this advice may be less good for the room mates at hand. But if you’re in a long-term romantic relationship, a great way to re-ignite that flame is to go on an adventure. If you can’t afford to pay for a hotel and sitter, then see if you can send your kids to a friend or relative and have the night to yourselves in your own home. That can be just as fun. If you can afford to splurge once in a while, it’s well worth the effort. We had some friends in Chicago who spent the entire weekend of their 10th anniversary at a hotel in downtown Chicago just 9 miles away from where the live. They had a blast. Last week, we managed to finagle a free room in a fancy hotel in London while my mother was visiting. True, we were on the smoking floor. But I can’t tell you how much fun it was to get dressed up and go down to Soho and have dinner at  a chic restaurant on a Thursday night and then amble back (at a leisurely pace!) to our fancy digs. Bliss!

*****

For those who are interested, hop on over to PoliticsDaily.com to see why I think Nick Clegg has fundamentally changed the nature of British electoral politics.


Image: Toasts by Electric Bielka via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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