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Look after yourself by looking after your relationship

With Valentine’s Day now seeming like it was a lifetime ago, I thought it was time to write about relationships.

Back when wedding day celebrations were frequent and almost every weekend, I stumbled through my front door sometime after 10pm, it always amazed me how every wedding could leave me so uplifted. I analysed my feelings all the time and eventually realised that the best thing about being a wedding photographer is getting to share joy and love.

It’s easy to take seemingly simple emotions for granted and in reality a lot of us only really appreciate them on special occasions – birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, anniversaries… But what if we made the effort to do it once a week? Can you imagine how loved we’d feel if mini celebrations were something we did without thinking about it?

I know that the devastating impact of Covid has caused a number of us to think more about what’s really important – but beyond Covid, how many of our good intentions will actually last? How quickly we will all fall back into our old habits?

For the past 6 weeks, my social media feeds have been full of messages about self-care and showing love. What if we combined those things? What if we made showing love part of our self-care?

Healthy relationships start with making time for each other – yes work gets in the way, babies and children get in the way, commitments with friends and family get in the way… Ask yourself - honestly – have you spent more time with your other half during this last year than at any time in the past? I have. My husband and I were great at planning time together when we organised trips but other than that, our time together was always our daily walk with the dog and maybe a meal in a restaurant once a month. Obviously, trips are currently off the cards, as are restaurants, and the dog walks are probably more frequent and longer but I really feel we’re spending more time together than we’ve ever done. Like many couples our interactions are limited to voice and video calls, so we’re relying on each other to listen to and talk to one another.

But now that the main celebrations for showing love have passed and we’re still stuck in lockdown, how can we show our love for each other and experience those emotions of joy and love?

1. Get rid of all of your devices – for a few hours.

Spending time together is not the same as sitting beside one another, eyes glued to a screen. Instead, it’s about communicating with one another, showing that you (still) have things in common, can make each other smile and laugh, and want to interact with one with another.

I don’t think I’ve ever shot at a wedding where either the bride or the groom has their phone from the start of the ceremony onwards. Why is that? Ok, maybe it’s to do with fashion – most wedding dresses don’t tend to come with pockets or a matching bag, so where would you keep it? And a sporran is much too small, especially, if it includes a hipflask… The real reason much nicer: our wedding day is something we look forward to for so long, we want to completely engage with it; a device is an unwelcome distraction.

So, at home, when you’re with one of your favourite people, why is there always a device of some kind taking your attention away?

2. Look after one another.

This might seem like a given, especially for the married couples who have spoken the infamous, “in sickness and in health” vows, but how often do we properly look after one another?

If you have children, how often do check they’re ok? When their happy, sad, mad, upset – what is your response? When they share things with you, how do you show you’re listening?

And if you don’t, watch the people around you who do. What do you notice?

Looking after one another can involve huge gestures - buying an extravagant gift, doing all of the housework, cooking a fancy dinner - but it’s not realistic to be able to keep things up long term, so how can you look after each other in smaller ways?

Kiss and cuddle often and for no reason. Complement each other. If they put effort into something, acknowledge it. If they’re excited about something, share it.

3. Do something spontaneous and fun.

When life is busy it’s difficult to make time to have real fun and yet when we laugh, it helps to destress us and make us feel better.

What fun things did you do as a kid? I loved playing my brother’s Nintendo, trips to the park, walking for hours, hide and seek, telling imaginary stories, making videos with plasticine, painting and drawing, playing board games… what is fun for one person might be hell for another but find activities you both love.

A few games I’ve found recently have been Confident and Articulate. Confident is amazing – it’s great to play with any age as the questions are so bizarre it’s impossible for everyone to know them all. Articulate is better for all the family and we often play with our daughter and my mother-in-law. We’ve rediscovered old classics: Scrabble (we’ve had to stop that one though as it was getting a little too secretive!), Cluedo, Monopoly – various versions, The Game of Life…

The list of fun – childish – things to do is unlimited: use your imagination and find ways to really have fun with each other! Build a den. Have a dance party. Do a science experiment. Organise a treasure hunt – one for each of you. Have a pub quiz. Have a karaoke. Cook together. Build with Lego or K’Nex. Get out the Play Doh. Do some potato printing. Turn your living room into a drive-in movie. Have a tea party.

Making someone else feel good, helps to make you feel good – and there is now scientific evidence, not just feelings and emotions, to prove this. You can read a lovely article about it here.

Make your relationship part of your self-care by putting in the effort to make it last forever.

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