You’ve spent more than a few nights dreaming of a Valentine’s Day to swoon for. With the chaos that is December/January now over, you’ve allowed yourself to indulge in some fantasies of what your Valentine’s Day could look like: flowers, a classy dinner, a deep and renewed sense of connection, maybe lingerie. Finally, the fog of the holidays has passed and you and your partner can focus on some “we” time. This relief is short lived as you reminisce on previous Valentine’s Day discussions and how they have progressed in the past… ugh.  This year feels different, though. You’ve given your relationship so much time and attention, and you’re ready to level up your connection with your partner. So, with a big deep breath and tremendous bravery you walk into your partner’s space to make a declaration of what you are hoping for this Valentine’s Day and yet… your guard is up and you cannot get the words out. You flash back to previous Valentine’s Days when you and your partner (this one or a different one) were on totally different pages in terms of communication. You did your best to explain your needs, but an argument arose, and your partner feels attacked for not doing enough. After all, he or she was planning on an expensive dinner and flowers. Alas, you feel guilty and underwhelmed, and your partner feels inadequate and confused.  So. This year, lets avoid this feeling of epic failure in communication all together. We are here to help you get your message across without having your partner feel prepped with defensiveness. We’ve put together three ways for you to organize your needs so both you and your partner can communicate openly and effectively.   Step One: The Pre-Date Have a self-date! You are worth the time to gain a better understanding of what you are looking for and why. Spending time recording (journaling, self talk/Siri) and really fine tune what you want to say. Begin by brainstorming all of the conversations you’ve already had with your partner in your head, and write them down. Re read this over to see if you can find some central points. Instead of neglecting some of your needs, just modify it to make it organized and digestible. Go back to grammar school: an intro, three main points, and a conclusion. This will allow your partner to understand what you are looking for without feeling overwhelmed, and without he or she honing in on just the last part of what you said because the rest feels like too much.  Practice! I know this may feel silly. After all, you’ve gone over this about a hundred times in your head. But how many times have you rehearsed a conversation in your head (and had it gone beautifully, by the way) only to enter the scene and totally feel lost and confused?  How you communicate, specifically your tone and word choice can make or break your interactions- not only with your partner, but also in general. This can be the difference between being heard through understanding versus being heard through emotion, and entering into a blow out argument. I mean, try to think about informing your board, your boss, or you clients that you want more money, and phrasing it in a way you would frame something to your partner, “honestly, I’m sick of this damn salary and I want ten million more because I do everything for you guys and it’s not fair.” Not a chance! Instead, you know you need a strategy with carefully selected words about your contribution, your value, and what you provide to help everyone in the room understand that you are worth that raise (OK, maybe not ten million, but the point stands).  As you know, this requires some prep work. The stakes are high here too, as your relationship is one of your biggest investments- of time, of emotions, and how it impacts the trajectory of your life and your energy. Take a beat to rehearse what you want to say in the mirror. Imagine hearing your partner say what you are rehearsing. What would sting? What would you value as good mix between logic and emotion, and would you be receptive to? What helps you both move closer to your needs as a couple? What makes you want to just grab your partner and smooch ‘em?   Step Two: The Date Set the mood. Just like with advocating for yourself at work, my guess is you’re not sashaying into the office and beginning with generic and forceful statements. As a driven, hard working professional in Manhattan, I am confident you are warming up the room and making the people around you feel comfortable and relaxed so they can absorb what you have to say. This is similar to your conversation with your partner. If you are both on edge and ready for an argument, chances are slim that you will be able to have a warm and productive conversation about how to spend your Valentine’s Day.  Therefore, this piece of getting comfortable does not just apply to your partner. It applies to you, too! Rather than focusing on what you’re anxious about, take a beat to enjoy your partner, the beauty of where you are, and the time and intention you both had to make to have a special moment together. Sink in and enjoy the company and warmth that comes with having a secure partner.  Now that you have enjoyed this moment, lets focus on your segue into the desired conversation. It is so tempting to make a sharp left and go straight into what you’ve been sitting on and anxious about. Unfortunately, the immediate relief of unloading your thoughts onto your partner is short lived due to their likely response of confusion/frustration. Instead, a slow start up will help them tune in with more ease. Using the “sandwich” technique can be really helpful here! This sentence structure looks as follows: compliment/gratitude, pause for your partner’s enjoyment, your concern, and finally more compliments/gratitude. For example: “I am so thankful to be sitting across from you, my sexy, amazing, incredible partner. I am so grateful for everything you give me. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we’ve been struggling to find quality time together, and I am hoping that we can carve out some date nights (bonus if you can add in your own solution). I feel so lucky to have found you, my partner, and I know we can find this time together as a team.”  Next, give your partner some space to feel and react. Remember, you’ve been prepping for this. That means you’ve been thinking about this often, while your partner may be caught by surprise. There may be some time before a successful action occurs, that’s okay! Again we can go back to that work example, and remember that it takes time to actually see a pay increase at work as well. Your partner may need a second to understand what you are asking for and how to make that possible. And, with both your hypothetical pay raise and with your partner’s response, it is essential to be patient and to give the other party the time and space to figure out what is feasible. A caveat: If you are already at a boiling point and all of this sounds like way too much to handle on your own, this is a great place to incorporate reinforcements like a couples therapist, a couples communication class, or guidance from any third party that you trust.   Step Three: The Post-Date It is always helpful to express appreciation for being heard, such as, “I know you were not expecting me to go there, but I feel so grateful that you heard my needs and gave me space to express what I’m yearning for.” This may feel silly, especially if your partner’s reaction was not as perfect as you’d like it to be. This being said, research shows that saying “thank you” makes both you and your partner feel better, more connected, and your partner feel appreciated.   After expressing your gratitude, highlight the takeaways of what you agreed to, or of what you hope the two of you can do to move this topic forward instead of allowing it to stall. Stalling creates conflict, and while conflict is healthy and necessary for relationships to grow, the whole purpose of this is step out of defensive mode, and to help both you and your partner feel respected and heard. To further the example of shared quality time, “I know that our lives are really busy, so finding extra quality time may feel impossible, but I am really excited to prioritize our needs and find the small windows to make them happen! Even the small stuff we talked about, like saying ‘I love you’ right before turning off the lights at night.”  A warm, connected Valentine’s Day Don’t allow yourself to suffer another minute with the burning message that you’ve wanted to share with your partner, and don’t lose your audience by splashing the message across them without preparation. Gather yourself and your thoughts prior to your date, have techniques for communication during your date, and have a post date plan to solidify what you and your partner discussed. You deserve to have your needs met, and can make this happen with just a little preparation!   Mollie Eliasof, LCSW

There are about a thousand things a healthy relationship has- kindness, honesty, love, connection, etc. For the sake of this blog post, I will do my best to boil this thousand down to four main bullet points that I and other couples therapists have identified as healthy, foundational necessities for a couple to thrive.




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How to Reignite Connection in Your Relationship

Lately, you’ve been feeling a little alone.


You go home to your partner each night, ask each other how your day was, respond with a platitude, and scroll through your phones. Sometimes, when you do try to engage in conversation, it feels like you’re communicating via broken telephone wire: you hear every fifth word, and then one of you gets frustrated and hangs up. On top of this, it is Valentine’s Day “season,” and there are constant reminders all around you of how everyone is seemingly happier in their relationship than you are. 


Your disconnection manifests in long silences and a lack of intimacy. How has this become the only alternative to attempting to communicate about something as benign as your day? You’ve decided arguments are a drain of energy. You already work a full time job and may even have kids to take care of. How are you supposed to focus on feeling more connected to your partner when every other aspect of your life requires all of your energy? How do people do this?!


Okay yes, this all sounds pretty drab. Keep in mind that just because you’ve temporarily stepped out of your relationship emotionally does not mean you cannot step back in, especially if both you and your partner are game. So instead of focusing on disruption from your relationship, lets shift gears and place the spotlight on a few ways to help you enhance your connection. 



Fire up curiosity 


As couples therapists, this is something we hear from peers and supervisors all the time. “Stay curious; ask questions!” This feels next to impossible for new and anxious therapists, and may require a lot of effort from a seasoned but routine-stuck and burnt out therapist. 


I write this to help you understand that curiosity is not necessarily something that comes naturally, and this is not indicative of failure. It does not mean you are doomed to a life of minimal passion and disconnection. Sometimes it may feel like you are too on guard with frustration or anxiety to open yourself to new understandings of your partner. On the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes you and your partner may be too ingrained in your routine to remember that every day is not the same, and deserves some exploring- no matter how mundane it feels. 


Try switching your questions up. Instead of asking, “How was your day?” try remembering something specific you know from the week prior, and ask about that. Or, better yet, ask about your partner’s thoughts or feelings instead of events. In this article, Dr. Carol Bruess explains that loneliness in a partnership comes from lack of emotional connection and openness. So, she suggests, ask about emotions! This may feel strange at first, but it is a great way to step out of the pattern of disconnection. 



Gift yourself with honesty


It is relatively easy to slip into the “blame game.” How many times have you and your partner been off the mark on something you truly thought you were on the same page about, and wound up feeling hurt and alone? Instead of honing in on your individual responsibility for miscommunication, it is much easier to blame your partner for the confusion and disconnect. In fact, it is so much easier that sometimes you won’t even realize you’re doing it. 


Chances are good that your partner had some responsibility here, but chances also pretty good that you missed the mark as well. Instead of evading accountability, try to reflect on what you could have done differently. For example, lets say your partner said he was going out to the bar until 10pm, but came home at 11pm. This infuriated you on a surface level, and left you feeling abandoned and alone on a deeper level. You immediately either escalate to yelling, or shift into a shut down and silence. After all, your partner lied and abandoned you! How are you supposed to forgive him? 


Lets take a moment to reflect- yes, your partner definitely could have communicated better. In addition to his difficulty with communication, maybe there are some steps that can be taken to avoid this in the future. For example, did he say he was leaving the bar at 10, or would be home by 10? Did you find a moment to express that it was important he be home by 10, or were you already feeling a little shut down and frustrated from an earlier argument that was not repaired? 


Remember, the direction towards acceptance of accountability is not an extension of the blame game. It is an understanding that both parties hold responsibility in each misattunement, and being the first to break the cycle of blame and accept accountability may allow your partner to feel safer and to follow suit. 



Let go of myths, comparisons, and where you “should” be


This is one that my clients quite literally roll their eyes at. Humans are driven to compare themselves to others. It is totally adaptive, in that it helps you understand what is missing in your life and allows you the space to grow. However, the comparison approach is absolutely not helpful for relationships. 


Why, you ask? As I’m sure you conceptually understand but may not connect with emotionally, what you see in other’s relationships in not a reflection of their reality. It is really difficult to scroll through Instagram and see constant floods of seemingly flawless relationships, especially when you are feeling lonely in your own, and especially when there are not footnotes at the bottom of each post stating, “we do not look this happy all the time.”


Here are some suggestions to counter the comparison virus: First, try putting social media away for a few days to recalibrate. Does your thought process shift at all? Next, try exploring what you do have instead of what you do not have. Yeah, maybe your partner constantly forgets to do her dishes. But she is also so supportive and responsive when you have a tough day at work. And lastly, try expressing gratitude for the moments you do feel connected to help both you and your partner notice and build on them.



Make a plan for your inevitable future of disconnected moments


As mentioned, it is okay to be a little off or to feel disconnected! You both have full, individual and private lives. A successful and fulfilling career and friendships outside of your relationship are actually important for making your relationship thrive. It is not beneficial to depend on your partner to fulfill all your needs. This being said, this creates room for connection with your partner to expand and contract over time. 


Fortunately, relationships are less about avoiding misattunements and discomfort, and more about the reparative moments. Reparative moments build trust and help you feel validated and understood. They allow your relationship to grow, and are most effective when done consistently and during small misattunements rather than waiting until a massive blow out (see this article for deeper dive into repairs). 


So, the idea is to plan for these moments of disconnect rather than unrealistically avoiding them entirely. Help your partner understand what you look like/what you say when you are feeling unheard or dismissed. Tell your partner what you need for a repair- whether it’s a small joke, a silly face, or an acknowledgement of your feelings. And, of course, don’t forget to stay curious about what your partner needs during moments of misattunements as well. 





If you are going to take away one thing from this article, please let it be the fact that disconnection is completely normal for two people with busy, successful and individual lives. There are ways to repair these moments, and techniques to prepare for them in the future.


If you feel you are out of your depths and have given the repair everything you’ve got, consult a couples therapist, a couples workshop, or any third party to help you understand where to go from here. You and your partner deserve to feel connected and in love- your partner is your biggest supporter, best friend, and intimate lover, and you are theirs. Together you’ve earned a relationship where you can feel loved and connected. So, take the steps to get there and give it your best shot. You can get close to that relationship you’ve always dreamed about with some effort, commitment, and the desire to get there. 



Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW