ME Magazine

Coupled Up

Quality time with your sweetheart is just what the relationship doctor ordered - Christina Vanoverbeke

Valentine's Day is just around the corner and to celebrate, many couples will be scrambling to plan the perfect romantic evening for their partner. Whether you look forward to Cupid's arrival each winter or not, relationship experts say planning quality time with a special someone can strengthen a relationship and bring couples closer together, no matter the occasion.

The first thing to remember when setting aside time for amore is that there is no one magic way to spend time with your sweetie, says Jonathan Alpert, a New York-based psychotherapist and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. Different things will work for different couples, so try out some ideas until you find something that works for you.

BREAK OUT OF THE DATE NIGHT RUT

"I recommend that couples plan a date night early in the week for the end of the week. This will provide you with something to look forward to and it eliminates any questions or anxiety as to whether there are plans or not in place," Alpert says. When looking around for what exactly to do during that date night, be sure you're open to trying something new.

Research consistently shows that couples who engage in fresh activities together are happier in their relationships than couples who do more everyday activities, says Brent Mattingly, assistant professor of psychology at Ashland University and a writer for ScienceOfRelationships.com."Early in the relationship, there is a lot of novelty and excitement-we are learning lots of new and interesting things about our partners, and we are doing lots of things we may have never tried before," he says. People tend to enjoy the feeling of falling in love because they feel so much exhilaration during these early relationship experiences. Once in love, however, some of this novelty begins to wear off for many couples.

KEEP THINGS FRESH

It's not hard to mix up the usual date night; all it takes are a few small tweaks. For instance, instead of going to your favorite restaurant again, why not get your order to go and have a picnic at your favorite park? Do you both love hiking? Try an indoor rock gym for a more adrenaline-pumping twist. Organize surprise dates for each other and don't give away details until you're there. From a dessert-making class to the batting cage, try to think what the other person would have the most fun doing and plan it for them.

"Doing new, exciting and interesting things together helps simulate these early relationship experiences, which in turn helps keep the relationship fresh," Mattingly says."Because of this, relationships will benefit more from a couple taking a class together than going to the movies again and again."