You may not have gotten all the tokens of love you wanted on

Valentines Day – chocolates, flowers, cards, teddy bears, and jewelry.

Don’t worry. Roberto Schiraldi, a psychologist in private practice and

with the Princeton University Counseling Center, says trinkets don’t

necessarily infuse our relationships with love and bring more

intimacy.

"I don’t have anything against buying things," he says, "but the most

important thing in relationships is making time to connect at a heart

level. Everything else is gravy." Schiraldi is offering a couples

workshop on Saturday, February 19, at Princeton Integrative Health

Center, 11 State Road. The workshop costs $150 per couple.

"Besides being a parent, which is the number one toughest job there

is, the next hardest thing is to be in an intimate relationship," says

Schiraldi, "and nobody teaches us how to do it. You just go out and

think you’ll find somebody and fall in love." But it’s not that easy,

he says. "Learning what it means to be in a healthy relationship

should be part and parcel of the educational system. Everybody wants

love, but where do they learn about it? From the soaps? I don’t think

so."

Schiraldi learned about the importance of healthy relationships the

way many of us do, he says, from living through one that was not so

healthy – his parents’ marriage. The eldest of three, he was raised in

East Rockaway, New York, by his father, an insurance broker, and his

mother, a librarian. "My parents divorced when I was 12," he says.

"Dad was still in the picture, but I lived with my mother."

He wasn’t much of a student in high school, he says. "My father, in

his infinite wisdom, got me a summer job working construction." The

men Schiraldi met on the site encouraged him to consider college.

"They told me: ‘Do you want to end up like us?’" After graduating from

East Rockaway High School, Schiraldi went to Marist College in

Poughkeepsie, New York. "I went to college to play sports and not have

to work construction for the rest of my life," he says.

In his senior year at Marist, Schiraldi took a part-time job as a

counselor in a group home for emotionally-disabled young people. He

was a history major, but the experience at the group home changed him.

"I got bitten by the bug to help people," he says. He took a course on

marriage and the family that he says was "an eye opener" for him. "It

fascinated me. Especially when you came from a home that didn’t model

‘healthy.’"

He earned a masters degree in education from Springfield College, but

in 1969 the draft called. He signed on for an extra year and received

training as a neuropsychiatric specialist. "I served three years at

the Valley Forge Army hospital with the guys who came back from

Vietnam crazy and strung out," he says. When he was through with his

tour, Schiraldi went to Temple University, where he received his

doctorate in holistic health counseling. Afterwards, he worked in drug

and alcohol counseling in private practice for 10 years. In 1988, he

took a job at Temple in alcohol and drug counseling and education. In

September of 2001 he took on a similar role at Princeton. "I got hired

the week before 9/11," he says. "I really hit the ground running. I

had had a lot of training in trauma response and I was able to really

help."

In addition to his role at the university, Schiraldi maintains a small

private practice at the Princeton Integrative Health Center, where the

couples workshop will be held.

Divorced for several years, Schiraldi understands firsthand that

healthy relationships require time, energy and nurturing. "When you

find one, it makes a lot of sense to celebrate it. There are no

magical tips," he says. But he can offer guidance and strategies:

Reflect. Each person gives some thought to the relationship and

acknowledges the choice and contribution of what they have brought to

it and their partner. Then tell each other things you appreciate about

each other, and things you are grateful for.

Renew. Get back to doing the simple things that you did

when you first

fell in love. People new in a relationship tend to be happy just

spending time together. Recreate moments like that. Cook a meal

together. Eat in front of the fire. Just lie down and hold each other;

listen to each other’s breathing. (Listening to each other breathe is

also a great technique to diffuse tension. If you have had an

argument, holding each other and listening to each other breathe can

break the tension. You will usually wind up laughing.)

Take time. Set aside time just for each other. "Whether

it’s going for

a walk, dinner, or going to a show, spending a quiet night together,

or a full-blown weekend away, taking time symbolizes the honoring of

the relationship. If it is not something you schedule in, everything

else winds up taking higher priority.

Have fun. Think of things that make you laugh and then do

them.

Relationships require it. Fun with joy mixed in – stuff that makes us

laugh a lot – that should be important.

Set intentions. Think about what you want and where you

are going as a

couple. What do you want for the future of your relationship? Your

life? People make plans all the time for remodeling the house or

saving money for college, but you can also take time to consider what

you want as a couple and set intentions. The ritual is a really nice

acknowledgement for the relationship, says Schiraldi.

This advice holds for couples with children too. How many couples let

their relationships take a back seat when kids enter the picture?

"When you have a full life and kids are involved you might have to

include the kids," he says. But that can be done by "taking time

around the dinner table without the television blaring – sitting

around a fire, playing games, taking a walk. Once the kids are asleep,

the couple needs time just being together without distractions." (See

"Renew" above.)

All of these suggestions work just as well in March, April, and beyond

as they do on Valentine’s Day, says Schiraldi. Connecting at a heart

level, says Schiraldi, "is a core need we each have. We don’t spend

nearly enough time nurturing that connection." When you take time to

"connect on a regular basis, when you are creative and build on it,"

he says, "you will fan the flames and keep [your relationship] alive."

Couples Workshop with Roberto Schiraldi, Saturday, February 19, 9:30

a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Princeton Integrative Health Center, 11 State

Road, Suite 300, Princeton. $150 per couple. 609-921-8980.

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