Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary Marriages
Will You Be My Valentine?
Take a trip down memory lane to the year you were married. Romance seemed to happen automatically. You took for granted those natural feelings of attraction you had for each other and the fun that you had.
Fast forward. The year is 2004. You have been married___years and the romance no longer seems so automatic. Maybe things have gotten in the way of that romance: jobs, kids, houses, lawns. Perhaps you wonder if there is something wrong with you.
The happiness studies at the University of California are showing the important of varying strategies at different times. We have identified three romance killers and have taken the risk of overwhelming our readers by giving lots of suggestions to be tried at different times to keep the romance in your marriage.
Peek in at a romantic, candle lit restaurant on Valentine's Day and observe. You might see two older married couples seated near each other, one engaged in animated conversation, the other staring speechlessly at their plates.
Possibly the one couple is suffering from Rust Out, the boredom, stagnation, and loss of "in love" feelings that result from an unimaginative spirit and the benign neglect of their precious love.
Interview the other couple and you may find that they report feeling more in love now than when they married. Why? Because they still do the things they did when they were first falling in love, only now they do these things intentionally:
- Make time together for dates
- Plan fun activities
- Pay attention to each other
- Compliment each other
- Talk so your partner listens
- Listen so your partner talks
- Share affection
- Dream about the future.
When we see couples in our office suffering from Rust Out, we suggest that they can reverse the effects of years of rust with a "20 minute a day program" including at least a few of these elements:
- Daily catch-up maybe after dinner or while watching TV but muting the commercials to allow for conversation.
- 4 caring behaviors per day. These should be small positive, behaviors, free from conflict.
- 1 "thank you" per day: Show appreciation for favors received and be specific.
- 1 talk/listen session/week where the partners really listen to each other.
- 1 fun activity/week.
- 1 date/month. Can be done at home.
- 1 marital sitdown/month, the marriage equivalent of how business organizations manage strategic planning and performance evaluation.
- Daily affection including at least one 10 second kiss.
A third couple in the restaurant may look very tired, but not from lack of sleep. This joyless couple suffers from marital burnout, that worn down feeling that comes not from years of giving but from giving up. You can't burn out unless you start out on fire. This couple started with enthusiasm but when they heard that marriage requires work they made it a job instead of a joy. Paradoxically in these marriages, both people often think they are the only one working on the marriage, making unhealthy sacrifices that the other partner doesn't even want them to make.
- Renew your sense of meaning and purpose with these steps:
- Ask each other: "How can I show you that I care for you? How close are we to our ideal life? What gets in our way?"
- Make healthy sacrifices, ones your partner wants and appreciates.
- Balance your needs with those of your spouse and family.
- Refresh your sense of delight in each other.
- Use romantic rituals - holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, TGIF, celebrations, love notes.
- For special occasions, serve special foods such as strawberries, chocolate, champagne, lobster.
- Set aside Sabbath time -an hour, a day, a vacation.
- Take a retreat could be formal or informal, could be part of a day or a whole weekend.
- Refuel your energy by using your sexual relationship to energize your motivation for all the things you do. Sexual feelings create powerful brain chemicals, the same ones associated with falling in love. Sex therapist, Dr. Joseph LoPicicolo says about marital sex that it is the "lubricating glue" of the relationship. Sociologist Andrew Greeley says, "Sexual pleasure heals the frictions and conflicts of the common life and reinforces the bond between husband and wife."
A fourth couple at the restaurant may be having an argument. Ninety eight percent of marrieds report some form of nastiness, the third romance killer, showing itself as yelling, swearing, and angry outbursts. Violence, including its milder forms of "physical incidents" such as slamming doors and throwing objects, is reported by 85% of marrieds.
- Develop a compassionate heart.
The Greek work for passion (Passio) means to suffer. Compassion is "to suffer with." If you want passion, know that it is attained by allowing the hard feelings to coexist with the fun ones.
Here are some questions if you are not naturally empathic:
- What would I be feeling if I were my partner?
- What do I think my partner's life is like right now?
- What are his/her needs?
- Would I like to be married to me?
- What could I do to make things better? Then check out your answers with your spouse.
- Protect the fun and romance from the flak.
- Don't let the negative issues ruin the good times. (Put a bookmark in the argument, enjoy the good time, but come back to the issue later.)
- Get good at dealing with conflict. (See up and coming workshops for Phil's communication workshop.)
- If there is a tendency to explode, take a time-out to neutral
ground, come back later when calmer.
- Take the long-term view: Don't threaten the relationship
or the person; stick to the issue. Distinguish between a one-time
incident and a pattern. Pick your battles.
A passionate marriage is attained not so much by finding the right person as by being the right person. If you are not the spouse you wanted to be when you married, it is not too late to add intentional romance into your life.
Copyright 2004 Drs. Susan & Philip Robison. Feel free to copy and reproduce as long as you print with contact information.