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
"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
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
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
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
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
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.