Nine ideas that will help you keep your marriage feeling fresh
Published 17/05/2016 | 12:35
Do you look at your husband or wife and think "that's not the person I married"?
If so, you're not alone. Research published last week by family law specialists Gardner Leader revealed that 56 percent of spouses think that their partners have changed dramatically since they walked down the aisle.
The survey of 2,000 married and divorced Britons painted a pretty bleak picture of marriage. 19 per cent of respondents said that they felt their conversations had become boring and predictable, while a depressing 28 per cent reported no longer being in love.
If you too are suffering from the marital blues, the good news is that there is plenty you can do to reverse the situation and rediscover some of the youthful vigor that characterised the early days of your relationship. But first, say relationship therapists Diane Stevens, Gary Schuller and Alicia Pinkston, you have to spot the signs that you're in a rut.
"The biggest sign that your marriage has lost its spark is when communication fails," says Stevens. "And this can take many forms. Special occasions may no longer be noted and interest in intimate behaviour could lessen."
Schuller suggests looking out for tell-tale signs of boredom, such as every night turning into TV night, and spending more time looking at your phone than your partner. Once you've identified the trend, he says the most important thing is acting ASAP. "If you no longer feel that your marriage is fresh, that doesn't mean it’s unsalvageable. But, once you feel that way, don’t wait. So many times I've worked with couples who say they wish they had gotten support for their relationship sooner or at least had begun to talk about what needed to be talked about.
Here, the three relationship professionals explain what you can do to help liven up your marriage and avoid becoming one of those depressing statistics...
1. Get frisky
According to Stevens, a slackening of action between the sheets is a common indicator of a marriage that has gone off the boil. The pressures of family life may make it hard to maintain a riotous sex life, but that shouldn't be an excuse for letting it fizzle out completely.
"Sadly, bedroom activity is one of the first things which can 'slide' when families grow and responsibilities get heavier," she explains. "People get tired, intimacy is rushed, and one party increasingly waits for their partner to initiate it.
"Sex is a very important part of a healthy relationship. It keeps you close, intimate and playful. So, if time is the issue, then plan for it. Leave the kids with the grandparents for a night, or come home during the day when they're at school. If you can, plan a weekend away."
"Make it fun rather than being a chore, and remember how much time and effort you put in to please your partner when you first met."
2. Look in the mirror
It's a cliche that you stop caring about your own appearance as you settle into comfortable marriage – but as with most cliches, there's good reason it exists, according to Schuller.
"For many spouses, watching their partner schlep around in the same old clothes and styles sends the message of 'You’re not important enough for me to make an effort for'. And that, combined with a dull routine and predictable sex life, is disastrous."
So, how do you reverse it?
"Make an effort, like you did on your first date – hopefully!" says the therapist. "Shower before bed, change clothes for dinner if you feel dishevelled after work, smarten up for nights out. And, when your partner next makes the effort, let them know how much it means to you, how much you like the way they look and, most importantly, how much you appreciate their effort. A small compliment goes a long way, believe me."
3. Divorce your job
Would you rather leave your job or your spouse? The answer should be obvious – but, says Schuller, couples often go down the wrong path.
"Everyone's busy trying to meet the demands of the fast-paced, competitive modern lifestyle. However, I've lost track of the number of people I meet who have everything on paper, yet are unfulfilled in their lives and relationships. It shouldn't be news by now that happiness is not to be found solely through the acquisition of the materialistic symbols of success."
"If you are married to your job and don't make the time for your partner, you are headed for a fall. What's the point of having it all if you feel alone and disconnected from those you love?
"Try talking about what you really want from your life together. Make changes to your work if it leaves no time for play.
"Workaholism is a real addiction and, like any addiction, it can lead to isolation, loss, despair and the irreparable breakdown of relationships."
4. Routinely break your routines
"Routines are often comforting to couples - especially when there are children or busy work schedules involved," says Stevens. "You know when and where things are going to take place."
However, routine can also be boring – the sign of marital monotony. "Every so often, couples should break their routine and do something different to keep things fresh. Even if this is as simple as cooking a different recipe together or getting a babysitter so you can go to that restaurant you've been talking about for ages."
Having an event in the diary gives us something to look forward to and something to get excited about.
5. Take a break (but not from each other!)
Finding the time and money for a holiday can be tough, but anyone who needs a reason to clock off from work for a long weekend need only look to science.
"Research has shown that new experiences increase the flow of endorphins to the brain, which enhance connectivity and reduce stress," explains Pinkston, who cites the evidence as a good excuse to go on holiday with your loved one.
"Holidays give you both the opportunity to escape the stressors of everyday life – from work schedules to family responsibilities. Try taking a short break, and use it as an opportunity to focus on each other and strengthen communication and intimacy.
If you can't get away, don't dismiss a 'staycation'. "If you can't manage to get time off work, stay in on a Saturday, ban electronics for the day, and reorganise your bedroom to create a fresh, new environment."
6. Give the gift of surprise
Really, this should be your first step on the path to freshening up your marriage. All three counsellors say that there's nothing like a surprise act or gift to make your other half feel wanted again.
"Doing something thoughtful for your partner shows that you are thinking about them and want to brighten up their day," confirms Pinkston. "And these surprises don't have to be expensive – usually the more creative gifts or experiences, ones with a personal touch, are the best!
"Try making your other half breakfast in bed one morning. Or you could put together a mixtape of their favourite songs, slip a note in their bag before work, even send them a sexy text."
7. Be curious
"Probably the most important advice I could give is for you to be curious about your partner – respectfully curious, I hasten to add," says Schuller.
"Let them know that you always want to know what's important to them, how their day went, what their dreams are for the future. There will always be much more to your partner than you know, so you can continuously get to know them. "
"That doesn't mean pry. But every women I've ever talked to tells me how important they find it that their partners see them as a unique, distinct person.
"As a man, I can confirm that it's just as important to us!"
8. Avoid the chore war
It's obvious – and, yes, boring – but a lot of marriages run aground on the rocky shore of chores.
"Do it without being told!" exclaims Pinkston. "Nothing kills the mood more than when one spouse feels like a nag and the other spouse feels nagged."
The therapist says that the best thing you can do is agree on who does what and thereafter always try to be appreciate of your other half's work.
"Research shows that the most happy couples give more compliments than negative statements," he says. "Why not try taking on your spouse's chores one day without being asked – you will be amazed at the results."
9. Find a shared hobby
"Hobbies and interests tend to change as our relationship develops," says Stevens. "Some people let go of these passions as they believe that they must be fully committed to their relationship. But our hobbies and interests enable our partner to better understand us and they define us as an individual, giving us cause for communication, excitement and celebration. Try finding an interest that you can share together."
How to tell if you're in a zombie marriage
Look through the following statements and see which ones you agree with.
- There is plenty of family time, but we rarely do something as a couple (without other couple friends present).
- When sex does happen, it is functional, brief and not particularly satisfying.
- I feel like I am tiptoeing around a silent argument that’s been going on for years, but I’ve no real idea how it started or what it’s about.
- There are times I dread my partner coming home.
- There is something that I can’t forgive my partner for having done/I did something that my partner can’t move past.
- I bite my tongue all the time because there are more and more topics about which we will never be able to agree.
- I would find it hard to get through the weekend without thinking of a special friend at work or some flirty texting.
- I used to be angry with my partner but, although these days he or she can sometimes be irritating, I am largely indifferent.
- I often fantasise about starting a new life once the children are older or have left home.
If you agreed with two of the above statements, it is cause for concern but you are not in a zombie marriage. Three statements is on the cusp and four or more has you soundly in zombie marriage territory (but you probably knew that before you did the test).