Valentine's Day has come and gone and the aftermath is being felt in my psychotherapy practice with dissatisfied couples who were not the least bit interested in buying heart-shaped cards or sending or receiving a dozen red roses. They just weren't feeling it, you know?
The romance/sizzle/spark/affection has left the building and no one is chasing after it. This holiday gives us the opportunity to look at and improve what ails us in our intimate relationship. Because, hey, if Cupid isn't coming to your rescue, you just may need to do the work yourself. What follows are my so-easy-anyone-can-do-it tips to improve your marriage in moments.
1. Cuddle for a couple of minutes before you get out of bed in the morning: Yeah, yeah I know: you need to grab a shower before making the kids' lunches, the baby is screaming, the dog has to pee. I'm not talking about sex or even conversation; just two minutes of spooning or face-to-face toes-touching skin contact. You will be amazed at the connection it builds for the rest of the day.
2. Kiss each other hello and goodbye: This doesn't need to be a heavy-duty make out session, but not a little peck on the cheek you'd give your grandmother either. A couple of seconds of lip-locking with eyes open. Butt grabbing is optional.
3. Say "thank you": Showing your partner appreciation creates more goodwill than I can tell you in one small article. "Hey, thanks for taking out the trash", "I really appreciate you bringing the clean laundry upstairs", "Thank you for letting me choose the movie tonight", "I can't tell you how you saved my bacon when you picked up the kids from daycare today". You get the idea. So many women ask me, "Am I supposed to give him a gold star every time he does something he's supposed to?" Umm, yes...if you want a happy and lasting relationship. Don't you like to be appreciated as well for doing stuff you normally do anyway?
4. Talk up your relationship: Sharing things you like about your marriage, how lucky you feel, how sad it is that Joan and Mark are having problems, how grateful you feel, why your family is special. There's a lot of doom and gloom in the news these days people. There are a lot of couples with serious problems. Talking about the ways in which you feel lucky to be with your partner and in your marriage builds a ton of goodwill.
5. Look at each other when you talk: That means you are connecting with your partner not your Facebook friends. Have you ever gone to a restaurant and looked at the other couples who are dining at the same table but one or both of them is completely absorbed in their phone? It's tragic to me. It's more important to them that they "like" someone's post rather than liking their table mate. Look at each other for heaven's sake! If your mate is gracious enough to share some stray thought or feeling, at least have the courtesy to give them your undivided attention. Nothing else is more important at that moment.
6. Spend ten minutes taking a walk together: Pushing the baby in a stroller, taking the dog on a leash, walking behind the kids on bikes, whatever. That means ten minutes away from the house, away from the bills, away from the computer, away from the TV, and by the way, leave your cell phone at home. Hold hands, laugh, look at birds and trees, share something ridiculous that happened to you today.
7. Hold hands when you watch TV: Or put a hand on your partner's thigh while watching the nightly news or American Idol. I don't care; just touch each other in some small way while zoning out.
8. Hold your tongue: Not everything needs a comment and certainly not a negative one. If something is unimportant, you don't need to roll your eyes, sigh loudly, or ruin his plan with a better one of your own. Guys vent just like women do and not everything he says needs a reply or a Debbie Downer response.
9. Give compliments: I cannot overstate the value of goodwill. Do you know how many men sit on my office couch and tell me they can't remember the last time their wife paid them a compliment (but she is certainly grouchy when she doesn't get them)? Men and women alike enjoy and need to be told that they are attractive, special and loved. Does it really hurt you to tell your man that he looks great today or that you are proud of a specific accomplishment?
10. Have sex: Yup, even when you aren't 100% into it. Sometimes when you aren't even 20% into it. Now, don't get your nightie in a knot; I'm not saying that you should subjugate yourself and have forced sex. What I am saying is this: women connect through talking and men connect through sex. What would happen if you tried to talk to your husband for three weeks and he never said a word back? What if he turned away when you tried to talk to him? Doesn't feel good, does it? That's exactly what it feels like to a man when a woman doesn't accept his sexual advances or worse yet, makes fun of him for trying. Sex is an amazing connection point if you love the one you're with.
Try these ten tips today and for one full week without any expectation of likewise return. I guarantee you that your marriage will improve by the end of the week and your spouse will begin to reciprocate.