First comes love, then comes marriage — and then comes the inevitable decline into boredom, stale sex routines, and constant bickering. Or so says every popular television show featuring American family life. From TV shows like "King of Queens" to "Everybody Loves Raymond" to as far back as "The Honeymooners," Hollywood wants us to believe that long-term, committed relationships are the opposite of sexy.
And, as the divorce rate in our country testifies, Hollywood has us convinced. Most Americans consider long-term monogamy to be the equivalent of cruel and unusual punishment. However, as a relationship therapist, I have also found the opposite to be true — people want their marriages to work. They desperately want to live happily ever after. They just don’t know how. As more time goes by and the relationship becomes more off-track, they begin to lose hope, until they eventually just give up on the marriage.
Thankfully, it is possible to breathe life back into a dying love affair. Here's how to fall in love with your spouse again:
Be the model for change
You know the old saying “be the change you want to see in the world”? Well, as trite as that might sound, it’s true … especially in relationships. You can’t expect to see change in your relationship if you don’t put change into effect. For instance, if you want more romance in your relationship, then create that romance. If you are seeking more love and patience from your partner, then give your partner more love and patience. The world can only give to you what you give to it, so if you give your partner dissatisfaction, irritability, and bitterness, you will get that in return. But if you give your partner love, understanding, and appreciation, you will get that back as well!
Own your 100 percent
It’s tempting to look at your relationship only from your point-of-view, from which stance it is easy to see all the things your partner is doing wrong. Instead, try and see things through your partner’s eyes. For instance, you complain that he isn’t attentive enough to your needs, but when was the last time you went out of your way to be there for him?
Own your 100 percent of the problems in your relationship. When it comes to lack of communication and martial woes, it really does take two to tango. Step back and recognize how you are contributing to the problems in your relationship, and then make the necessary steps to improve your own behavior.
Initiate sexual contact
This sounds like a given, but it is amazing how many people sit around and complain about their sex lives, yet do nothing to improve it! If you want a more exciting and passionate sex life, then make the first move. Initiate sexual contact. Yes, it can be a little intimidating at first, especially if you never initiated sexual contact in the past. However, if you realize that this could mean the difference between staying with your partner or continuing to drift apart, that will give you the extra push you need. Sex isn’t some minor component in a relationship. It is a building block of trust, intimacy, and emotional connection, and without it, your relationship will flounder.
Talk about what you want (in a positive manner)
In other words, don’t tell your partner what is lacking in your relationship (such as, “You never pay attention to me when I talk”). Instead, tell your partner what you want (such as, “I want to feel like you listen to me”). By taking a complaint and turning into a request, your communication will not get derailed by the blame game. Instead of immediately going on the defensive, your partner will be able to hear your needs with an open mind.
If you want to rediscover your romance and fall in love your partner again, make it a priority high on your to-do list. Commit to “dating” your partner, and send the kids off to Grandma’s for some much-needed alone time. Your relationship is the cornerstone of your home, so don’t feel guilty about putting your spouse before your kids.
It is possible to rekindle a dying romance — all you need to do is bring the spark!
Dr. Laura Berman is the director of the Berman Center in Chicago, a specialized health care facility dedicated to helping women and couples find fulfilling sex lives and enriched relationships. She is also an assistant clinical professor of OB-GYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. She has been working as a sex educator, researcher and therapist for 18 years.