Think of your relationship as your bicep muscle. It requires doing a little lifting each day for it to become strong. When you neglect your biceps, they will become weak, and much in the same way, if you neglect your relationship, it too becomes weak. Of course, you don’t mean to neglect your biceps nor your relationship, but sometimes the rest of life gets in the way. It takes determination, commitment and consistency to maintain both in good health. A marriage heading toward divorce is like an atrophied bicep, it was neglected for too long, and now it feels like you will never be able to make it strong again.
Much like we maintain other aspects of our lives, such as cleaning our car, exercise, dieting, grooming, or going for our yearly physical, the sexual health of your relationship requires commitment and consistent practice. You might think that this sounds like a lot of work. The truth is, it is a lot harder to be in a weak or struggling relationship than it is to be in a strong and happy one. The stress generated from a fractured relationship takes more out of a person than the work needed to get the relationship back on track. It is true that in some situations, divorce really is the best option, but in most others, all you need to do is start working out the muscle again.
The only thing that beats seeing results in your body from regular exercise, is seeing results in your relationship!
If you are ready to start working on your marriage, start with these ten simple practices and you will see the results.
1. Practice respect, regard and compassion for one another. Help your partner with big and small tasks. Give each other a day off from house shores once in awhile.
2. Validate your partner’s feelings even if you do not agree with him or her. It is not about agreeing to everything, but rather just recognizing your partner’s experiences of comfort or discomfort and showing concern (i.e., You appear frustrated, do you need a break? Do you want to go outside and take a walk? Do you want to talk about it?).
3. Feel proud of you partner, not envious. Recognize and validate your partner’s accomplishments, big or small. Feel proud of the fact that you have a partner who can accomplish their ambitions and let yourself become inspired to set new goals for yourself as well (i.e., Congratulations for the great year-end review! I feel so proud of your hard work and dedication as a professional and as a wife).
4. Become each other’s true allies. You are in it together even if you think one of you is to blame. You can get out of this together. Turn toward each other and not away, and help your partner.
5. Show gratitude. Small acts count in big ways: a gentle touch, a sweet smile, a warm look, or words of appreciation. Say thank you, and share how much you appreciate something about your partner, even just how helpful it has been that your partner has taken care of doing the dishes this week. Incorporate random acts of small surprises for the other. Surprising your partner with even a single flower, their favorite snack, or a sweet note on a Post-it, can mean so much.
6. Communicate your needs and wants clearly, so your partner does not need to play the mind reader. Making your partner guess what would make you happy is a lose-lose.
7. Make time for sex and the relationship as a whole. Commit to weekly dates. Remember that, in terms of sex, the more you practice it the more you want it... and the better it gets!
8. Take breaks to sooth yourselves after stressful or emotionally exhausting situations, for example, right after a bad argument or heated discussion. Let your partner know that you need some time to digest the topic and that you are happy to continue the discussion after you have a chance to cool your head. Communicate when you plan to return to the topic, for example, after dinner or tomorrow morning.
9. If nothing else, seek the help of a professional! The benefits of seeking counseling are endless, and it can work wonders for a relationship! Couples workshops are another great way to learn tools to strengthen the bond between you and your partner. You can also seek more general advice from a professional by reading a book on marriage, which you can even do with your partner.
10. Remember that people change, and we need to make time to learn about each other. We constantly change our hairstyles, our taste in food, and a bunch of other aspects of ourselves. It is important to make the effort to constantly learn about the novelties within each other, like you would have back when you started dating! This is accomplished by making time to talk. You should spend at least one hour a week alone with your partner to reconnect, and to really learn about each other. Ask your partner if blue continues to be his favorite color, or about his most recent aspirations and dreams. You may be surprised!
If this seems like a lot of work, just remind yourself that going through a divorce or even just letting your marriage disintegrate, is a lot harder than anything on this list. You should be willing to try everything before resorting to divorce. Trust me when I say, it is worth the try!