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Marriage Maintenance

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Family Relations > Marriage Maintenance



Revitalizing marriage

November 2002

I'd like some advice about saving my marriage. Not just saving, but revitalizing it.

We've had the usual rough spots that hit couples with young children -- stress from jobs, money, arguing over parenting, chores, child rearing issues, sex, sleep, etc. Seen most of it in the advice pages over the years. For us, disagreements that used to be aired and then over with often now feel like deal breakers...like we just can't go on like this. We also seem to have less in common. Our interests and inclinations are going in different directions.

I know we love each other, but at times it feels like we have less and less in common. I don't want to wake up 10 years and realize that after the kids move out, there's nothing keeping us together. We are in couples counseling, which has helped enormously, but it's still just plain hard at times.

There's lots in the advice pages about divorce, but not much about reinvesting in your marriage. I want not just to have a ''good enough'' marriage, but actually fall in love again. Is it possible? I guess I just am looking for some words of hope, as well as some advice about how to go about doing this.


Through a confluence of events too lengthy to describe here, I attended a ''marriage preparation'' session recently even though I've been married for about 8 years now. Part of it had to do with keeping the romance in your marriage, which tips I am pleased to share with you. Do little unexpected things for your mate - make a favorite meal, send a note, give flowers, a back rub, tell him/her to take a couple of hours ''off'' on the weekend to do something he/she enjoys (guilt-free). Mini-dates to the coffee shop (if you don't have time for real ones). Try to learn one new thing about your spouse - don't act or think that you know everything there is to know about them, but treat them like a new (and interesting!) person. In short, act like a newly-in- love person, and it will help you to feel that way. Good luck! Fran
My husband and I went through a bad period about ten years ago where we fell out of love and things looked kind of hopeless. But we really wanted to make the marriage work. What we did was make lists of the things we loved/liked about each other, and agreed to think about those good things, and not to dwell on the things we didn't like about each other. Everybody has faults, but they also have good points. By following this simple procedure of thinking good things, we fell in love again and are very happily married with two great children, and have survived the stresses of parenthood and illness.

So it can happen! We are coming up on our twentieth anniversary and still hold hands, send each other little notes of love during the day, and look forward to talking and cuddling at night. My husband and I have very different interests, but we support and listen to each other's interests even if we're not totally enthralled. Here's a quote we use to remind ourselves: ''Love must be made and remade each day, like bread.'' In other words, building a loving relationship takes work, daily work and attention. You don't just find that perfectly compatible person and coast along.

Good luck! Rebuilding your relationship is worth it (assuming he is not abusive). You have all that history together, the times you loved each other. It is worth preserving that. Besides, if you jump ship now to look for someone else, how do you know it won't happen again? We are so happy together now, and I have a feeling that if I had left him ten years ago, I would be thinking about leaving the new person again today. In love again


Your message certainly resonated with me, and I'm sure with many (most?) others on this list.

I don't have the solution, but one thing I've found is that if I behave outwardly with more affection to my mate (consciously making an effort to touch, kiss etc), I actually feel more affectionate to him. And he of course responds in kind. I think the risk is in becoming isolated from each other--of not finding solace in each other, but seeking solace away from each other. So I am trying to be mindful of our togetherness, and reinforce our connection physically and emotionally. good luck Anonymous


Everything you say sounds familiar. You might check out a book called Passionate Marriage. I've forgotten the author's name. A lot of it is about sex, which may or may not be part of what you are dealing with. What I found really great in this book was the message that marriages are strengthened by going through just this sort of period you're talking about, and that in fact, few marriages will survive *without* this kind of mid-term crisis. I know many people who have found this book a real eye-opener. I hope it will help you. I look forwarding to reading the advice that others give. anon
I HIGHLY recommend ''The Passionate Marriage'' by Dr. David Schnarch, if you want inspirational words of hope AND practical advice. Dr. Schnarch has been a marriage and sex counselor for over 20 years and his approach is NOT the same old thing that people get from typical marriage counseling, as far as I can tell. This book has been very inspirational to me and makes a LOT of sense. Please pick it up and see if you agree. Best of luck. ~Alesia
When you've been married for a while, little things that get between you accumulate. And then you have a huge wall separating you, which a brick at a time, didn't seem like much. In little ways you have each given up on the other, whether it's the ability to trust or something you'd wanted in a marriage but it hasn't happened that way or you're just disappointed, angry or sad. So, the wall is a shelter too, and each person increasingly begins to follow separate interests, because separate activities compensate for what the marriage fails to give you.

Certainly, people keep going, wall intact, as my parents have. Or one person turns outside the marriage for what they need and has an affair. Or one person seals off the wall utterly and demands a divorce.

If you want to revitalize your marriage, make the decision *together* to not ''settle'' for what you have. Take the plunge, be ready to have your heart broken, and attack that wall. It's good you're going to a counselor. Marriage counseling can be a safe place to start this process, since you'll probably discuss how you've hurt each other deeply, and it's painful to take responsibility for that.

I feel shy about discussing my own marriage, about getting into specifics and away from metaphors, but I've found success by figuring out where I disappoint my husband, and then working on that thing. Often I'm initially met with skepticism, then cautious acceptance, and then surprised pleasure: Yes, I am actually going to stay awake with you as promised after the kids have gone to sleep, and watch the movie we rented. Yes, I am going to do the errands I offered to do, and not gripe like a martyr afterwards. And for your part, keep an open heart about his/her attempts to do the same, and accept and trust those efforts. Continue to commit to getting through to each other, even when it seems you've made progress.

My husband and I tell each other whenever a friend says we have a great marriage or somesuch, and we just laugh. I guess it must look easy from the outside, because in here, it's very tough. If you're not pulling down that wall, you're letting it get higher. It's so hard and so worth it. Take courage - falling in love again can happen. anon


My advice: if you really love each other and aren't just ''attached'' then besides counseling, maybe you could try to have some fun together. This sounds silly perhaps but I advise you to play hide-n-seek, tag, go sledding on the same sled (wear helmets), play at a park, skate together, jump on the bed together, anything that seems ridiculous and childish that might make you laugh. Do something adventurous together. Write each other love notes. Remind each other about funny and happy times in your past. Do something together regularly - community service work or take a class together (stimulates conversation about something other than kids and you will have something in common). Dress up in your sexiest clothes for dates or just at home. Go dancing regularly or learn to dance together in a class. Talk about your personal dreams (big, small, abandoned) and brainstorm together about how to achieve them, then help each other work toward the goals. anonymous
I am in the same boat, and couples counseling has been good but there is just too much time between sessions where we just don't work on anything. At the recommendation of our therapist, I am reading a great book called Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix. It is really helpful and I am feeling much more hopeful already. I bought it on Amazon, used (excellent condition) for less than half the cover price ($14). I highly recommend it! Even if only you read it (I don't see my husband actually sitting down and reading it, but I am summarizing it for him as I go)--it's worth it! The last section is exercises, so at that point both people become involved even if only one has actually read the book. Best of luck to you! anonymous
The things that have best held my otherwise rocky marriage together and kept the love alive are continually letting each other know we are on the same team, just acting loving even when we feel plenty of reason not to, and both trying to give what the other wants first instead of trying to get what we each want for ourselves first. These are the things we both strive for whenever we can remember, and both acknowledge are the most important every now and then when we can see past whatever else is usually in the way. Best wishes. Anonymous
My heart goes out to you to find the flames missing in your marriage. I feel that I am in a similar situation in feeling like my husband and I are having less in common. What helped is trying to make some time together and doing something fun and putting that huge task of parenting aside and remembering why we came together. I made a deal with him that I would be willing to do something of his interest if he would share something of my interest. While the results aren't always ideal, we have appreciated each other more. anon
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