A lot of people think that mediocrity is expected in a marriage. Teenage and young adult years were the time to be passionate and excited. That was the time to try new things and take spontaneous romantic road trips to the Grand Canyon. Once you get the adventure out of your system, you get married. Soon, the everyday routines fill all your time and take over your life: work, kids, housework, and arguments with your neighbor about the type of shared fencing to choose. You may feel like you don’t even have time for your spouse anymore.
Your life doesn’t have to be like this. There’s still a way that you can keep that excitement and connection for years within your marriage, and you can do it even if you don’t have the time, money, or energy you had in your younger years. You may have gotten so caught up in the mundane that you don’t even realize that you need to bring the excitement back.
Here are five warning signs you need to reconnect with your spouse.
You don’t know the details of their lives.
You may think that you already know everything you need to about your significant other’s life, but have you really checked in lately? Could you explain what project they’re a part of at work? Do you know the name of their favorite song or show? Do they prefer ranch or a vinaigrette on their salads? These simple things can change, so it’s a good idea to ask your spouse about their everyday concerns and check in regularly.
Marriage researcher, John Gottman in his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, explained this practice as building “love maps.” He states: “One or both partners may have only the sketchiest sense of the other’s joys, likes, dislikes, fears, stresses. In contrast, emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with each other’s world” and continues: “I call this having a richly detailed love map.”
Gottman found that couples who have more detailed love maps are better able to cope with difficult situations, and that they’re better able to handle stress together.
You don’t have marital rituals.
Simply defined, a ritual is an act that you do together that contains shared meaning. Rituals make families feel connected to each other, bonded together, and help families build a shared identity.
Most families have family rituals they enjoy every year, whether it’s gifting Christmas pajamas on December 24th or religiously planting a tree every year to celebrate Arbor Day. Other rituals happen on a more frequent basis, such as Saturday morning chocolate chip pancakes or running out to get ice cream when a child suffers a disappointment and needs a pick-me-up. However, it’s equally as important to have rituals with just your spouse.
You can do this by turning some boring routines that you’re already doing together into something fun and meaningful. Perhaps you have a late-night fondue date on your kitchen table when you discuss your monthly budget.
Maybe you make a competitive game of whoever can pull the most weeds in the front yard while you have an occasional non-argumentative chat about any “weeds” that might be sprouting in your relationship.
Though they might seem simple, rituals can help you and your spouse soften negative experiences, ease family stressors, and may even enhance physical and emotional intimacy.
You don’t eat together.
Even if you and your spouse spend time together at other times and places, there’s something special about eating meals together. Researchers have found that conversation during mealtimes, compared with other social interactions, are overall more pleasant, agreeable, and connecting—in ways that create more equal dynamics of shared power between parties.
If conversations with your spouse feel stagnant or reveal discontent or disengagement more often than being a pleasant exchange, consider eating together more often.
If eating dinner together every evening doesn’t fit your lifestyle, try finding another time to eat together. Maybe you could meet for lunch once a week or have a nice Sunday dinner. Maybe breakfasts are more your style, or you need to adapt to your spouse’s frequent work trips, and you even eat dinner together occasionally via video chat.
Whatever you end up deciding, don’t diminish the benefits a simple meal conversation can have on your marriage.
Other relationships come first.
There are many relationships that can get in the way of your marriage relationship. Perhaps it’s your best friend who comes over unannounced three times a week. Maybe it’s your mother who has a strange need to know everything about your life. It could even be a consuming relationship with your phone. Or, as much as you love them, it may be an intense relationship with your children that tends to get out of balance.
You may think that your kids should come before everything, but experts advocate that your spouse should really be your number one priority. Surprising to some is the fact that this actually better meets your children’s needs since they see and feel the security in the primary relationship in the home—and learn not to be entitled, but to step aside at time to give that relationship its own space to flourish.
You can put your spouse first by keeping regular date nights, scheduling quality time, and discussing together important family and parental decisions.
You don’t have shared values or interests.
Participating in an activity that both you and your spouse enjoy provides “critical opportunities to connect with one another.”
Dr. Greg Smalley, previous president of the National Institute of Families, said, “Having common hobbies can help couples deepen their sense of intimacy, connection, and especially friendship.”
To find a new hobby, Smalley gives suggestions such as trying a new restaurant, talking about your bucket list of sorts to create some shared dreams and goals or inviting your spouse to join you in an activity that already interests you that they have been eager to try. There are lots of options for this, such as attending a play or lecture at the local university, whittling on your back porch, or even a competitive game of pickleball after a long day of work.
Maybe you’ll find something you both like, or maybe, you’ll go out on a limb and try something neither of you has ever tried before. Just the process of making plans and exploring these new hobbies can be bonding, exciting, and oftentimes humorous.
These five ways of reconnecting may seem simple, but it’s often the simplest things that can make the most difference. You may just need a little fanning to reignite the spark. If you are feeling disconnected from your spouse, consider trying these practices—they might make you feel young again.