By Debbie Prescott, M.A, LPC & Nadia Persun, Ph.D.
“You are sweet. I love you. Be mine. Forever.” Do you remember when you both could not wait to spend time together, whether just hanging out or intimately? Maybe you are among lucky couples still regularly enjoying romantic dinners, movie nights, long walks, and passionate intimate hours. But maybe, unfortunately for many couples, the flame turned into embers, and your spouse feels at times more like a housemate.
We are inundated with distractions: cable television, computers, iPads, cell phones, and the list goes on. Parenting brings us joy but depletes our time and energy. Long work hours and household chores add to our stress, exhaustion, and chronic lack of rest. We are inevitably left in a situation where spending time with spouses, while rekindling emotions and feelings towards each other, requires planning, intention, and commitment. What can you do to fan those romantic embers?
Make relationship with your partner a priority. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary a priority is “the things that someone cares about and thinks are important”. Note that this definition includes intention. Don’t wait for your partner to do all the work. Don’t count what your spouse does or doesn’t do for you. It creates a list of expectations with a mental score card, leading to disappointment. Make it a gift. Decide to be caring and mindful and act on it.
Be physically and emotionally present. Stay near your spouse in the house, rather than in different rooms. Sit close more often, putting down your laptop, iPad or cell phone. Hold hands and give an extra hug. When emotional intimacy is gone, physical connection fizzles out too. Often people desperately try to recover the physical aspect, failing to understand that it is a natural consequence of a good emotional relationship. Don’t focus on sexual aspects at first, as they are likely to restore gradually, as you feel safer and more content in each other’s company.
Do something nice for your partner without being asked. Make a special point of complementing and saying thank you more often. Send your partner a quick little text “Can’t wait to see you tonight”. Surprise your partner with something that you know s/he may like. This does necessarily mean spending money. Use your imagination. It could be a back rub, massage, cleaning up after dinner, putting the kids to bed. Just by doing something a little extra can make all the difference in the world.
Learn to communicate more and better. It is very different from talking that revolves around a logistical exchange of information. Lets admit, we often don’t truly listen but scan the statements we hear, while formulating responses to others’ words before they have even finished talking. We sometimes speak at people, not to them. We glance and glare, instead of looking at someone and genuinely noticing them. Our sense of detachment, judgement, rigid body language and flat tone of voice prevent connection. Make more eye contact and listen to your partner for a few minutes without interrupting, focusing to understand the message they try to convey. What is it that your spouse wants or needs? What is bothering or hurting them? If constructive communication does not come easy, seek some family counseling. Ask your therapist to coach and help you practice the skills of assertive communication and connecting dialoguing.
Find a cause or a hobby that interests you as a couple. Extend the energy in your relationship beyond yourselves, become inspired and work together on a new joint project. It fosters your “sole mate” connection: passion, mission, and a sense of “togetherness”. Political groups, charities, and religious organizations offer “transcendent” opportunities. Joining a gym together or attending cooking or art classes are great hobbies that are good for your spirit and help you bond over some positive activities.
Remember that relationships are much like gardens. We have to nourish them by being mindful and intentional. When you do, you generally notice that positive emotions and acts of kindness are contagious. Once you fill up your piggy bank of marital mindfulness with caring behaviors, you will be surprised to find out that your spouse did just the same, as your marriage begins to blossom.