Marriage & Love
8 Ways You Can Rev Up Your Relationship
By Lorilee Craker
1. Do Little Things
Duos who still have the hots for each other spark up those heated feelings in tiny, seemingly mundane ways, like (one wife named) Catherine: "We don't really do anything romantic for each other," she said. "We do more of the practical little things – like emptying the dishwasher before the other person knows or can get to it or getting a late-night snack for one another after our little one is in bed." Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for ways to make him feel valued and cared for. Hand him a hot towel when he steps out of the shower. Pour him more coffee before his mug is empty. Play his favorite game – even if it's pool and you're a Monopoly kind of gal. Fix him the meal he loves that you can't stand. Wear a sweater he bought you to a family function; show it off and tell everyone he bought it. (Okay, it has chickens on it. You only really have to wear it once.)
Surprise him in the shower one morning, not by gracing him with your in-the-buff presence, although hopefully you are doing that anyway. This time, shock him by thinning out the seventeen hair and body products that clutter the shower ledge and stock it instead with a manly shampoo with no frou frou fragrance.
You get my point. Small kindnesses, doled out regularly, will make your guy feel prized. Bonus: he may very well catch on to your wily ways and pay it forward with his own love-boosting moves.
2. Fuel Your Own Interests
Do your own thing on a regular basis, and let him do his. Because carving out time spent apart (i.e., individual time off), invigorates a pair like crazy. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or in other words, more affectionate, doting, and tender. You know that old saying "How can I miss you if you don't go away?" Doing things independently gives you a chance to connect the dots your guy can't connect for you.
I'm just saying, for Pete's sake, do something that brings you to your happy place, and then go home rejuvenated, brimming with reports of foul shots or pirouettes gone amok ("And then the swan squashed the tuba player in the orchestra pit…").
Separate outings give you more to talk about and naturally bring fresh energy to your home and relationship. Make space for each other to pursue your own hobbies and interests. You'll fill in the oh-so-personal blanks you need filled, and he'll do the same. When you both get your "me" time, you'll feel good and that positive vigor will overflow into your union.
3. Compliment Your Man
Everywhere in your relationship, that is! When you tell your man he looks good in that shirt, or he makes the fluffiest pancakes on the planet, it charges the atmosphere around you with good stuff. You may be in the kitchen when you tell him he's a great dad, or he's sweet or funny or smart, but whatever humdrum place you're standing in is transformed. The air clears and the vibe changes. Make sure your accolades are sincere, but do make it a point of training your brain to pick up on his pros whenever you can. Why? Focusing on and noticing the good qualities in the world around you gives your mood a boost all by itself. Also, couples who talked about positive aspects of their relationships reduced stress by 15 percent, while those who talked about the negatives increased their stress by 48 percent, in a study conducted by the Journal of Family Psychology.
Do the math. Experts also say that paying little tributes to your mate pays off for you too. "People benefit from being the objects of compliments, but you also benefit being givers of them. Recipients benefit from knowing that you notice and learn that you value them. So compliments are powerful in motivating continued efforts. People strive to do more of what brings praise from others."
4. Get Away a Deux for a Day, a Weekend, or More
The tightest twosomes find creative ways to leave the building as a couple, not parents, on a regular basis. This means taking charge of your schedule and not letting your schedule take charge of you. It means chiseling out chunks of time to be the goin'-on team you always knew you could be.
If you both work, schedule a vacation or personal day together and then spend it together, relaxing together at home with the kids in their usual places. Have breakfast and lunch out, or simply enjoy the peace and quiet a kid-free house gives you. If your work gives you sick time for doctor's appointments, schedule your annual check-ups on the same afternoon and rendezvous later for a latte. It'll still feel like a little bit of hooky!
Once every couple of weeks, jot date night on your calendar: You don't have to go hot air ballooning and picnic with champagne and brie. Even hot dogs at a baseball game will taste like heaven when it's just you and him.
Brainstorm what a great date would look like to you. Scribble three ideas for outings that you would love, and then have your guy do the same. Shuffle and stick them in an envelope, then take turns picking notions for a nifty night out.
Call up Grandma and Grandpa if they live nearby, or swap portions of time with another young family. Get a membership at a gym with tyke-care, and then get sweaty together as the youngsters make new pals and play.
And every so often, plan a trip away together, even for a weekend. Often it's the planning and dreaming that truly fuses two people. We are still reaping the benefits of our time together in Costa Rica when Jonah was two, and I recall with fondness all the evenings at Schuler's, poring over travel guides to that lush, beautiful little country.
You may not have dough right this instant to go gallivanting off to Tahiti or someplace, but imagining where you might like to go if you could is worthwhile. Browse in your local bookstore's travel aisle, and each of you choose the top five places you'd like to visit. Later, sit down and go over your fantasy destinations together. Discover you've got one in common? You just took the first step toward making a shared dream come true.
5. Put Your Relationship with Your Husband First, and Your Kids Second
Now, now…before you throw tomatoes at me, try to keep an open mind. I know it sounds odd to suggest that your husband – a grown-up, able-to-cut-his-own-meat, doesn't-need-a-car-seat man – should take precedence over a 48-pound, needs-his-crust-cut-off, drinks-from-a-sippy-cup child.
It seems like the most natural thing in the world to make our precious little ones our first priority. Our emotional alliances shift almost the minute we become mothers, fundamentally changing who we feel we are. We love our babies with a consuming intensity that can shut out everyone and everything else – girlfriends, career interests, and yes, the love of our lives. He gets relegated to the back of the bus, so to speak, in terms of our attentions and energies. Evidently, it's common for moms to give dads a far littler slice of the time and energy pie than they give the little pie gobblers.
Two-thirds of new moms say that the person they feel most emotionally connected to right now is their baby. Oddly, the majority of dads say the person they feel connected to is their wife!
Something is off-kilter there. As natural and easy as it is to slip into the kid-ruled life, we have to consciously and intentionally make our husbands a priority, even the main concern, in our relationship pizza. This doesn't mean letting your baby's diaper drag on the floor because it hasn't been changed, or allowing your children to play with knives in the backyard so you can have a romantic candlelit dinner with your husband. But start giving your marriage the credence it deserves.
Balanced couples set early bedtimes and firm policies about the kids not jumping out of bed every five minutes after they've been tucked in. Once the kids are in their rooms and out of your hair, you can breathe, finish your sentences, and maybe even canoodle a little!
On the same wavelength, encourage your kids' independence by teaching them how to do for themselves. This means Junior can pour his own drink the next time your husband is telling you about his day, and even smear and smush his own PB&J together. Yes, he'll make a mess, but in the long run you'll have carved out another five minutes together.
6. Give Each Other Gifts
Don't wait for his birthday or Christmas to gift him with a little somethin' somethin'. Launch a new tradition in your household in which you two exchange gifts every other Wednesday or some such deal. Or maybe monthly on, perhaps, the month-i-versary of your wedding. That would make it quite easy to remember, plus ensure you do it once a month. My dad got my mom a card or flowers or some little trinket on the twelfth of each month, to commemorate in a small yet meaningful way the vows they spoke on September 12, 1964.
Why gifts? When you give a token of love to someone, it conveys a sense of caring and thoughtfulness, even if the present itself is pretty standard. But the more time passes, the more imaginative you will probably be in your gift giving. You might give him a bag of his favorite candies one month, nestled in a gift basket with coupons good for a back rub or maybe something a little hotter. And then one month, a bright idea will pop into your head that will blow his mind, something so personal, so no-one-gets-you-like-I-do, that he'll fall in love all over again. Gifts are like little windows into someone's inmost self. They show the recipient that you care, and that you are deeply invested in them, and that you know them incredibly well.
Too much pressure to come up with the perfect, unforgettable gift? Don't sweat it. Just start small, with a six-dollar guitar magazine that he doesn't subscribe to but would if it were cheaper, or a fun yet impractical fishing lure. And don't get discouraged if he comes up with something sort of lame the first few times. The point is, you want to get to know him more deeply, to laugh at inside jokes, to make inroads into each other's sometimes secret selves.
7. Do Something You Love Together
If Doyle and I could find an activity we love to share, then anyone can. I used to tell people, mostly serious, that the only thing my husband and I had in common was a mortgage, a dog, and oh yes, three children. He's a burly outdoorsman who lives to snag fish and hunt deer, and I'm a city girl, born and bred, who gets chills (the good kind) whenever I get to walk Chicago's Magnificent Mile, stopping here and there for foufy coffee at an outdoor café. I adore hockey, he's stuck on football. I'm newfangled, he's old school. Canadian/American. Lefty/righty. Musicals/plays. Romance/action. And the list goes on…forever!
How'd we ever hook up? Good question, although I do know he had really blue eyes and brilliant white teeth in college. Still does, actually, though cerulean peepers and lustrous bicuspids only serve to advance a relationship so far.
But somehow we have found a communal passion, a shared interest that we love to pursue – together! It's rock'n'roll, baby. That's right. Music is our common ground. This doesn't mean we like the same bands of artists – no ho. On our tenth anniversary we took in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame together and argued over where we would spend more time, in the John Lennon exhibit or the Jimi Hendrix shrine. I poked fun of Jimi's pointy pink shoes (How could Doyle, who doesn't even wear faded red clothing, condone such flaky footwear?), and he rolled his eyes at John and Yoko's "bed-in" peace protest. But we had a ball anyway, checking out all the sequined jumpsuits and Fender guitars.
Against all odds, two firm opposites like me and the big guy found a parallel passion. You can too. Food, books, music, gardening, kayaking – there's a world of pursuits to choose from, and chances are you'll share one of them. There's nothing like it for unifying your little club of two.
8. Realize It Won't Be This Hard Forever
One of the great paradoxes of our lives as moms is that one day all the diapers, tantrums, and sleep deprivation will be gone, and then – perverse creatures! – we'll miss them. Okay, so we won't actually miss poop or screaming fits or walking around like something out of Night of the Living Dead, but in the haze of time passing we'll feel pangs for footie pjs, sleeping angels, and cozy bedtime stories. And then we'll wonder why we thought it was so hard back then.
But listen to me here, girls (I'm mentally grabbing you by your lapels): It is hard, here and now. The demands of parenthood are bottomless. But someday it will get easier, quieter, and more peaceful around the family casa. The most robust and resilient partners are the ones that grasp the fleetingness of this epoch with little ones running around. If you can appreciate that the taxing, testing days of your marriage, under siege some days, it seems, are short term, you'll cope that much better.
Feeling out of sync with your man in this kiddie-intense daze is going to happen – every day. But it doesn't mean you're headed for splitsville. If you're irritated or frustrated or feeling trapped, it's time to hang back a little, assess the most vital relationship of your life, and make a greater effort to link up with your guy.
Make your mindset this: Yes, parenting is hard, and marriage is even harder, but it's also worth it. This grand adventure called raising kids is a huge and incredibly meaningful endeavor, one you're undertaking with the love of your life.
The kid drama will die down, and then it's just you and him. What will your relationship look like then? The answer lies in what you give, starting now. There is something to be prized about this era of marriage in the midst of being Mom and Dad, a precious quality of protecting that spark while you're hosing down a toddler covered in spaghetti sauce.
It's right there in the mundane, the chaotic, the routine, and the crazy. You'll see what I mean the next time you catch his eye over the tousled head of your child, and smile because the kid just said something unbearably cute or outrageous. Or when you gingerly hand off your drowsy baby for your husband to tuck in. You'll understand when, some night soon, you are both lazing around on the couch after the kids have been tucked in, and notice his lopsided grin can still make your heart flutter just a little. In a moment like that, you'll know that what you have together is unspeakably precious. And you'll be right.
Taken with permission from Date Night in a Minivan: Revving Up Your Marriage after Kids Arrive by Lorilee Craker.
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