“And they lived happily ever after…” We grew up with fairy tales and Disney fireworks that promised us that the magic would never die. It all seemed so easy.
While many marriages do wither away, it is possible to keep your feelings of love alive. But it is not automatic. Love takes effort. More than an emotion, it is a lifetime of work.
Studies by Richard E. Lucas and colleagues at Michigan State University have shown that the happy surge we experience when we marry lasts for approximately 2 years. After that people return to their former selves; either to their happy or unhappy previous natures.
Passion cools with time. If we are unable to rekindle our love and find avenues to help the fire grow, our marriages begin to feel stale. The thrill is gone. How do we go from young, exciting, new love to full-grown, solid, secure love?
Even if a marriage is not in crisis, the years and challenges that daily family life bring can make you feel as if the joy is gone. I recently met a woman who told me that since her children left for college her empty nest feels lonely and dark. She does not know what she ever had in common with her husband. She looks at him and sees a stranger; not a lifetime companion and partner to love. She finds herself irritated by his actions; even his voice gets on her nerves. She wonders how she will spend the rest of her life together with him.
Nothing terrible has happened. There has been no crisis or catastrophe. But they have neglected their efforts to keep the sparks of love alive. The bond between husband and wife has become anemic. Lacking fresh energy, this relationship may just slowly wither away.
Reviving Your Marriage
We can revive the connection that we once dreamed of and breathe new life into our homes. I call it the CPR of marriage.
Make time to talk to each other. Look for opportunities to spend time together. Be sure to carve out private time-but not only when you need to discuss difficulties. Your every conversation should not be about problems with the kids, credit card bills, or why you feel angry with your mother in law. When was the last time you laughed together? Remember how you used to share each other’s dreams? Just because time has gone by should not mean that you have lost the ability to connect with a smile.
Communication is more than simply talking; we need someone whose heart is open to our words. Learn how to listen-really listen to your spouse. This means that for once and for all, you put down your iPhone, stop texting, and look at each other while you speak. And when there is a challenge, try putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes. If he is expressing frustration, if she is feeling worried, don’t just brush it off and say ‘you’re being silly’. Express sensitivity. Communicate affection. Keep the connection between the two of you alive. You will renew your relationship and strengthen your love.
Ever wonder how to inspire yourself to love more? Look at your spouse with a positive eye. Stop focusing on the negative. Human nature is such that we notice what bothers us more easily than the good that we have come to take for granted. Your husband is great at playing on the floor with the kids or lets you sleep in while he takes them out Sunday mornings for breakfast. You just see a guy who can be more ambitious. Your wife doesn’t lose it when there are baths to give, homework to be handled and a screaming baby in the background. You don’t see incredible patience. Instead you zero in on why she doesn’t look more together.
Negativity clouds our vision. It does not allow us to feel happy. When you remove the negative lens, you can begin to appreciate your spouse again. Stop complaining. Watch that you do not constantly criticize. Find what you cherish about your partner. Make a mental list; even write it down. Then take a few moments and share your thoughts with your spouse. People in happy marriages feel valued and respected. Remember to review your list and don’t allow it to become forgotten.
Research has shown that even if a marriage has been impaired by negative remarks, it can often be repaired by providing positive words and actions that bring forth a feeling of affection and love. Make an ‘ayin tov’- a positive eye, part of your nature.
Prevent yourself from feeling that this relationship is the ‘same old, same old’ by being spontaneous and changing your routine. Go out together to try new places and activities. Join a couple’s Torah class to spark discussion. If you have different interests, make a point to take turns and experience each other’s likes. Be open-minded and enjoy your time together even if the activity is not your first choice. The key is recognizing that you are focused on your relationship and not allowing yourselves to drift.
Ask yourself: “How can I show my spouse how much this relationship means to me today?” Perhaps it means bringing home a hot cappuccino, giving a hug before you leave to work, sending an appreciative text in middle of the day, or giving a smile just because. You will increase the good feeling that exists in your home.
IT’S UP TO US
In her new book, “Love 2.0,” Dr. Barbara Fredrickson says that happily married couples average five positive verbal and emotional expressions for every negative expression, and extremely “unhappy couples display ratios less than one to one.” We can inject joy into our lives if we would resolve to pay more attention to our relationship.
Here is the question: Can I try to communicate kindness, see goodness, and take a few moments each day to convey my love?
If the answer is ‘yes’, then I know that I have the ability to strengthen my marriage and keep the spark between us alive.