One of the most common relationship problems is that of feeling disconnected. This feeling is often expressed as “we just aren’t close anymore” or “I feel like we’re roommates” or “it feels like the spark between us is gone.” If you can relate to any of these sentiments, don’t worry, there are lots of ways to repair that connection and help you get those close, connected feelings back. Here are 10 ideas to get you started…
1. Spend more alone time together.
Increase the amount of quality time you spend alone with your spouse. You don’t need to be talking the whole time, in fact, it might be better for the two of you to just do an activity together. If you’ve been disconnected for a while, it’s hard to start talking again. Start doing whatever feels comfortable to you; add conversation in when and where you can. Make sure your conversation is not about relationship problems or disappointments, focus on what is good and what is positive at first.
2. Get out of the house and do something fun together.
When our relationship has gotten lackluster, we either tend to stay home and do our own things or we start spending time without our spouses away from home. To reconnect, do more together outside of the house. Go hiking, kayaking, try paddleboarding or photography. If you prefer, do other things for fun – go to the movies, have dinner with friends, take a wine appreciation class together. The point is to do something together that you will both enjoy.
3. Start a project together.
Working on something together will bring you closer. The project should be something meaningful and valuable to you both, like building a doghouse, turning family pictures into a video, planting a vegetable garden. Whatever the two of you like and care about. Some couples find that they enjoy working on projects so much together that they decide to start a small business; this can be great! You spend more quality time together, you have a shared vision and purpose, and you make money. I love it. If you need ideas for projects, explore Pinterest.com for DIY projects and much more.
4. Volunteer with a charity.
Close couples have shared values and missions. Talk to your spouse about a cause that really matters to you and see if you can find a mission that matters to you both. If you can, wonderful, look for a local group where you can volunteer together. If you have different passions, agree to each spend a certain amount of time helping the other advance a group that champions your causes. You can look online at VolunteerMatch.org for local charities that have volunteer opportunities in your area.
5. Create a “Happy Memories” box.
As we are trying to repair our relationships, it is easy to get discouraged when we hit a rough patch. I’d like you to think of healing your relationship as a process where you’re climbing up a mountain: just because you fall back a step or two doesn’t mean you’re all the way back at the bottom of the mountain. Sometimes, we have to take a step back to learn something new or gain a new perspective. Failures are often just as important, if not more important, than successes. To help you cope with rocky spots, create a “Happy Memories” box, where you put letters, photos, fortune cookie notes, matchboxes, or anything you like in a box to remind you of good moments between the two of you. You can create this box together or each make your own.
6. Research your genealogy and create a shared family tree.
All of us tend to be excited by learning more about our family history. I encourage you and your partner to help each other research your genealogy and create a shared family tree. This research can be done online, using tools at Ancestry.com or Genie.com, and you can have great conversations as you talk about what you’ve found and what you’re seeing online. You might also decide to plan a trip to one of the places that’s meaningful to your history. Being helpful, sharing in important events, and talking about memories is a great way to reconnect.
7. Practice relationship enhancing thoughts every day.
A relationship enhancing thought (RET) is a thought about a happy time, a good feeling, an important moment that makes you feel closer to your spouse. I’d like you to spend 2 minutes a day thinking about RETs and trying to reconnect with good, loving feelings about your partner. To generate some RETs, try asking yourself some questions, like: (1) what did she do yesterday that was nice, (2) what did he say on your last anniversary, (3) what physical trait are you most attracted to, (4) what compliments have people given you about your spouse? If you’re struggling to come up with RETs, just google “relationship affirmations.”
8. Have more Hallmark moments.
I ask nearly all of my clients to end each session with a Hallmark moment. What I mean by this is that I’d like them to imagine a romantic, mushy Hallmark card and to say out loud to their spouse what they would write inside. For example, I might “give” Chris a Hallmark card that says, “Don’t worry, you’re safe with me” on the cover, then I’ll ask Chris what he would tell Karen on the inside of the card. Chris might say, “Don’t’ worry, you’re safe with me, I really love you and I’ll never let you down.” These words are likely to be very meaningful to Karen and something she’ll think about for several days. I encourage you to do these Hallmark moments on your own, what we say to the other is very powerful.
9. Increase your affection.
Affection can take many forms: sometimes it is a kind word, sometimes it’s a compliment or helping someone with a chore. Others prefer physical touch or a little gift. Think about how your spouse shows affection and try to give them affection in their preferred way. For example, if your wife always sends long, loving cards to friends on their birthdays, she probably loves words of affection. Give her some words of affection by verbally thanking her for something nice she’s done for you or by leaving a loving post-it note on the mirror in the morning. If your husband likes to give people gifts, pick up a little token gift for him, like his favorite snack, and have it at home. Make little gestures often, rather than one sweeping gesture once a year. If it’s been a long time since you had any physical closeness, start slowly and remember that physical affection should happen after emotional closeness is achieved. Focus on feeling closer before you try to initiate too much physical touch. It’s good to start with holding hands, a hug, a touch on the shoulder; then proceed slowly from there.
10. Talk about what matters, share your deeper, inner thoughts.
The single most important thing you can do to feel closer to your spouse is to open up and talk about what’s really on your mind or in your heart. If you’re just starting to reconnect, talk about more superficial things: your day, what’s happening at work, what would be fun to do this weekend. As you get closer over time, push yourself to go deeper: share what you’re excited about, what you’re worried about, what sore spots you have that need healing, what scares you, what you’re dreaming about. Close partners feel comfortable sharing anything and everything with their spouse and knowing they’ll be safe sharing that information. Work hard to make your partner feel understood, safe (i.e., not judged or criticized), and supported in each conversation. With time, lots of conversations, and much love, you will find your way back to each other.
Copyright 2013 - Kathleen Nickerson, PhD - DrKathyNickerson.com
Dr Kathy Nickerson is an expert marriage counselor in Orange County, California. Her practice focuses on preventing divorce, helping marriages thrive, improving communication in couples, and affair recovery. You can learn more at www.DrKathyNickerson.com.