By Vicki L. Shemin, JD, LICSW, ACSW
As a divorce attorney and therapist who has been in the field for over 35 years (not to mention a Mom who was divorced after 19 years of marriage and who is now remarried), I would love to offer the following tried, true and proven techniques for rekindling the love, energy, and caring in your relationship.
Remember what attracted you to the person in the first place
In one of life’s interesting paradoxes, I have noticed that what attracted you to your spouse in the first place can become a maddening characteristic as well. For example, if one of the traits you fell in love with was his or her work ethic, that might be the very thing that keeps him/her working late into the night, thereby taking time away from you and the family. If you loved how organized he or she was while courting (making dinner reservations, organizing your social life), he/she may later be perceived as controlling and perfectionistic. Perspective is everything. Try to remember first dates, the feelings that were stirred, and rekindle them. You are still married to the same person that sparked that romance!
Engage in an activity you both enjoy
Remember what it was like to have fun together as a couple? Do what you used to do and consciously speak about the fun or romantic memories; do something you are both not very good at where you can each be a bit silly and carefree (try bowling or miniature golf!); and/or try something for the first time that you both think would be amusing (a cooking or couple’s yoga class – where teamwork is an essential part of the activity).
Engage in an activity you do not enjoy
Inevitably, your spouse will have interests, skills and hobbies that differ from yours. Since the last thing you may feel like doing when you are exhausted and resentful is to be more giving, I often see that folks can rapidly find themselves at a stalemate. By breaking the détente, taking the high road and demonstrating to your spouse your willingness to recognize and participate in something you recognize is important to him/her (be it from emptying the dishwasher to going to the ballet or baseball game), you will greatly enhance the good will in your relationship.
Getting Third Party Assistance
Sometimes, the assistance of a third party professional can make all the difference. That said, it can be difficult to persuade your partner to attend. Words matter. Instead of arguing about whether or not to take this step, try putting the onus on yourself so your spouse will not feel blamed. For example, “I would like to gain a better perspective on what it is I do that leads to not fighting fair and square. It would help me a lot to have you at least try a session or two with me so that I can get your perspective on this as well.” You might be interested to know that there are some specialized practitioners out there (like me!) who offer “mediation to stay married.”
Be realistic about the white knight rescue fantasy
Excuse the cliché, but so many women going through marital turmoil fall victim to what I call the “Cinderella syndrome” – thinking their Prince Charming is waiting out there for them (apologies for the sexist remark as the same remark applies to opposite/same-sex gender relationships). As my Mom used to say, “Would you rather take the devil you know or the devil you don’t?” because everyone has baggage.
Date Night Scheduling
I cannot emphasize sufficiently how important it is to schedule this into your calendars on a weekly basis and hold the date sacrosanct. You need to reconnect as a couple. Consider taking turns as to who will plan the date. Even taking time to go for a walk and a sandwich qualifies as time together – it doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun!
Take a break/moratorium from the issues that cause you the most trouble
When you find yourself in an ongoing loop arguing about the same issues (money, sex, children, in-laws, etc.), mindfully decide to take a moratorium. For example, decide “for the month of September, we agree not to bring up the hot-button issues.”
Would a postnup help?
As a lawyer and therapist, I have been party to situations where resolution of a deeply dividing issue in a marriage can best be resolved in a more formal and legal way. For example, if a partner just inherited some money and it’s become a sore subject as to the disposition of that inheritance, then working on a postnuptial agreement – and putting the matter to bed once and for all – can really assist in dissipating the tension. As to how to get to that solution, like everything else, it’s all in the presentation.
Ask for what you need in a realistic and kind way
Rather than going from zero to 60 because she/he has yet again left the dishes in the sink, try something like this: “Honey, I know that you’re not intentionally trying to upset me, but I would greatly appreciate it if you would try your best to make a conscious effort to remember to load and empty the dishwasher. It would be a great help to me and you would also be a great role model for teaching the kids a sense of responsibility.”
Would you rather be happy or right?
Recently, I asked a woman celebrating her 50th year wedding anniversary the secret to maintaining a happy marriage. She summed it up as follows: “Would you rather be happy or right?” Enough said….
I am writing a research book on divorce entitled, LETTERS TO EX-SPOUSES:…AND I JUST WANTED YOU TO KNOW. The purpose of the book is to help judges/lawyers/therapists/clergy understand the divorce process from the perspective of those who have experienced it. The research is based on a very brief survey, coupled with a letter that divorced individuals are asked to write now – for the first time, to their ex-spouses, saying anything that is in their hearts. So many people who have participated in the research thus far have written to me and said – – “I got the closure I never even knew I needed, even after 20 years of being divorced.” If you are divorced, or know someone who is, please participate (or pass along the information) in connection with this confidential undertaking by going to www.surveymonkey.com/s/XC89FQ9 The survey takes about 2 minutes; the letter a bit longer; the results last a lifetime.
Gratefully, Vicki L. Shemin, J.D., LICSW, ACSW