My longtime friend Sara has been what most would call “happily married” for 10 years. She and her husband both work outside the home; they have one child and a couple of pets. Lately, she told me, she and her husband fall into bed at night, exhausted, and he leaves in the morning before she wakes up.
Every weekend is filled with kid-related activities and household chores. Sara loves her husband but feels like they’ve become more roommates than partners. They rarely talk about anything other than “life logistics,” and their romantic life consists of an occasional goodbye kiss on the cheek or a tap on the shoulder.
Don’t neglect your primary relationship
Sara’s situation is one I hear often in my practice as a therapist. We sometimes get so wrapped up in the chaos of everyday life that we miss out on truly connecting with our partners—the ones who we are supposed to connect with most!
The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia in a 2012 study tested the importance of being connected in a relationship. Specifically, they found that date nights and designated couple time improved the success and quality of a relationship and even worked toward reducing stress.
Even small connections count
Of course, many of the couples I speak to claim that they simply do not have time for quality couple time. While taking a vacation alone together or spending three or four hours out on a regular date night are lovely ideas, something simpler can work almost as well. I’ve found that couples who take 20 to 30 minutes to connect three times a week with no distractions and no electronic devices are able to build a greater bond and feel many of the benefits of those who invest more time.
As a first step, grab a glass of wine or a cup of tea and sit together on your porch or tucked into bed and just talk about things you are interested in or excited about. Avoid stressful discussions about money or dirty dishes left in the sink.
Relationships are like any other important living thing—they need to be attended to, nurtured and cared for in order grow and thrive. Here are four ideas for you to start down the path of reconnection.
1. Create rules of connection
When life gets busy, making plans to connect on a regular basis is key to reigniting and maintaining your intimate relationship. One couple I know cuddles every morning and every night they are together. This has become part of their routine, and even though sometimes they are both tired or rushed they set the alarm five minutes early or go to bed five minutes later to make sure that this happens. Another couple always walks the partner who is leaving to the car and gives a parting hug and kiss at the car door. This one extra minute of time is a nice way to connect before heading in separate directions.
2. Build in spontaneity and adventure
While scheduled “together time” is important, you can also mix it up and keep things exciting with activities that are fun and spontaneous. Surprise your partner with a gourmet breakfast in bed. Crank up some great music and have an impromptu dance party in the middle of the kitchen. If you are more adventurous, train together for a marathon or try river rafting or bungee jumping as a weekend outing.
3. Make flirtation and intimacy a priority
4. Be interesting and interested
One great way to connect with your partner is to be genuinely interested in what that person is thinking, feeling and doing. When your mate is in the mood to talk, ask questions, discuss favorite activities or what funny thing happened at work that day. Another great way to connect is to be interesting. Have a variety of topics to talk about, tell a great story about an experience you had in the past or in the present.
People get so wrapped up in the monotony of their days, they come home from work and start the conversation with “I had a long day” or “what do you want for dinner?” Not very romantic. Try engaging with something like, “I read the most amazing story in the news today” or “where would you go if you could be anywhere right now?”
With all our commitments to work, kids, finances and fitness regimes, it can be dangerously easy to neglect our relationships with our partners. Make time to engage, touch, talk, listen and, most of all, connect.
Stacy Kaiser is a licensed psychotherapist, author, relationship expert and media personality. She is also the author of the best-selling book, How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, and an editor-at-large for Live Happy. Stacy is a frequent guest on television programs such as Today and Good Morning America.