Love. We want it. We get it. We lose it. We mess it up. We try again. That’s because love is what binds us, beckons us, blinds us and brings us home. In fact, love is why we have a home in the first place.
I’m bringing all this up because of Valentine’s Day. As a home (not house) columnist, I’m here to remind you that love is the glue in a home. It’s the foundation for our commitment, our attachment, our responsibilities and much of our behavior. Love is why we cook, clean, decorate and try to smell good. It’s what drives us to make a comfortable, welcoming nest.
And so, we need to protect the love in our home like a church relic, and tend it like a hearth fire.
Besides having a home that looks the way you want, your home should also, more important, make you feel better than anywhere else. And that has a lot less to do with your décor, and a lot more to do with how y’all get along, though, I confess, a new piece of art does make me feel pretty good.
This week marks three years since I married DC. My toes still curl when I hear his car drive into the garage. That’s a good thing, which neither of us takes for granted. We’ve learned first-hand, marriages can end in death and divorce, so we take care of what we have.
One way we do that is with the 52 Rule, which I learned, like most things, the hard way. It works like this. Many couples see their roles as 50/50 partnerships, which leave little margin for error. When Partner A gets annoyed, he or she often pulls back to 48 percent, and waits for Partner B to and step up. (I’m speaking generally, here, not that I know from experience.) This bugs Partner B, who also starts giving only 48. The 4 percent gap becomes the divide where the love-eaters (tension and resentment) live.
However, when both partners give 52, not 50 or 48 — when they step up consistently, not back, when she empties the dishwasher though it’s his turn, when he makes the bed though she usually does, when he brings her car home washed and full of gas, when she knows he has a jammed day and packs his favorite lunch — they create not a gap but an overlap, a grace zone where grudges can’t live.
Because I have no business giving relationship advice, I shared my 52 Rule with Dr. Jeannette Lofus, a New York-based psychologist, remarriage expert and founder of The Step Family Foundation. “Absolutely right,” she said. (Thank goodness.) “Acts of service are an often-overlooked love language that, when practiced, create a great buffer and make partners feel cherished.”
I don’t know about that, but I do know that when my husband does more, it makes me do more.
Besides leaning in not out at home, here are five more ways Lofus said couples and families can keep the home fires burning, kick the love up a notch, and create a home that you and those you live with love to come home to, not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day:
1. Make greetings warm. When your partner or your kids come in the door, make them feel welcome. Don’t sit staring at your phone, or laptop, the newspaper or the TV. Get up and greet them with a smile and a hug or kiss. Show them you’re happy to see them. “Make it a moment,” says Lofus. “If you were upset last time you saw each other, go past that, and say, ‘I’m glad you’re home.’”
2. Create rituals. Routines are important for all families, especially for blended families, said Lofus, who notes that 64 percent of families today live in some form of divorced or stepfamily relationship. A common ritual at my house has always been the evening meal. Make it a point, even when schedules are whacky, to sit down for a meal together, with no technology on the table, and connect.
3. Use excellent manners. Good manners aren’t just for your public side. Use them at home, too. Opening even the smallest request with “please” shows graciousness. Saying thank you often, even for routine gestures — thank you for making the coffee, or getting the door, or doing the dishes – expresses appreciation. Answering “You’re welcome” acknowledges the other’s gratitude. These small civilities create a culture of kindness.
4. Make room. Every person in a home should have his or her own space. But if you’ve bled into the common area, like the kitchen table or counter, with your stuff, clear it when your partner comes in. “This literally shows you’re making room for the relationship,” said Lofus. “If the others in the house feel like there’s no place for them, that’s a real discount. But if you move your stuff, you’re saying, there’s a space for you here.”
5. Say it with flowers. You don’t need a dozen red roses each week. A bunch of daises or other fresh flowers from the grocery store in a simple vase on the kitchen table or in other shared areas tell those you live with that you care. Flowers elevate the everyday.
Happy Valentine’s Day — all year long.