After 39 years of being married to the same man/women, I’ve got a few ideas on keeping the spark burning and the affection flowing toward — not away from — each other.
- When you get home at night, greet each other “Hello” like you mean it. No perfunctory greeting while perusing Facebook, answering a text, checking email. Make eye contact. Shut off the electronics. Hug. Kiss. Smile at each other.
- Learn together. Studies show people who watch TV series have more empathy toward each other than those who watch documentaries. Pick a TV series to watch together and discuss the plot development, characters’ reactions and actions. Pay attention to where you and your spouse disagree and agree. This will give you a window into the other’s perspective that you may not otherwise be privy to.
- Handle your own family’s issues in your way and let him handle his family’s issues in his own way. Realize that people tend to give their own family of origin a pass on egregious behavior, so be prepared to meet resistance if you are overly critical of each other’s relatives.
- Acknowledge that you both will have differences of opinions — on many issues: childrearing, religious observances, in-laws, finances, politics. It’s OK to disagree, but reaching a compromise and consensus moves things along.
- Counter to what professionals urge, I think it’s okay to go to bed mad. Trying to talk it out when you are both tired breeds trouble. Table the conversation until you are rested, focused and not under time constraints. And until then, avoid letting the anger fester.
- You don’t need to share every intimate thought. Employ your social contacts and find a good and trusted friend to vent to when frustration and disappointment override good judgment. However, don’t scrimp on talking about essential issues affecting your and your family’s well being with your spouse. Sharing details breeds intimacy. Intimacy sprouts compassion. Listen closely when communicating. Age, time, circumstances and milestone events alter previous held beliefs. Don’t miss out on each other’s burgeoning growth and development by letting your anger dominate or your listening skills deteriorate.
- Do out-of-the-box things together. If you decide to take up biking, research what bike to buy, what trails are close by, what gear is needed. Together. It’s a process and an adventure to share. On the other hand, you don’t have to do everything together — that can be stifling too.
- When in doubt about how to respond to your mate, respond with kindness. If it’s cruel — even if it’s true — refrain from saying it.
- Forgive lack of perfection — in yourself, your spouse, and in your relationship. Neat and tidy does not necessarily make a good marriage. Find comfort in the messiness. As a wise friend once noted, part of being sane is being a little bit crazy. And nothing brings out crazy more than living with the same person year after year after year.
- During the good times, keep humility close. During the not-so-good times, practice gratitude. During the truly tough times, stick together.
Do I follow all these rules all of the time? Of course not.
To be honest, probably not even SOME of the time. But having something lofty to shoot for isn’t such a bad thing. Right? And keep in mind that when all else fails, separate vacations don’t hurt either.