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Harvey Karp

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For Happy Couples (and Happy Kids) ... Love Comes in Second Place

Posted: 02/13/2012 8:19 am

While uncertainty shrouds the true identity of Saint Valentine, there's no mystery about what Valentine's Day represents. Invisibly bound to our bouquets and baubles, is our enduring ideal that love conquers all...

What could be more romantic than that?

Well, I would argue that there's a bond we should celebrate on Valentine's Day that is even deeper and more basic than love ... even more essential to a good romance ... and that's respect.

The best, truest, happiest and most loving relationships must be rooted in respect, or they are doomed to fail. Think about it: Words of love ring shallow and tinny when accompanied by unfair and inconsiderate acts. How often do we wish someone would show us rather than describe to us his or her love?

It may sound odd, but this idea is also one of the key points in my "Happiest Toddler on the Block" DVD and book. And, techniques that nurture love and respect in young children (8-months to five-years of age) can also breathe new passion into your romance. They're also faster, fun-ner and far more valuable than any Valentine's Day gift sold in a store!

Here are three tot respect-building techniques guaranteed to sweeten your love a whole lot more than a box of bonbons:

1. Give the Gift S/he Really Wants ... Special Time

It's the little things that can really bug us. To paraphrase an old adage, "You can sit on a mountain, but not on a pin." Yet, it's also the little things that make us feel loved: an unexpected cuddle, a word of appreciation and encouragement, some help or a silly joke.

A simple way to remember to offer a bit of love every day is with "special time." Kids love it when we spend even 5 minutes every day just doing what they want (reading, playing, massage, etc.) -- with the cell phone and TV turned off! Making time to say, "you are my priority" shows love and respect. Special time is important with not just our children but also with our partners.

So, every night take turns with your partner giving (or getting) 10 minutes of total focus. Surprisingly, this tiny investment will reward you with a big extra helping of love in return.

2. Show Your Love With the ... Fast Food Rule

This silly-sounding idea is the golden rule for communicating with respect to anyone you truly care about.

Normal conversations go back-and-forth (kind of like a tennis match), but this pattern changes fast when one person is emotional (sad, mad, etc.). In a nutshell, the Fast-Food rule says: When talking to someone who's upset, always sincerely repeat his feelings ... before you offer your comments, solutions, reassurance.

This simple trick instantly communicates respect. You'll be amazed at how well it makes your partner (or child) feel like the center of your loving attention.

3. Learn the "True" Language of Love ... Toddler-ese

The Fast Food rule handles little lover's spats. But to calm over major meltdowns -- like fights over forgotten anniversaries -- you need some industrial strength respect building.

Emotional upheavals instantly switch off the brain centers that make us patient, reasonable and verbal and instantly dial up the centers controlling nonverbal communication, like gestures and our tone of voice.

That's why big-time upsets make us act more primitive ("We go ape!"). This is exactly why tots -- and jealous lovers -- suddenly morph into uncivilized cave-dwellers who will spit and scratch and even throw things at your head!

But, a simple language lets you perfectly connect with your loved one when his/her brain is emotionally short-circuiting: Toddler-ese.

You can translate anything into this language of respect and love, by using:

  1. Short phrases
  2. Repetition
  3. Using your tone of voice and gestures to reflect a bit of the person's feelings.

I've soothed thousands of toddler tantrums with this approach and you'll be shocked at how fast it will help your temperamental spouse start calming her savage beast... and be willing to at least listen to your lame excuse.

Passion is a powerful ingredient for keeping your romance vibrant, but let's also use Valentine's Day to remind us that respect is the true glue that holds good relationships together. Without respect even the hottest love soon falls flat on its face.