7 Short and Sweet Ways to Connect With Your Spouse

Holding HandsYou’ve heard the advice a million times: Have a regular date night. Spend quality time. Don’t let your relationship fall to the bottom of your to-do list.

And it’s true. Without making time to connect, we end up living like roommates, or business partners, rather than lovers.

But for many of us, time is in short supply. Our days are so packed that by the time the dishes are done or the kids are (finally) in bed, or we’ve answered that one last pressing email, or made that one last call, all we want to do is veg out on the couch.

Here’s the good news: You don’t need four course candle lit dinners or long weekends away to rekindle the sweet, loving parts of being a couple:

1. When time is short, the last thing you need is to be multitasking when you’ve finally got time together. Never mind Facebook while you’re watching a movie. Turn off your phone during dinner and when you’re out running errands together, and, most important of all, when you’ve climbed into bed.

2. Too tired to talk? Put your hand on his arm. Take hold of her hand. And not just for a second.

3. Back when we had young kids, I initiated something called the “five minute date.” The theory behind this was to get the good stuff we got from a night out together— no talk about work, or logistics, or the leak in the sink—without hiring a babysitter or leaving the house. No couple is too frazzled to sit for a few minutes on the back steps together with a cup of tea or a shared piece of pie, watching for shooting stars or just saying hi.

soap and towels11841860_s4. Yes, mornings are busy, but we all need to shower. Why not surprise your spouse and make it a shower for two?

5. Story time isn’t only for kids. Rather than reading in bed side-by-side—one of my favorite pastimes—pick something you both like, and read to each other. Or, for a change, download a book from Audible and let someone else do the reading. Don’t be surprised if you drift off to sleep.

6. Remember that song you picked for your first dance? Put it on after dinner and ask, “May I have this dance?” Set it on repeat. The dishes can wait.

7. Instead of that air kiss you give on the way out the door, kiss your sweetie goodbye the way you did when you were dating. Even more challenging, stick with it for ten seconds. One caveat: You might not want to leave.
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This post first appeared on Tips on Life and Love, from Simon & Schuster

It Takes One to Tango. It Doesn’t Take Two.

Back in the early, struggle-filled years of my marriage, the self-help books that I read emphasized love and togetherness. But at the time, my husband and I didn’t feel all that loving, and sometimes I wondered whether staying together was even an option.3D

Many books made it seem like marital strife could be easily corrected. Dozens suggested five or ten or one hundred “simple” things couples can do to be happily married, many of which looked like great ideas for people who were already happy, and utterly useless for couples like us who were in serious distress.

Other books were deeply discouraging, making it seem as if struggling couples were simply mismatched. Marital struggle, it seemed, was an indicator of something having gone terribly wrong: an exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself.

Was everyone else effortlessly using I-statements? I wondered. Were they all being respectful and tolerant, embracing their partner’s uniqueness? Why, then, was the divorce rate so high?

Obviously, lots of people struggle in their marriage. And some forty percent of them give up. Yet nothing I found explained why.

Where was the book called, How to Keep From from Killing Your Partner While You Figure Out Why He Drives You Nuts? I needed that one.

But no such book existed. So I decided to write it myself. Only I’ve called it IT TAKES ONE TO TANGO: How I Rescued My Marriage With (Almost) No Help From My Spouse—and How You Can, Too.

DesignThe party line about marriage is that it takes two. It’s what most people believe and many therapists espouse: Marriage is a two-way street, a fifty-fifty proposition.

We’re told that change in a marriage requires a shared commitment to growth, and that for good things to happen both partners must be willing to put both feet into the process.

But if it really takes two people to fix things, what happens when one partner is deeply discouraged, or has one foot out the door? What if you’re desperately longing for change and your spouse digs in his heels?

Does that mean you should just call it quits?

Conventional wisdom would say that it does.

That’s the problem with the “it takes two” approach. It limits our options. It leaves us powerless, waiting for our partner to meet us halfway, do their fair share, put in an effort that’s equal to ours.

The message in my book is simple and empowering: you only need one partner to create far-reaching positive change in your marriage. No matter how frustrated you are. No matter how long you’ve been stuck.

I know from experience that when one partner takes that first step, behaves in a new way, challenges the status quo, the other will usually follow. Sometimes slowly, not always cheerfully, and often not in the way we imagined. But eventually, both partners become stronger and healthier, and so does the marriage.

One person must take the first step. Why not let that person be you?

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My book is now on sale! As my way of saying thank you for being such loyal and enthusiastic readers, I’ll be giving away autographed copies to three people who answer the following question: As a Speaking of Marriage reader, what’s the most useful piece of marriage advice you’ve gotten from my blog? Tell us a bit about what change it inspired in you or your relationship.

Have a friend who might be helped by my book? Please share!

For info regarding my talks and appearances, as well as news and inspiring cool stuff about relationships, follow me on twitter: @winifredmreilly and Facebook: WinifredMReilly

10 Wishes I Have For My Son and His Future Wife

original_marry-me-christmas-proposal-card edited Wedding experts say that the three-month stretch between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day is prime time for proposals. With the sparkle of Christmas and the promise of the new year lending an air of romance, nearly forty percent of couples choose this time to get engaged. To my delight, this year, my son and his fiancée are among them.

While the coming months will be taken up with writing guest lists and weighing the pros and cons of a winter wedding (with its possibility of ice storms) or a wedding in June (with its guarantee of mosquitoes) I’m keeping in mind the many years that will follow.

Continue reading

How to Turn an Okay Marriage Into a Great One

Image 7-12-15 at 1.49 PM (1)How many people do you know who would wholeheartedly say that their marriage is great?

How many would say that they’re happier now than when they first got together, that their marriage is one of the most satisfying parts of their life?

Five? Ten? None? Continue reading

How to be Happily Married in a World of Naysayers

imageWe’ve all heard the jokes: The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.

I married Ms. Right. I just didn’t know that her first name was Always.

Marriage is talked about as if it’s a jail sentence, a ball and chain, the mistake of a lifetime.

Some have said that marriage is irrelevant and outdated. Others have called it a failed experiment.

Failed? Really?

I’ll be the first to admit that marriage can be difficult. Marriage asks us to grow and to stretch; it calls for flexibility and fortitude and a capacity to love — even (and especially) during really hard times. And anyone who’s been married for more than a month knows that hard times do come.

But there are also sweet times and easy times, times of deep love and affection, times when we’re glad that we’re married to the wonderful, annoying person we picked.

The “marriage is broken” folks seem to be saying that because some marriages are truly miserable, and because, even under the best of circumstances, marriage can be hard, we need to change the rules.

They say we need to stop expecting marriage to last a lifetime, to meet our needs for intimacy, to bring satisfaction and joy.

The trouble with the naysayers is that they talk about marriage as if it’s an entity — as if marriage is some sort of troublemaker; as if there’s something inherent in marriage that sets us up to fail.

To further bolster their argument, they trot out the inaccurate, “bad news” statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce.

Here’s the good news: when it comes to first marriages, 60-70% of them will be marriages that last. And yes, a lasting marriage isn’t necessarily a happy one, but the happiness part — that’s in our hands.

Senior couple kiss situation in white isolated background

If you’re looking to prove the naysayers wrong:

1. Accept that marriage takes effort if we want to do it well. Many things in life are difficult, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing. Why should marriage be any different?

2.  Relationships don’t just happen. They don’t succeed by magic and they don’t fail on their own. Marriage is something we build from the ground up. It requires care and attention. The more creative and committed we are, the better our marriage will be.

3. The best marriages are based on generosity. No, I’m not talking about over-giving and sacrifice. True generosity is a wholehearted desire to offer the best of what we have. Love, affection, not believing we need to have everything our way in order to be happy.

4. Some of the worst marriages I’ve seen have gotten as bad as they are because neither partner is willing to risk: to apologize, to reach out, to be vulnerable, to name what needs to be addressed. Remember, you have to step out of your comfort zone if you want your marriage to grow.

5. Pay less attention to what your partner is doing that gets in the way of having a satisfying relationship, and pay more attention to what you’re doing, which is the only thing you can control anyway.

6. Accept that sometimes you’re going to be disappointed by your partner, just as your partner will, at times, be disappointed by you. Disappointment is not a sign that something’s gone wrong. It’s simply a challenging fact of life that we, as partners, must learn to handle as gracefully as possible. Freaking out about your inevitable disappointments will make you unnecessarily unhappy, or discouraged, or both.

image7. Don’t expect  your spouse to be a mindreader. If something is important to you, it’s your job to speak up.

8. Accept that your partner won’t be thrilled about everything you do. Relationships are about being a twosome and about being two separate people who want different things. I don’t advocate behaving in ways that are harmful or inconsiderate, but there are times when we have to act alone — to confront something difficult, to make a bold move, to challenge the rules.

9. Don’t underestimate the importance of quality time. Show up. Make eye contact. Open your heart. And, for goodness sake, turn off your phone.

10. Never believe you’ve tried everything. Most of us do the same ineffective things over and over, and think we’ve given it our all. Yes, some relationship problems are complex and overwhelming, and we have no idea what to do to solve them. But before you think you’re out of options, ask yourself this: What one thing can I do that would make a significant, positive difference in my relationship? Before you give up, go ahead. Go all out.

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Looking to have a more satisfying marriage? Get my free bonus article:
75 Ways To Improve Your Relationship Starting Today — plus new blog posts delivered straight to your inbox!
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For news and inspiring cool stuff about relationships, follow me on twitter: @winifredmreilly.

The Ultimate Garage Cleaner’s Guide to Marriage Repair

A few years ago a client gave me a refrigerator magnet that reads:

image

Yep. I agree.

Especially when one of the chores involves the word garage. That’s how our garage ended up looking like a scene from the reality show where they bring in five guys in hazmat suits while a team of kind social workers comforts the hoarder. Continue reading

10 Everyday Relationship Issues That Aren’t Worth Freaking Out About

One of the best parts of my job as a couples therapist is that I get to deliver good news.

Woman Biting On Her LipCouples come in fearing that their marriage is too far gone to fix, and I get to tell them it’s not.

Yes, some people are in serious trouble and if they keep going in the direction they’re headed, their worst fears will come true.

Still, most couples are simply facing normal and ordinary relationship challenges that they lack the tools to address. Continue reading