I admit it: I’ve got definite people-pleasing (I prefer to think of them as “nurturing”) tendencies, and almost always go out of my way to treat the people in my life with caring, politeness, and respect.
But can you guess the person in my life who most often gets the short end of the stick from me? That’s right: My husband, Jon.
I don’t do it intentionally, of course. It’s just that we are together so much and he’s been a part of my life so long, that I sometimes forget to focus on showing him as much love as I try to show everyone else in my life. I often, sadly, simply take him for granted.
I’m guessing a lot of you can relate. So in today’s post I’m going to share a few of the things I’ve been doing—and that have been working!—over the last several years to strengthen and deepen my marriage.
As in my last post, I’ll be focusing on three challenges—a small daily change, a weekly activity, and a one-time event—that can help you recharge your marriage by connecting in three important ways:
Late last year I took a deep breath and wrote several frank articles about sex after kids, because I know it’s so important for a healthy relationship…and I’ve seen and experienced how easily and quickly it can fall by the wayside.
But going “all the way” isn’t the only way to love your spouse physically: all those smaller acts, like hugging, kissing, hand-holding and back rubbing can deepen our connection and serve as a “touch bridge” between full-blown sexy times.
The problem is that when you’re feeling touched out, annoyed, stressed, or just plain overwhelmed, physical touch is often one of the first things that can wind up falling off your to-do list.
This month I would love for you to challenge yourself to connect physically with your partner in some way, every day. Even if it’s just a quick cuddle on the sofa before bed, a real kiss before you start your day in the morning, (let’s turn that distracted peck up a notch!) or a long hug in the evening, taking the time to connect physically is good for both of you and good for your relationship.
Plus, for me having that physical connection regularly always makes getting to the “next step” feel that much easier.
If your marriage is in the middle of a sex desert, you might want to check out my post featuring practical ways to introduce more sex into your life, as well as my thoughts about how to get more comfortable with your body (it makes taking your clothes off a lot easier!)
Remember when you first fell in love with your spouse? I’m guessing his brain had a lot to do with the attraction. Long conversations about everything and anything, a shared love of books, movies, or music, a great sense of humor, a razor-sharp wit…so much of what helps us connect with another person starts in the mind.
But often the demands of adult life and parenthood can start to eat away at the time you used to spend connecting on an intellectual level.
This month, let’s focus on putting some of that early mind meld back where it belongs. I’d like for you to choose a weekly activity that will help you and your spouse get to know one another’s more cerebral sides once again. My guess is that you’ll wind up pleasantly surprised by how much you still have in common—and how much room there still is to grow and evolve together.
The good news is that this doesn’t have to entail a weekly “date night” or costly activities if those things won’t work for you right now. Here are some simple and inexpensive ways to start:
- Have a weekly “date night in,” focusing on a shared activity: watch a movie on Netflix after the kids are in bed, create your own mini book club, or discuss a podcast or TV program you both love.
- Send each other long emails. If you wrote multi-page love letters back at the beginning of your relationship, here’s a way to rekindle that feeling without having to admit how atrocious your handwriting has gotten. Perhaps this could be a more valuable use of the time you currently spend browsing Pinterest or Facebook?
- Keep talking. Simply having regular discussions – in bed, over coffee in the morning, during a weekend walk – can help the two of you stay mentally connected. Whether your passion is politics, art, food, or science, share what’s on your mind…and be sure to listen when he talks, too. You just might learn some interesting new things, and it’ll let him know that you value his input and opinions.
He may not express it the same way you do, but your husband is an emotional creature just the same. The trick is that men and women don’t always communicate emotions in the same way, which often leaves women feeling frustrated (“Why won’t he talk to me?”) and men bewildered (“What did I do?”)
This month I’d like you to commit to a single, one-time act that can help you make a better emotional connection with your partner. This can range from simple yet potentially life-changing, to a much larger event. Here are some ideas:
- Have a frank discussion. Jon and I communicate very differently—he’s a man of little emotional expression, while I over-share, over-think and over-explain everything—so there have been times that I’ve had to simply tell him “I know you aren’t going to love having this conversation, but it’s really important to me to get this out.” And even when he’s uncomfortable at first, in the end, I’m always glad I did. We really need to trust our spouses enough to honor them with our deepest worries, fears, and flaws, even though getting it all out can be tough at times. But a great side effect? The more unguarded and expressive I am with my husband, the more comfortable he becomes with it, and has even become (somewhat) more expressive in return.
- Read a book about relationships and think about how to apply the advice in your own life. I personally have gotten a lot of value from Dr. Gary Chapman’s concept of “love languages.” Understanding that we all show love—and want to be shown love—differently has helped me approach all my important relationships with more compassion as well as a clearer idea of how to get my needs met, too. I also highly recommend learning more about your Meyers-Briggs personality type and how it can mesh—and clash—with your partner’s.
- Attend a weekend couple’s retreat. If you (or your spouse!) are scared off by a mental image of a bunch of couples joining hands and singing Kumbaya around a campfire, you might want to do some reading about the many different kinds of couple’s retreats out there. Some are Christian in nature while others are more new-age; some offer group counseling as the backbone of the experience while others focus more on relaxation and shared experiences. Here’s an article that details just a few of the many options. Still doesn’t sound like your thing? You could always create your own couple’s retreat by planning a weekend away just to focus on each other.
Remember, if committing to all three of these challenges is too much for you right now, start where you can (the small daily habit is a great place to start) and add on as you’re able.
But really, one of the biggest steps is often simply recognizing when you’re giving your most important human relationship the shaft. Only then can you make a plan for giving yourselves both the gift of an engaging, exciting, and rock-solid relationship. So simply by reading this post, you’re already on your way.
ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS
- Is physical connection a regular part of your marriage now? Sex, cuddling, even just regularly hugging and kissing, are important parts of maintaining physical intimacy. How can you make time and the effort to connect physically this month?
- When was the last time you and your husband just sat and talked—about your hopes and dreams, your interests, things you’re learning or discovering? Make a “date,” whether it’s out or at home, to just talk and catch up. Hint: I’ve heard it said that men communicate side-by-side better than face-to-face; try having these conversations while lying in bed, driving in the car, etc.
- How easy is it for you to share your emotional needs with your husband? When was the last time you time not just to connect but to actually evaluate your relationship and talk about your respective needs? What “one-time” event can you complete this month, or at least put on the calendar, to invest in your relationship?