It happens to even the happiest of couples: After years together, you do the same things over and over — right down to the takeout pizza on Friday nights. You can finish each other’s sentences and predict with absolute certainty what he’ll buy you for your birthday. But it doesn’t make for a very exciting relationship!
“Routine provides stability when life is hectic,” says Michele Marsh, a licensed psychologist with the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. “But if couples follow too many patterns too often, the relationship can begin to feel stale and boring.”
What’s to blame for the rut? “A lack of effort and the pressures of daily life,” explains marital therapist Stephen J. Betchen, a marriage and family therapist who has a doctorate in social work, and the author of Magnetic Partners. “Many married couples stop doing the hard work that it takes to keep a relationship exciting. Instead, they put their energy into raising kids, running the house and succeeding in their careers.”
If you can’t recall the last time you held hands or received flowers for no reason, it may be time to kick your marriage out of the ho-hum zone. Here are five ways to help you keep your relationship exciting — and increase your happiness and intimacy.
Get Your Groove Back First
“Some moms are so burdened with responsibilities that if someone says, ‘Try to surprise your husband,’ they’d think you were nuts,” says Marsh. Do things that energize you: Get extra rest. Go to the gym. Spend time with a friend. Go for a manicure or pedicure. Taking better care of yourself will help you devote more energy to your partner.
Revisit Your Romantic Past
Remember when you had the time and freedom for dinners out and spontaneous weekend getaways? Those romantic pleasures may be harder to come by, but you can still keep your relationship exciting by recapturing some of the emotional rush of those early days.
“Play the music you listened to when you first started dating, and return to the places where you had fun,” advises Betchen. “Hold hands and lean on each other when you’re at the movies. Better yet, make out at the movies!” Parents: Don’t rule out an overnight getaway, especially if you can enlist the help of a friend or grandparent to baby-sit.
Affectionate texts and emails throughout the day — “Luv u” or “Heard your favorite song” — are a reminder that you care. “Most couples don’t do this — and certainly not the ones who are in ruts,” says Betchen.
Also try lightly touching your partner’s arms or hands when you’re talking. This sends the message that you want to be close and you’re still attracted to him. Notes Dr. Betchen: “No matter how long you’ve been together, everybody needs to know that they’re really wanted.”
Inject some unpredictability into your lives by treating your partner to a surprise once a week — be it a cupcake from your favorite bakery or a full night out. The surprise needn’t be big or expensive, “but it should be something you know he’ll like,” says Marsh. Research also shows that couples who learn new things as a team become more intimate, so look into a class or sport you can do together. (Zumba, anyone?)
Mix It Up
There’s nothing wrong with takeout pizza. But pizza from the same restaurant every Friday? “In the beginning, it’s good to establish a tradition you both like. But when it turns into, ‘Oh, we’re going to the same old pizza joint again,’ the meaning shifts,” says Marsh. Go for Thai food for a change, or cook at home. After all, in life and love, variety is a potent spice!