Many people feel after a few years of marriage and kids that the spark is gone, they have gotten stuck in a routine, the wife is busy with the kids and her work, the husband is tired and frazzled when he gets home and there doesn't seem to be any romance left. Couples find themselves drifting apart, spending less time face to face, less time connecting with each other, less time doing things together. It's easy to get caught up surfing the Internet, doing endless, tedious chores and feeling that you are only living under the same roof but not sharing the same life. If this sounds familiar, then you are like millions of couples who can be described as "alone together."
Over the years your routines of work, child care, household chores and other tasks have hijacked you from each other. It's not even that there needs to be any terrible argument or crisis. It's simply drifting apart through bad habits and inertia. Now that you seem to be living in somewhat separate worlds, you may build up resentments ("Am I no longer a priority?"), feelings of rejection ("Don't you find me attractive or interesting?") and hopelessness ("This will never change").
But it doesn't have to be this way. You can break free of the rut of your routine and use some simple but powerful techniques to turn things around.
1) Remind yourselves of better times.
You may be in a monotonous routine, but it wasn't always that way. The best way to come up with new ideas of how to make it better is to look at the old ways that made it work. Set aside some time to reminisce about the "good old days." Even though it sounds corny, you can boost your sense of togetherness by looking at old photos, recalling your first experiences dating each other and reminding yourselves of the great times you have had as a couple. As you are recalling the past positives, think about putting them on a list of things to do again. What worked before could work again.
2) Catch your partner being good.
You have probably felt that your partner never notices anything that you do or never gives you credit. Part of the routine is not noticing and appreciating the daily things that you do. We all want to feel appreciated. Here is an easy exercise that will take you no more than five minutes: Write down simple things that you notice that you like that your partner does every day. These can be simple, even routine things, like making dinner, helping with the chores, talking with the kids, listening to you talk, showing affection, asking about your day. The simpler the better. Catch your partner doing the simple things, and write them down. Some couples like to put the list on the refrigerator so that they can see every day what their partner noticed.
3) Give appreciation directly.
Now that you are noticing what is right in front of you, you can start to practice telling your partner what you appreciated. Be specific. Don't say, "You were nice today." Say, "I felt really good watching you talk with our son. You can be very supportive to him." You can even go back to the past and recall simple or big things that your partner did months or years ago that you appreciated: "I really appreciate how supportive you were when I was going through a tough time at work."
4) Have a date night.
You never should stop courting each other. Romance needs to be renewed. It would be terrific, if possible, to have one night each week that is your "date night." This is special for the two of you. It can be simple -- a candlelit dinner at home, eating popcorn while watching a movie -- or you can make it fancier. It's not the expense that matters; it's that it mattered enough that you called it a date night.
5) Touch each other more.
There's nothing like a hug, a caress, a kiss, a stroke. We were meant to touch and be touched. Give each other permission to touch, stroke and hug at will. You don't have to always be "in the mood." It doesn't have to lead to sex (although that might be nice, too). The more you touch and feel touched, the less alone you will feel.
These may feel artificial and contrived, and you may feel awkward, but breaking out of a rut means doing things differently. The more you connect and renew, the more natural it will feel. Don't focus on the resentments of why you got into a rut. Give each other a push and a pull to move it forward now.
Follow Robert Leahy, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AICTCognitive