There’s a saying that men change after marriage. But, if you ask me, women are not far behind.
Once, I saw a French documentary about the everyday life of families with lots of children. In the film, they talk honestly about what works and what doesn’t in a big family, and about the logistics of managing the household. There was one couple that stood out the most to me because you could almost feel their love through the screen. And they had one simple rule: They never ate dinner together with the kids.
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They sat down to eat later, just the two of them. There were three sub-rules for this meal: the couple must dress up, put on good music (they adore Frank Sinatra), and not talk about home or work. I found myself amazed as I watched the wife preparing to go with her husband to the … kitchen. Makeup on, hair down, a pretty dress instead of my go-to sweatpants. At the table, she seductively asked her husband to peel the fruit. She watched his movements, and with involuntary gestures, she fixed her falling bra strap. The setting was inexpensive but different, seductive and sensual. It can be done, even with nine kids! The bonus of daily dining alone with each other clearly goes far to keep the romance alive.
It proved to me that closeness requires a little ambiance, yes, but it’s not only reserved for special occasions or big fancy outings. It can happen right there, at your own dining room table. And maybe we don’t need all the usual accouterments of Hallmark romance: roses, movie theaters, and wine—because these things alone are not enough to uplift love.
Here are some examples to try:
1. Play the relationship game
At a loss for what to talk about if the kids and work are off limits? Play a game of “What did I see in him? What did I see in her?”
Sit face to face and in as a sort of a game. Go through your fond memories. But also go through your disappointments. What did those years together take away from me? Start with simple things: You used to wear miniskirts, there was a time when you hugged me, these days you keep the touching and whispering for the kids. And you go to the garage, and I cook, do the homework with the kids, and pick up the hair from the dog. This kind of a nostalgic trip can be oddly informative, pointing out how you’ve both changed, and maybe what small tweaks you can make to show glimmers of your old selves.
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Then, to further rebuild your romantic love, you should start with basic questions. Do you know what troubles your husband, what he is going through? As he starts talking, try to be as present as you can. Be only for him. Show him you understand him. Be interested in his answers. Let there be time for silence while you both digest what the other says.
2. Break the cycle
When you ask him these questions, though, it’s very possible that you’ll hear problems you’ve heard before. Maybe it’s a stressful scenario at work that he’s complained about a thousand times … and you can’t figure out why he’s telling you again. But instead of saying “I know,” consider how you normally respond … and then change your reaction. Because it’s possible that he keeps repeating himself because he needs something from you he isn’t getting. Maybe he wants support, a simple hug, commiserating, words of comfort or a real advice. Whichever route you haven’t tried, try that.
Let him feel your engagement, let him know that his problems, even the professional ones, are yours together, and he can open up about them with you.
3. Be flirtatious
Flirt is a word that rarely comes up when we think about the nurturing martial relationships with a long track record. And that’s a real pity, because it’s an important word. It’s difficult to find sensual fascination between a husband and wife if they always work “shoulder to shoulder“ and forget about “face to face.”
Get together, like a man and a woman (or better yet, as teenagers might). Go on a date, and don’t be afraid to act a little silly, like a couple who is madly in love with each other. In psychotherapy, we call this process “recreating of a connection.” Essentially, you’re digging out the joys of your love from under the weight of everyday hurried life, of work, kids, and errands. Children and responsibilities know just how to dampen any gusts of romanticism that come your way, but if that happens, try manufacturing a little wind yourself. Even the best partnership needs a little excitement and amorous tension to flourish.
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Being physically close is another way to bring a little “flirt” back into your marriage. Sometimes all you need is tender physical contact: just lie together and hug. There is no need for fancy romantic dinners and candles, no need for incredible words during a parachute jump. Not everything can be fixed with an adrenaline rush. Sometimes what is needed is a simple, quiet place so you can finally be together, cuddle and whisper sweet nothings.
4. Consider how you spend time as a couple
Maybe you don’t have any time for yourselves because you are always with friends or family. Maybe you flee from each other into busy social life. Why? Perhaps you talk too much about the home and family, and not enough about you as a couple. And when you do have free time, you prefer to spend it with friends, because it increases the chances that you won’t have to talk about yourselves. Become available to each other, learn to be together again.
5. Be present in how you feel now
One of the hardest things to remember after years of marriage is not to hold grudges, and not to use love as the carrot or the stick.
So don’t think about affection in the “if” category: If only he helped me more at home I would be more affectionate in the bedroom.Passion requires much more than simple trade-offs. It requires leaving those “ifs” behind, and being present in how you feel now.
Even in the most loving relationships, of course, there won’t be a constant intense emotional engagement. Passion ebbs and wanes. And that’s OK. We just need to be aware of those cycles and interfere when you feel like the spark needs to be fanned back into a flame.
This article was originally published in the Polish edition of Aleteia.