We've been married for years. How do you keep the spark alive when you've tried everything?
Keeping the spark in our relationship after many years of marriage is a goal that many people have, but very few are able to achieve. The daily routine, everyday challenges, and constant stressors take time and energy away from our main relationship. It is easy to get stuck there and one day realize that we have grown so far apart from each other that it’s even hard to recognize who my partner is today.
Marriage is not an event, it is a process, and we need to nurture it on a regular (daily) basis. As human beings, all of us are constantly changing, and part of keeping "the spark alive" is to communicate to our spouse "Who I am today" and "What is going on in my life now." The skill of "speaking up" about who I am and what are my needs now is actually a gift that we give to our spouse, to invite them into our inner world.
At the same time, we need to have the skill of "listening" to our spouse and to encourage him/her to tell us about what their needs are. To the extent that we are able to open up, to accept and embrace our spouse for who he/she is, we will be able to build closeness and intimacy. These are key elements of keeping the spark in our relationship. Doing this may also require from us to keep an attitude of cooperation, knowing that when our needs don't match, the best deal is the one that works for both us.
When we are able to cooperate with each other in balancing our needs, we convey love, acceptance and affirmation of each of us as individuals and of both of us as a couple. One very helpful way to make this a reality is by having weekly dates with your spouse. This is an opportunity to keep the focus on the two of you and to have some fun. Research shows that couples that have fun together tend to experience greater enjoyment in their long-term relationship. During these dates, put the problems aside. This is not a "problem-solving time," it's just a well-deserved respite you get with each other. Elizabeth Scott, M.S., in her article about "Maintaining a Happy Marriage," adds other helpful tips like, "trying new things together" and "participating actively in each other's lives." The main idea is to recognize that your spouse is one of your greatest gifts, and you can enjoy it every day!
In addition, we know that relationships go through cycles. Initially, it's the honeymoon stage, when everything feels "just perfect." Then comes a discovery stage, when we start recognizing our differences. A third one is the evaluation stage, when we are questioning if this is still the right relationship for me. Finally, we get to a recommitment stage during which we realize that in spite of our differences and challenges, we want to stay in this relationship. Many times that realization takes us back to the honeymoon stage. In a long-term relationship, couples may go through this cycle many times. It is important to recognize what stage you see yourself in your relationship (sometimes each partner is in a different stage) and what can you do to keep your connection alive.
Remember: to keep your relationship strong and fun is daily work. The more each of you shows up for yourself and for each other, the more you can keep that fire alive!