Author Archives: Walt Ciecko

The Worst Time to Start a Serious Conversation

May 17, 2018

When you have something important to share or discuss with your partner, you may want to tell them as soon as possible. The moment they wake up in the morning. As soon as they walk in the door from work.

And unfortunately, you may end up disappointed by their lack of engagement or irritation.

That’s because both situations are examples of transition times. Your partner is in the middle of ending one activity and starting another. As they move between those states, it can be hard to focus.

Many of us believe we are master multi-taskers, but study after study has shown that we are really only able to focus on one thing at a time. That’s why arguments are more likely to happen during times of transition. Your brain is shifting focus, and one extra stimulus to handle can lead to overload.

Here are a few tips for avoiding this relationship pitfall.

Avoid transition times.

The most common are falling asleep, waking up, leaving for the day, and returning home. Give your spouse time to adjust to the “brain shift” required at these times.

Share your transition times.

Some of us are morning people, waking up sunny and ready for the day. Others are the polar opposite. If your spouse is one type and you’re the other, it may be hard to understand one another – unless you communicate your preferences and respect your differences.

Make transition times positive.

You shouldn’t have serious discussions during transition times, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid each other entirely. Instead use those times to connect. Share a kiss before heading out the door. Snuggle as you settle down to sleep. Have a favorite snack ready when your spouse returns home. This is the time for kind words, acts of services, and physical forms of affection.

Set aside time.

If you both lead busy lives, it may feel like one of you is always in the middle of some transition time. Prioritize your relationship by scheduling time daily to connect away from other distractions.

Timing matters when it comes to communication, especially about important topics. Give your spouse the gifts of space when needed – and undivided attention when that’s needed, too.

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Get Out of Your Comfort Zone Together

April 11, 2018

Routine can be wonderful. It makes us feel safe and secure. After all, you know what to expect, so what do you have to worry about?

But when you only live in the comfort zone, it can lead to boredom and passivity. There’s less surprise, excitement, and fun. You lose that “spark” that brought you together in the first place.

In short: you can end up in a relationship rut.

So, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone – together.

You’ll discover new things about yourself and your partner, bringing back the excitement of the early stages of your relationship. You’re getting to know each other all over again.

When you take on fun challenges together, you’ll be more prepared for the unexpected challenges that life throws your way. And the new experiences will strengthen your bond to one another.

Volunteer together. Helps you both release oxytocin, that powerful bonding chemical, so you’ll be experiencing that natural “high” together.

Try new foods. Find a cuisine you’ve never tried. Or select a restaurant totally at random and head out. Another idea: cook a dish you or your partner absolutely love but haven’t made before.

Take a class together. If you’re more academic-minded, you can head to a local community college. Or you can learn a language. Or just pick fun skills – from mixology to ax throwing to photography.

Find a new sport or activity. When is the last time you went for a bike ride? Swimming? Have you ever wanted to learn to dance or do yoga? Embrace a new activity together.

Start a project together. It could be as big as starting your own business (talk about leaving your comfort zone!) or as small as redecorating a room in your house.

Plan a vacation. Select a destination. Determine a budget and plan to save together. Then delve into the details. Get excited about it together.

Go on a staycation. If a big vacation isn’t in the cards for you right now, then make plans to explore your local area. There are hidden gems near you that you can uncover together.

Try something new in bed. If you’ve found yourself in a rut in bed as well, a new position or a new location can help bring back the heat.

Do something on the spur-of-the-moment. Call in sick to work and spend the day in bed. Head out on an unplanned road trip. Just let everything go for a moment and have some fun.

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10 Small Gestures to Make Your Partner Smile on Valentine’s Day

February 13, 2018

Valentine’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate your relationship and show your love. That doesn’t mean you have to feel pressured into a grand display of your affection, though. Often, smaller gestures are appreciated as much – or even more!

Boxes of chocolates and bouquets of flowers are classics for a reason, and they might be what your partner prefers. But here are a few more ideas for small gestures that show you care.

  1. Send a text. Or a few texts throughout the day. Declare your love. Remind your partner why you fell in love with him or her in the first place.
  2. Write a note. Place it in your partner’s briefcase or lunchbox. Or put it somewhere in the house where they’ll discover it after you’ve left for the day.
  3. Pay them compliments. Tell them throughout the day all the ways you appreciate them. You can even prepare the compliments in advance and read from your notes.
  4. Do your partner’s chores. Walk the dog. Take out the trash. Do the dishes. Take over any responsibility your partner usually handles. It’s a great way to show you appreciate their contributions.
  5. Hold hands. Under the table at dinner. While you watch TV. Before going to bed. It doesn’t matter when; just find an opportunity to do it! It’s a wonderful simple way to connect physically.
  6. Clean up. Wash his or her car, and purchase a sweet-smelling air freshener for an added surprise. Or hire a cleaning service to come and clean the house while everyone is out.
  7. Get their favorite food. Cook their favorite meal. Order from their favorite restaurant. Or just buy their favorite snacks and treats from the store.
  8. Frame a photo of you together. It could be of a special memory you hold dear, your wedding day, or just a goofy shot of you having fun together.
  9. Feed each other dinner. It’s a great way to be intimate and laugh together. It may bring up memories of feeding each other cake at your wedding.
  10. Share a kiss. When you wake up. When you part ways. When you reunite. At dinner. Before you go to bed. Find any excuse to lock lips!

Still not sure what to do? Don’t be afraid to ask! Sometimes that’s the best way to discover what makes your partner feel loved.

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5 Ideas for Fun Winter Date Nights – No Matter What the Weather

January 17, 2018

winter date nightsDon’t let the frigid weather prevent you from enjoying a date night!

Having fun together is important for maintaining a happy, healthy relationship. Just like you might schedule household chores or workouts, set a time for date night and stick to it.

Here are a few ideas to inspire winter date nights.

1. Have a board game night.

If you can’t get a sitter, this is a great option for a warm, in-home date. Just wait until the kids go to bed and pull old games out of the closet like Monopoly or Scrabble.

Or, if you want an added challenge, buy a new game online, and then you can learn it together.

Patchwork and Tsuro of the Seas are two games that can be learned quickly but are hard to master. Settlers of Catan and Power Grid are a bit more complicated to learn if you’re up for a challenge.

And if one or both of you is a little too competitive, consider a challenging cooperative game like Pandemic, Forbidden Island, or Forbidden Desert so that you’ll win or lose as a team!

2. Go ice skating.

Has it been a while since one or both of you went out on the ice? Then this is a great date idea for enjoying some laughs together.

Challenge each other to try out different moves, like spinning around, going backward, or doing a figure eight, but make sure you wear plenty of padding and always make safety your first priority.

If ice skating really isn’t your thing, find another winter activity you haven’t tried in a while, such as sledding, skiing, or even having a snowball fight.

Whatever you choose, find a spot to enjoy hot chocolate or a bowl of soup together afterwards.

3. Make smores together.

Do you have a fireplace or outdoor fire pit? If not, a toast oven or even your microwave will do just fine.

All you need is graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows. But don’t be afraid to experiment. There’s no end to smores variations out there, and you can always come up with your own. Do a quick Google search and choose a few to test out.

Not a fan of smores? Consider decorating a gingerbread house instead. (They’re available at a discount after Christmas!) Or enjoy some Irish coffee together.

4. Build a fort.

Remember the childhood joy of building a fort? Relive it with your partner.

Get some sheets, blankets, and sleeping bags. Set up your fort, then decorate it with a string of holiday lights.

You can make an indoor camp site, get a flashlight, and share ghost stories. Or set it up in front of the TV so you can snuggle up together and watch an old movie.

5. Paint the snow.

Fill spray bottles with water and food coloring. Then find a snowy spot to create your masterpiece.

You can work together to create something. Think of an idea and make it happen. Then take a photo of the final result.

Or you can challenge one another to see who can create the best artwork. Whoever wins gets a massage when you get back indoors!

If you’re not too cold when you’re done, take a stroll together. Hold hands. And just enjoy the beauty of the winter wonderland.

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Revisit Old Memories Together to Strengthen Your Connection

December 13, 2017

During the New Year, many of us spend time thinking about our future: what can we change to improve our lives? But it is also valuable to take time and reflect on the past. What you learn can provide valuable lesson for moving forward.

Particularly, you should revisit past moments of love with your partner. Browse through your photo albums. Get out old scrapbooks and yearbooks. Go through your Facebook or Instagram history.

It’s fun – and it will help remind you both of your shared history as you laugh and cry together.

Then consider taking it one step further: relive some of the memories. Go back to visit the place where you had a first date. The park where your family did your first holiday photo shoot. Or even the venue for your wedding!

Talk about what made each moment so memorable.

Not just the big events, but the smaller moments, too. It can help you uncover other ways to make one another happy in the year to come.

What activities did you do together that helped you bond? What places did both of you enjoy visiting the most? What behaviors did you engage in that your partner valued?

As you have grown and changed together, you may have lost touch with some of the things that initially bonded you together. The good news is you can always bring them back!

Talk about the rough patches in the past.

They could be related to your relationship – or related to other challenges, such as the death of a loved one, job loss, or health issues.

How did you come out of them together? What did you do for one another during those troubling times? What words did you share that were most meaningful?

If you are going through a rough patch again right now, it can help remind you what worked in the past.

Imagine what your life would be like without your partner.

Imagining their absence may help you appreciate them more – and put your day-to-day challenges in perspective.

No matter where your relationship is today, remember that this shared history is something valuable. You don’t have it with anybody else. That makes it incredibly valuable and worth fighting for each day.

Make 2018 the year that you both commit to finding new and old ways to bring one another happiness, fun, and love.

Need help? Consider a couples workshop or Delaware couples counseling.

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How to Establish a Holiday Budget Together

November 19, 2017

Discussions about money can quickly become heated for couples. For many of us, these conversations aren’t just about finances; they’re about power, responsibility, and security.

During the holiday season, things can be particularly dicey. You may both hold different ideas of what you “need” to buy or do during this time of year. You may disagree about who you need to buy gifts for. And it’s all too easy to overspend.

The best way to avoid conflict and stay on the same page is to be proactive: set a holiday budget together.

Take a look at last year.

This is a great starting point. You can find expenses you may have forgotten. You can see where you overspent. And you can remember events that you enjoyed and want to attend again.

Divide your budget into categories.

There are so many things we spend money on during the holiday season beyond gifts – a Christmas tree, gelt, decorations, travel, event tickets, family meals, charitable donations, and so on. Make a list, then allocate money to each category.

And there’s one easily overlooked category I want to make sure you include: “us” time.

This time of year can get hectic with loved ones making greater demands on your time. Don’t lost track of one another in the stress. Set aside the time and money to be alone together during the holiday season.

Make a gift list.

You’ve established a budget for the gift category. Now get into the details: who do you need to buy a present for? Family members, friends, co-workers, bosses, vendors, teachers – there are many people in your life you may want to give to this season. Come to a couple’s answer about who you will give to and then decide on the budget for each gift.

Track your spending.

There is a wealth of phone apps that empower you to track spending. You can also use good old-fashioned pen and paper. The key is to make sure you record everything. You can verify this by checking your credit card or bank statements regularly to ensure they match up with what you’ve tracked.

Prone to overspending? Not terribly good at tracking your spending? Go cash-only for the holiday season. Take out the amount you need. Divide it into envelopes for each category. And use only this money to make your holiday-related purchases.

Start planning for next Christmas.

Yes, already. This is particularly valuable if you’re feeling tight on funds this year. If you save throughout the year in a Christmas savings account, you won’t have the same worries, and you can better enjoy the season together.

Stay committed to the plan.

This process only works if you stick to it! It can be tempting to ignore parts of the budget or hide purchases if you are upset about part of the plan.

Don’t do it. That will only lead to more conflict.

Instead, talk about it and come to a couple’s answer. Be honest if you make a mistake – and be understanding if your partner errs.

Remember, you are in this together. And in the end, the goal is to enable both of you to enjoy the holiday season.

Need help? Reach out to a Delaware relationship therapist for guidance.

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Walt Ciecko, Ph. D., BCB
605 Wynyard Rd
Wilmington, DE 19803