As we take down our 2018 calendars and get ready for the new year, it’s time to reflect. How can you strengthen your relationship this holiday season?

The answer often requires going back to basics. Enjoy these date night ideas to bring you and your partner together and remind each other why you fell in love in the first place.

Cozy Up By the Fire

There’s nothing better in chilly weather than a snuggle by the fireplace. If you don’t have one, be sure to check out some pubs around Houston for a romantic evening, complete with a roaring fire.

Here are just some of the bars in Houston with fireplaces or fire pits:

  • The Remington at St. Regis Hotel
  • Tongue-Cut Sparrow
  • Bacco Wine Garden
  • By Popular Demand
  • Tribute Restaurant and Bar at The Houstonian

Take a Stroll Through Highland Village

Date night doesn’t have to stretch your budget. Walk through Highland Village and window shop. The palm trees are decked out with holiday lights, giving the area a nice festive (and romantic) vibe.

Enjoy Holiday Lights at the Zoo

If you’d rather see animals than price tags, head over to the Houston Zoo for their lights display! The lights will be up throughout the holiday season and into January. Take a stroll and enjoy a late-night visit with the animals.

Get Fresh

Every Saturday, local growers and families bring fresh food to the Urban Harvest Farmers Market. Take a stroll, plan some dinners in, and enjoy free samples for a fresh start to your weekend!

Classic Dinner Date – For Less!

The fun doesn’t end when New Year’s is over — Galveston Restaurant Week offers affordable nights out at Galveston Island’s best restaurants. Three-course dinners are as little as $35!

Restaurant Week runs from January 26 through February 19.

Revisit Houston’s Most Romantic Sight

Who says you have to go somewhere new every date night?

The Water Wall is a classic spot in Houston. Bring a picnic basket and enjoy the views of the 64-foot fountain that graces the background of every tourist photo in Houston (for good reason!)

Enjoy the World’s Best Bar-B-Que

We’re not kidding.

The World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest is the kick-off event for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which runs from late February to mid-March. Buy tickets and enjoy a warm plate of sliced brisket and beans.

Run a marathon!

Or just cheer on the runners. The Chevron Houston Marathon takes place on January 20, 2019. Spend the night before making fun signs to cheer on the runners as you watch the Houston community get together for this exciting event.

Take Me Down to Hot Pot City

Another way to warm up during the winter months is to indulge in a hot pot.

Hot Pot City allows you to choose hot pot options from Japan, China, Mongolia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Try something new and stay warm!

And here’s a bonus date…

Attend an Imago Relationship Workshop

No matter what stage of your relationship you’re in, you’ll both have fun as you learn new relationship tools and hone your communication skills.

In just two days, you’ll get the benefit of three to six months of couples therapy. What better use is there for your time together? You can see the upcoming Houston Imago relationship schedule here.

“How was your day?”
“My boss was a real jerk.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. She made some errors, and now she’s demanding that my entire department come in over the weekend to clean up her mess. I kind of want to refuse. Stand up for myself. But I’m worried about getting in trouble.”
“Okay. Guess I’ll get a shower and clean up.”
“Sounds good.”

Does that sound like an effective or productive conversation to you?

One partner was clearly trying to reach out to the other, but they just weren’t connecting.

Reading it like this, you might think that it sounds horrible. That you’d never do something like that to your spouse.

But the truth is that just about all of us do – at least from time to time. The world is filled with responsibilities that divide our attention and exhaust us to the point that we give minimal effort sometimes when we feel like it’s all we can do.

Television, cell phones, laptops, and other digital devices don’t help with this, either, pulling our focus away from what is happening in the moment. Even if we hear our partner say something, we may not actually listen, and choose to respond with a shrug, mumble, or even silence.

Do this too often with your spouse, though, and you’ll end up creating relationship issues, drifting further and further apart.

How can you stop yourself from falling into this pattern?

Pay Attention to Your Responses

Most of us don’t ignore our partners on purpose. We’re tired. Busy. Distracted.

Often, we may not even realize that we’re participating in this minimal way and how frustrated our responses are to our spouse.

This is why step one is simple and straightforward: pay attention to yourself. When your partner says something, pause what you’re doing and actually listen to how you respond.

Better yet, ask your spouse. Often, non-responses do not stick in your memory. After all, they are automatic responses that are overshadowed by activities that have our full attention and focus.

Your partner may have some surprising feedback regarding times when you simply shrugged or completely did not respond to them when they tried to start a conversation. By actively trying to pay more attention and talking to your spouse about times when they have gotten “non-responses” from you, it will be easier to stop engaging in this type of behavior.

Get in the habit of putting your work down, turning around, and looking your partner in the eye when they start talking. If you are in the middle of something that requires your immediate attention, tell your spouse this, apologize, and let them know when you will be available. If you do not hear them the first time, it is okay to ask them to repeat themselves.

Want specific advice on how to have more engaged conversations?

Respond Like a Tennis Player

No, you shouldn’t let out loud grunts with every response.

The idea is to think of every conversation with your partner as a tennis game. Their statements indicate the ball flying over to your side of the court. You need to pay attention to know where the ball’s going so you can send it flying back. And vice versa.

If we are still using the tennis game analogy, a shrug or not responding is the equivalent of standing still when it is your turn to hit the ball. These automatic responses aren’t enough to be considered “participation.” And a tennis match with only one participant is not a productive match at all.

Here’s how a normal, productive conversation might sound:

“What do you want for dinner tonight, honey?”
“I was thinking that we could heat up the leftover chicken from the other night. Is that okay?”
“I took some of that chicken into work for lunch today. Could we have something else?”
“Maybe we can just order takeout.”

In this “tennis game,” the players move the conversation back and forth, giving the second player chance to engage and respond after the first has finished.

When your partner says something to you, you are given the opportunity to respond in any way that you like. This opportunity comes with an infinite amount of choices and options, but often, we find ourselves automatically resorting to responses that don’t move our “tennis game” along.

Fight this urge. Apply intentionality to every possible part of your relationship. And consider doing this in every part of your life.

What is “intentionality”? Here’s a definition: “Intentionality is deciding what I want in MY life, and then BEHAVING in such a way as to make it happen.”

A few years after the publication of “Getting the Love You Want,” which is available in 20 languages and has sold more than any other book on committed love relationships, Harville Hendrix said, “Had I known back then what I know today, I wouldn’t have named the book that, but rather “Getting the Love You Say You Want.”

Hence, the importance of intentionality in achieving the marriage of your dreams.

Also, research suggests that successful relationships can be measured by the number of times each day that the partners turn toward instead of away from each other. Consider listening – really listening – instead of not listening in these terms. Every time your partner speaks to you, you can choose to turn toward them – or turn away.

As David Augsburger once said, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

Want to unpack more relationship issues and address what is happening in your marriage? Reach out to a Houston relationship therapist today.

Raising kids is many things. Exciting. Rewarding. Joyful. Frustrating. Terrifying. Often you may swing wildly from one of these feelings to the next with little warning.

But in the day-to-day of dealing with young children, one feeling is probably far more prevalent than any other: exhaustion.

Quite simply, kids wear you out. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally.

You have to do everything for them while striving to teach them to be self-sufficient. You have to ride their roller coaster of emotions without getting sucked in yourself. You are their jungle gym, their punching bag, and their mode of transportation.

And, of course, you have to worry that everything you do may be the wrong thing. You may struggle with thinking that it will be your fault if your kids are unsuccessful, leading to painful emotions, such as fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, sadness, or frustration.

After all of that, how in the world can you be expected to have anything left to give to your spouse? How can you be expected not to snap at them when they ask if you washed the shirt they need or remembered the milk on the way home from work?

Of course you didn’t. They’re lucky you even got out of bed that day!

But you can’t give in to these feelings, because over time, they will drive a wedge between the two of you.
What can you do? How can you stay connected when it’s all you can do to stay on your feet?

Don’t stay on your feet.

Parenthood, possibly more than anything else in life, teaches us how to keep putting one foot in front of the other when it seems impossible. Once you’ve done it for a while, you can even start to get used to it. Not better at it, just used to it.

Unfortunately, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. Living like this causes irreparable harm both to you and those around you.

The solution? Stop. Whenever the chance to rest arises, take it.

This can feel difficult at first. All those things you’re not getting done! But it’s utterly worth it.
Because you’ll soon discover that a well-rested you is both far better at meeting your responsibilities… and much more pleasant to be around.

Work on your relationship.

Get educated on how to really love another person. Marriage is hard, but it doesn’t have to stay this way. Quality relationship education is essential.

One has to ‘work’ on becoming married. This includes, but isn’t limited to, effective communication. Healthy feelings of guilt and fear could be important with messages suggesting you pay attention to becoming a better spouse, in order to become a better co-parent.

There are wise family experts who’ve suggested that the vast majority of us parents (I include myself!) are only ‘post-adolescent neurotics having kids, with little if any effective preparation for creating emotional health for themselves or their kiddo’. Chuckle, have a sense of humor, but understand that this is very important: it’s virtually impossible to be ‘one grain of sand’ better as a parent than I am a spouse.

A primary need of every child is for their mommy to love their daddy with Real Love – and vice-versa. (And if you’re divorced, then it’s a major need of your young child that you behave with some understanding and compassion towards the other co-parent.)

The greatest gift most parents can give to their children is to complete the Imago Couples Workshop, because you’ll learn how to co-create a marriage you both can love. And from your workshop, you’ll also learn how to become a better co-parent.

Share your appreciation.

Spend a few minutes each day recognizing all of the ways that your spouse kept the wheels from falling off and made your life easier – even if it didn’t feel like it in the moment. Write a list if it helps.

Then – and this is the most important part – share it with them. Preferably not at a time when they’re in the middle of 16 other things, but even then, it’s probably better than not saying anything.

It’s a reminder that you notice them. That everything they do matters. That you couldn’t do this without them.

Have fun together.

Remind each other why you fell in love in the first place: you enjoy one another’s company. Commit to regular date nights, just as you would an exercise routine or diet. It’s important for the health of your relationship.

If finances or childcare are issues, have a date night at home after the kids are in bed. Play a board game, cook a romantic dessert together, or sample a new bottle of wine. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it is an opportunity to interact, have fun, and spend time just the two of you.

Need help reconnected? Reach out to a Houston marriage therapist or attend an Imago couples workshop. Invest in your relationship – and your family!

The work you put into your relationship today will not just have a positive impact on the rest of your lives; it will help the lives of your children, their children, and their children. It is an investment in the future of your family.

Here are a few reasons why IMAGO relationship work is a gift that will live on long after you and your partner have passed.

You Show Your Children What a Loving Relationship Looks Like

Think of the impact that your parents had on you and your relationships.

Our parents are the first example of a romantic relationship that we see as we grow. The traits that we look for in a partner are largely influenced by the way our parents set an example for what a relationship looks like and the responsibilities of each partner in that relationship.

When couples learn healthy ways of being in a relationship, they model these positive behaviors for their children. Then those children will be more likely to seek a healthy relationship themselves, modeling it for their children. And then those children will do the same. And on and on.

The Universal Power of the IMAGO Toolkit

IMAGO relationship education provides you and your partner with a “toolkit” that allows you to communicate effectively, show affection, and work and grow together.

These communication tools and techniques are not just useful with your partner but in all areas of your life, including your relationship with your child. In effect, they will make you a better parent.

And just as you were a model for what a romantic relationship looks like, you are a model for what a parent-child relationship should look like. Your children will benefit from your example when they have their own children, passing down that powerful IMAGO toolkit as they do.

Improved Sibling Relationships

More and more psychological research studies have revealed the heretofore downplayed significance of trauma in sibling relationships. They almost always are important relationships, in both negative and positive ways, with lasting impact.

IMAGO relationship work specializes in healing, growing, and learning new ways to love, helping many clients heal these important relationships, to varying degrees dependent on the efforts of all parties. Though results cannot be guaranteed in any therapy, Imago leads the way in transforming relationships into better, more effective, and more relaxed ones.

You can bring the powerful tools of IMAGO in your children’s lives to help them connect with one another, as well as serve as a model by healing your relationship with your siblings. This can impact your family for generations – as well as your siblings’ families.

Pass Down a Passion for Learning

When you and your partner embrace IMAGO couples education and relationship work, you show your children the value of learning about interpersonal relationships.

The lessons you will share are timeless. Each child, whether they are born in 1952 or 2052, will be born with Core Energy and develop Core Values throughout their life. Texting and Facebook haven’t changed the way that the messages we receive from others impacts our sense of Self and how we look to complete our Self with our partner.

And advancements in psychology and our understanding of interpersonal relationships will continue to be made. Your children are much more likely to seek out that knowledge if they have seen the value it brought to you and your partner.

What Legacy Will You Leave Your Children and Grandchildren?

The psychological health of kids is extremely dependent upon the relationship of their parents, including ex-spouses.  What parents model with their behaviors (including body language) versus what they say verbally is what is most impactful on a child, whether 2 or 20.

Reach out to learn more about Houston IMAGO Couples Workshops and Relationship Therapy, and get started building a legacy of love that can be passed on to the next generation. The Center also offers family therapy; please call us for more information.