Marriage Advice: Keeping Your Marriage Alive

Rekindle the romance that brought you together

When my parents were growing up during the depression and the war years that followed, married couples were not accustomed to worrying about romantic and emotional needs. Later, my mother was too busy bringing up seven children to consider revealing her inner feelings to my father. He would have been confused and defensive if someone suggested that being a good provider wasn't enough of a contribution to his marriage.

Today, however, we don't marry just for security and protection, but for love, romance and emotional fulfillment. To keep our marriages alive, we need to master a set of skills our parents never even considered.

Over the years I've heard numerous clients complain that their husbands are no longer as attentive or interested in them as they were early in the relationship. They wonder, "What happened to the man I fell in love with?"

Our answer is that he's still there, and with a little effort and understanding everyone has the power to bring back romance to a marriage.

I've watched many couples on the verge of divorce fall in love again. You, too, can achieve lasting passion, intimacy and happiness in your marriage. Here's how:

1. Get back in touch

"Bill is rarely affectionate with me any more," says Jane. "The only time he touches me is when he wants sex. I feel used."

In the beginning Bill held Jane's hand in public, stroked her hair, hugged her, and wrapped his arm around her when they walked. But once they started having sex, he only touched Jane when he was "in the mood".

What Jane didn't understand was that when Bill caressed her during their courtship, it was because he was not allowed to touch her intimately. While a man is dating a woman, he has to practice physical restraint. But once he is given the green light to touch her in a sexual way, his impulse for affectionate touching may wane. After the intense pleasures of sexual touch, a simple caress can pale by comparison. Bill didn't instinctively understand Jane's need for non sexual touch. As children, both boys and girls want to be cuddled. When boys hit puberty, the desire for sexual contact becomes stronger than for non sexual. Women, on the other hand, may never lose that strong need to be held. As Bill began to understand why non sexual touching was important to Jane, he started touching her as affectionately as during their courtship. Jane encouraged him by letting him know how much she liked it. Over time, touching became an enjoyable and sensual experience for Bill too.

2. Compliments are free

Tom always commented on Mary's appearance when they were courting. "You took great," he'd say, or, "I love how you look tonight." After years of marriage, though, he gradually stopped noticing and complimenting her. Mary felt hurt and rejected and stopped trying to be attractive. When she did dress up and asked how she looked, he'd respond, "Fine. Let's go, we're late." Soon she stopped asking. As a woman's body alters with the years and her relationship with her husband goes through changes, she can need lots of reassurance that he still finds her appealing. Like many men, Tom assumed Mary knew he was attracted to her; after all he'd wanted her for his bride.

I told them about Bob and Susan, who had been married for nine years. When Bob stopped complimenting her, Susan requested a favor. "If I ask you how I look," she said, "would you say that I look beautiful and wonderful?" Bob asked if she wanted him to say that even if he really didn't feel like it, she replied, "Yes, I would love it." Bob jokingly said, "Okay, you look beautiful and wonderful." Susan continued to question him about her appearance almost every day and Bob responded dutifully.

But one time, after about three months, his answer was different. "You look beautiful," he said. "You look wonderful. And this time, I mean it. I'm glad you asked me to do this. I never realized how beautiful you really are." After hearing this story, Mary understood that asking Tom for compliments wasn't begging for love. Within a few months she was beaming. By encouraging him to be more consciously attentive, she got the response she needed.

3. Can we talk?

"When we first met we used to have long conversations," Colleen said. "Now we don't talk at all. I feel as if I'm dying of thirst in a desert. It's not just Steve. I don't have anything to say either. I feel as if our love has gone." In fact, Steve's feelings for his wife hadn't changed. He just showed them differently, "Why do we always have to talk?" he asked. "Why can't we just be with each other and do things together?" In the beginning Steve talked to let Colleen know who he was. He listened to learn about her.

Once they knew each other, from his perspective there wasn't much more to say. What Steve didn't understand is that women experience greater intimacy by sharing thoughts and feelings. Even if Colleen had nothing important to discuss, sometimes she wanted to talk just to feel close. A woman wants to share her victories and losses. For a man, though, talk about losses usually means she wants his help in resolving problems. I suggested that instead of trying to get Steve to talk, Colleen should ask him to listen.

To set this up she said to her husband, "When you get home give me five minutes of your undivided attention. That's all I need. I just want to tell you all about my day- you don't have to say anything. It would make me feel good." Within a few weeks Steve realized he could listen to Colleen without feeling pressured to solve her problems. He even began to share news about his own day. Colleen in turn appreciated his attention.

4. Little things

"Before we got married Roger would do all sorts of things for me," Georgia claimed. "He put out the rubbish, carried boxes, and washed my car. Suddenly he stopped. It makes me feel I'm not important to him anymore." Like many men, Roger had been motivated to do little things during courtship. But after marrying, he felt that sharing his income and the rest of his life were much bigger gifts. He was surprised and deflated when it didn't win him more appreciation.

Georgia turned the situation round. "I know how hard you work," she said, "and that you want to rest when you get home. I would really appreciate it, though, if you would just put out the rubbish for me." Being goal orientated, men find it hard to shift directions. So, in the beginning, Roger grumbled. But the fact that he emptied the bins made Georgia feel more special than the work that captured most of his attention.

And as her husband saw how strongly she valued what he did for her, he put out the rubbish because it made his wife so happy. The secret of getting more from a man is to appreciate what he is already giving and then ask for more in small increments. Having solved the rubbish problem, Georgia knew that over time she could restore to the relationship many elements she had loved when they were dating.

5. Golden 20 minutes

In early courtship, a man is on the hunt. He is completely focused on winning over the woman he cares for and will do whatever it takes to be successful. His ability to focus so intently makes a big impact on the woman who is the center of his desire. Problems begin only after he succeeds. Having won her, he relaxes and redirects his energy towards a new goal.

I remember my first year married to Bonnie. Like most marriages, it started out very loving and we were both happy. Then as months passed Bonnie became disenchanted. We talked less and less. The change was so gradual that I didn't even notice it. Eventually, it became clear that Bonnie was genuinely unhappy. With tears in her eyes, she told me I loved my work more than her. She said I gave all my energy to my clients and had nothing left for her.

I decided to come home earlier every day and devote 20 minutes entirely to Bonnie. I told myself she was my most important client. I'd hug her. Whatever she was doing, I would join in. I cut carrots, cleaned work tops and emptied waste paper baskets. Or, I would simply sit with her, talk a little about my day and ask her questions about hers.

Eventually, Bonnie started to open up and glow after our 20 shared minutes. Now, when I get busy at work and forget to give her the golden 20 minutes, I notice our relationship falling back into a predictable routine. And so I begin again.

As we go through married life, it's easy to misinterpret the motives of our partners and begin to feel they don't love us as much. But once a woman learns to interpret a man's behavior correctly, she becomes empowered to bring about the changes she wants. With a little work, romantic feelings can be rekindled, and you can see once more in your spouse the man with whom you fell in love.

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