Remember the early days of your relationship with your spouse?
Today, if you are like me, you and your partner are mere versions of your younger selves, focused now on things like:
The reason so many couples find themselves feeling distanced from each other at this stage of life is simple. We all have a tendency to put our romantic relationship on the back burner after marriage because we think all of the other needs and responsibilities are more pressing. The kids need you. Work needs you. Your aging parents need you. The youth sports teams needs you. Your friends need you. Your house needs you. Afterall, this is the person you are spending the rest of your life with so they will always be there beside you. It’s ok to put your relationship on the back burner right now. How exciting will it be to spend your golden years of retirement with them?
What if you never get to enjoy those years? What if you make it to retirement but after spending decades focusing on others, you realize that you no longer know your partner. Worse yet, what if you realize that you no longer like each other? What if something terrible happens and you don’t get to make it to retirement age?
Sure, putting things on the proverbial back burner can work for a little bit. But, what happens if you leave something on the actual back burner? Eventually it dries out, maybe burns, and becomes a failure.
Marriages are the same.
It’s time to take your relationship off the back burner and start nurturing it now, before it’s too late.
Here are 9 ways to reconnect with your partner and put the focus back on your relationship without compromising your other responsibilities:
1. Date your partner
I cannot stress enough the value of dating your partner. While you may not be able to afford to hire a babysitter for at least one night each month, you can certainly find a way to creatively date your partner.
Maybe it means taking a day off from work during the day while kids are at school or at grandmas house so you can be alone. Maybe it means working out together at the gym while the kids are in the child care room. Maybe it means simply shutting off the tv, ignoring the dishes, and having a date at home after the kids go to bed. Maybe it means using your money to pay for a sitter and then having an inexpensive date while you walk around Target together.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, romantic, or cost money. You just need to make time for the two of you.
2. Hold staff meetings
You and your partner are essentially running a business. You’re managing a household and that inevitably means there are things like bills, repairs, and maintenance that need to be addressed. If you have children and/or pets, then you also have medical appointments and logistical considerations for others. Let’s not forget about things like laundry, meal prep, shopping, and cleaning.
Would you ever expect a company to run effectively without having some type of formal and consistent check in?
Marriages are the same. Schedule 30-minutes each week to check in with each other on the business aspects of your relationship. This can be a great time to compare calendars, identify breakdowns in communication, plan for next steps, and highlight accomplishments and sources of pride. You can also combine this with a date night — just make sure it’s only a portion of the date!
3. Don’t expect mind reading
So often we fall into the trap of expecting our partner to know us so well that they know what we are thinking and what we need. That’s not fair to your partner or to you.
Communicate your needs with your partner. If you come home expecting your partner to have started dinner but you never asked for that to happen, it’s not fair to then be angry or hurt that it didn’t happen.
Don’t let missed opportunities for communicating your needs lead to built up resentment.
4. Learn your love language
So often members of a couple feel as though their partner is not showing them love. In reality, though, they aren’t speaking their partner’s love language.
My partner may bring me flowers and little gifts, thinking that I know it means he loves me. But, we have learned that Gift Giving is not one of my love languages. Instead, Acts of Service (things like unloading the dishwater or making a doctor’s appointment for the kids or taking out the trash) make me feel loved.
Get on the same page with each other by reading Dr. Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts so you not only know how to recognize your partners expression of love for you but so that you can also more effectively show love to your partner.
5. Take vacations alone
Once you’ve been able to make date nights or date days a priority, the next step is to find a way to take vacations together. This could be a big vacation like a few nights in the Caribbean or traveling through Europe or it could mean you rent an AirBnb or cheap hotel room the next town over for one night.
The location doesn’t matter; what matters is that you have the opportunity to step out of your everyday life just the two of you and reconnect away from the normal routines.
6. Try new things together
Remember what it was like going through all the firsts in your relationship? There is something exciting about experiencing something new with your partner and we lose that spark the longer we’ve been together.
Consider taking up new hobbies or trying new things together. The options are limitless- golfing, dance lessons, hiking, reading a new book together, trying a new restaurant together.
The actual thing you do doesn’t matter. The key is for it to be something new for both of you.
7. Do things that your partner enjoys
It’s very rare that two members of a partnership enjoy all of the same things. Is there something that your partner enjoys that you find extremely boring? Find a way to try to do some of those things with your partner.
Learn that video game they love to play. Go to the concert of the band they really like. Go to that Indian restaurant even though you don’t like that type of cuisine.
Make them feel valued by showing an interest in the things that make them happy.
8. Physical connections
Don’t wait for there to be a natural physical spark between the two of you. With kids and work and responsibilities and pressures and competing schedules, it’s very likely that by the time the two of you reach your bed at the end of the day, the last thing you have the energy for is sex. Those are exactly the times when you need to make a priority though.
What would happen if the next time you found yourself with a fleeting thought of physical connection, you actually pursued it and put sleep or that pile of laundry off for a little bit longer?
What kind of impact would it have on your relationship if your put physical connection a bit higher up on your list of priorities?
9. Lean into each other, not away
When things get hard many couples lean away from each other. They complain and vent to their friends when their partner does something hurtful or irritating. They ignore opportunities to communicate directly with each other about concerns, instead leaving their relationship open to built up feelings of resentment and anger.
Lean into each other during those difficult times. Have those challenging and uncomfortable conversations with each other.
It’s what we do in almost all other aspects of our life, right? We have difficult conversations with our children, our friends, our coworkers, other parents on the sidelines at our kids games, and even strangers on social media. So, why won’t we do it with our partners? Is it maybe because we are leaving our relationship on the back burner, assuming we’ll have time to address it in the future?
The time to strengthen your marriage is now and you can find ways to reconnect meaningfully with your partner without taking your attention away from the other important relationships in your life.
Wouldn’t those younger versions of yourselves want you to make your marriage a priority now?
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE CHANGING PERSPECTIVES PODCAST EPISODE ABOUT THIS TOPIC
As I sat at my desk during my 10 minute break between grief therapy clients, I opened my Facebook app to scroll mindlessly for a few moments, completely unaware that my life was about to change.
A photo of one of my friends filled my feed instantly. It was a beautiful photo of her, one that captured her love for all people and her genuine desire to make life better for everyone. I skimmed the headline beneath the photo quickly and my brain couldn’t compute what I was seeing. The gruesome, horrific, unreal words didn’t match the photo before me of the carefree young woman that danced the night away at my wedding or led classrooms full of preschoolers in silly songs alongside me.
It couldn’t be.
With a shaking finger, I clicked on the link and my brain was finally able to make the connection.
We failed her.
The society she worked so hard to make better had failed her, letting her and her daughter die a horrible death at the hands of the man that was supposed to love them most. It’s a fate shared by many women and now she was part of the startling statistic of women whose desire to leave their partner led to their own murders.
Tears spilled freely from me in that moment. I’m not so sure she ever really knew how much her role as a mentor had meant to me or how much it had changed the course of my personal and professional life. I don’t know that I ever really told her how much I had learned from her and how much I always wished I had the courage to commit my life to making the kind of global changes that she so selflessly has made. I hope she knew how much of a ripple she had left in my life but I can never know for sure.
Now it’s too late. She’s gone.
Nausea swept over me and I broke out into a cold sweat as my brain began to process the terror she must have felt in her final days, final hours, and final moments as she realized she had no way to escape.
As dark as it was, I wanted to stay in the moment of grief, that space of remembering her, but the clock kept ticking and in just a minute I was due to provide grief therapy to another patient. I quickly pulled myself together, fixed my face, and pushed my emotions into a far off corner in my mind so that I could hold space for someone else’s grief, hoping that I would be able to process all of my feelings later on.
After leaving work that day, I briefly exchanged text messages about the awful story with some of my closest friends and shared a Facebook post not about the manner of her death but about her contributions to the world, as if somehow disconnecting the photo of her beautiful face from the horrible headline could alter reality.
Then I went about my night. I sat at a friend’s kitchen counter with other moms, making decorations for a youth football championship game while chitchatting about mundane stuff.
My brain both craved this simple, unemotional task and yet also wanted to reject it.
I wanted to set the football decorations aside and share her legacy with everyone. I wanted to tell them about her, her work, the sheer number of lives she changed, and my memories of her from such a pivotal time in my life.
But no one wants to talk about sadness or grief or loss or death.
So, I didn’t bring it up and neither did any of the people there with me. Collectively and silently we somehow agreed to pretend it hadn’t happened. We minimized the reality of her death and ultimately minimized her and her life.
I moved through the space of the next few days in a deeply contemplative state, as one often does when the unexpected and terrible occurs in life. Suddenly things that seemed incredibly important paled in comparison to what my friend had gone through; what her family and community were going through.
My own priorities snapped into focus. Life is far too short for many of us and tomorrow is not a guarantee. So, why waste any of it on the things and the people that hurt you or don’t make your life better? What is going to matter most at the end of my own life? What will my legacy be? Do the people who matter to me know how much they matter?
After a loss or trauma, the world marches on, leaving the grievers behind to pick up their own pieces, or to at least pretend they are picking up their own pieces. But, inside there is a constant loop of questions being asked and a deep yearning to be given permission to talk about their grief.
The reality is that we are surrounded by hurting people all the time; people who want to talk about the sad stuff. They want us to ask them about their dead child, their murdered friend, their dying grandparent, or the struggles of waiting to find out if their biopsy is cancerous. They are craving permission to share their inner struggles about trying to find a way to make sense of the saddest parts of our lives.
But, instead we throw ourselves into the things that don’t matter: small town politics, conflict in surface-level friendships, baskets of laundry that are overflowing, traffic that adds 15 minutes to our commute, gossip, drama, nonsense. At the end of our lives, none of it will matter.
Imagine how much more beautiful this life could be if we all were just a little more real with each other. Imagine the benefits to being just a bit more vulnerable. What would it be like if we all focused more on real connections and sloughed off the stuff that won’t matter when we are at the end of our own lives? I wonder if the outcome would have been different if more people had done this for my friend. Perhaps it wouldn’t have changed what happened to her but maybe, just maybe, it would have given her a few extra moments of hope, comfort, and validation.
We have work to do.
Relationships take effort and need to continuously be renegotiated over the years. These articles explore friendships and romantic partnerships - both their importance and how to improve them.