While the problems facing many of the couples we help are complex, there are simple steps that we at The LodeStone Center consider relatively easy ways to start rebuilding closeness and intimacy in a marriage. If you are contemplating seeing a marriage therapist and wish you could start working on things right away, these suggestions may give you some basic ideas to start with early. A trained marriage therapist can help you fine tune them for your specific marital problems, and maximize the impact they have on your marital satisfaction.
Verbalize Appreciation Often
Couples in distress often communicate a sense of being “taken for granted”, while many couples that report high degrees of satisfaction frequently express the things they appreciate about their spouse often. Try making a “mailbox” out of a manila envelope for each of you (like the ones kids make on Valentine’s Day). Have fun with it…..decorate them together when you start this project. Tape them to your bedroom door, and resolve to put in 1 index card a day expressing something you appreciate about your spouse. Have dinner together once a week and read the cards together. After a few weeks, you’re on your way to developing this behavior as a habit.
Do Exciting Things with Each Other
Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that stimulates our “reward centers”. Research suggests that when this happens in the presence of a person we are attached to, an association between enjoyment and that person gets wired in the brain. Plan a “Dopamine Date” once every few week. We suggest keeping an eye on the frequent activity-based deals promoted on Groupon.com or LivingSocial.com. They often have great introductory activities such as dancing, cooking classes or more adventurous ideas than you may come up with on your own, and can be a great way to expand your repertoire of enjoyable dating activities.
Validate Each Other During Disagreements
There is a very strong association between feeling invalidated (hearing “you’re wrong!”) and feelings of anger. Couples that navigate arguments well tend to fit in messages of validation along with the point they are trying to argue. Inserting statements such as “I can see your point”, or “I can understand why you would feel that way” can go a long way in turning a fight into a discussion. I often recommend that couples use a “validation card” to help with this. Make a 4-inch square card out of a green file folder. Write a validating statement such as “I can understand why you are upset because ______.” on the card, and take turns completing the sentence the next time the two of you are disagreeing about something. If you keep one of these cards in each room of the house, it can serve as a small visual reminder to listen to one another when a disagreement surfaces.
Have a First Date Again
When couples first start dating, they spend a tremendous amount of time getting to know one another. They talk about their interests, their goals and dreams, their views on various topics and their frustrations. Over time, it becomes easy for a couple to believe that they still know all of their spouse’s answers to these questions, even though many have likely changed over the years. Go out to dinner with your spouse, and pretend you are on a blind date. Take turns interviewing one another as though you have met for the first time. You may find yourself surprised at some of the answers! Getting to know one another again like this communicates interest and desire for closeness that is easy to leave un-communicated with the routine of our regular week.
Find Ways to Do Nice Things More Often
This is another area that often gets neglected as families get busier and more complex. In the early days of a relationship, couples often do small tasks for one another as a sign of affection. Something as simple as doing each other’s chores so the other person can relax, or bringing home a small surprise gift can go a long way to demonstrate that you are invested in caring for your spouse. This task fits very, very nicely with the exercise described in section #1, “Verbalize Appreciation Often”. As you are doing that exercise, find ways to do things for your spouse. You will know which ones have the biggest impact, because you will see them mentioned on the cards in their “appreciation mailbox”. I often recommend that couples put a reminder for this task in the calendar of their smartphone if they have one. This helps them have a reminder “pop-up” in their busy day to help them remember to make this a priority for the day.
These tasks represent some of the foundational habits of couples that manage to maintain a positive sense of intimacy and closeness in their marriage. Couples that are in distress or have experienced something damaging in the marriage such as an affair should seek a professional to help guide the process of repairing the relationship, as the issues faced in repairing a marriage are often very complicated to navigate. For those looking for a “tune-up”, the suggestions above can give you a step in the right direction while seeking out guidance. We have several marriage counselors at The LodeStone Center that can help you get moving in the right direction. If you would like to speak with one of our marriage counselors, visit our contact page, and find out how we can help!