Have you been feeling like life is just the “same old, same old” even though we’re in a new year? Getting stuck in a rut can happen all too easily, especially for busy wives and moms.
Why does this happen? Well, we can blame some people who are very important to us: our kids. Or, more accurately, we can blame a culture that’s obsessed with kids and parenting. When you see other parents laser-focused on providing the “best” for the kids (education, extracurriculars, birthday parties … you name it) no matter what it takes, it’s only natural to try to fall in line. We all want to feel a sense of belonging with our peers.
In this case, however, fitting in comes at a high cost. Losing yourself in kid-centered routines isn’t good for you, your marriage or even your children.
To restore balance to your life, it’s time to devote some energy to you. Consider these questions:
When is the last time you did something for yourself?
I’m betting it’s been too long. You don’t have to escape for a spa day to practice self-care. (Although I encourage you to do so if you can!) Even taking 10 minutes a day to be alone with your thoughts can be hugely beneficial.
When is the last time you did something you enjoyed?
Do you always do what your husband or kids want to do? Do you even remember what you like doing? Staying connected with your favorite hobbies, interests and other activities fills your well so that you can give to others. It can also help affair-proof your marriage.
When is the last time you tried something new?
Routines and structure are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you need them to keep your family life running smoothly. But, on the other hand, if you never deviate from your routines, the days can turn into one big, boring blur. Sharing a new experience with your husband — even something as simple as taking a cooking class together — can help rekindle the passion you felt earlier in your relationship.
When is the last time you took a risk?
I’m not talking about anything dangerous. I’m talking about being bold enough to step outside of your comfort zone in the way you relate to others. For example, it might feel risky to clearly ask for what you need from your husband instead of dropping hints, but the potential rewards are rich.
When is the last time you were just present?
Life moves fast, and our minds often fixate on a single question: What’s the next thing I need to get done? But when you live this way, you miss a lot. Spending more time out of your whirling thoughts and in the present moment can be enough to transform your life.
I hope that these ideas will help you break out of your rut and more fully savor 2019 with your husband and your family. For more practical strategies like these, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love
Did this year fly by for you, too? If you’ve missed any of the marriage advice articles from 2018, here’s your chance to catch up with the most popular posts. These are the five articles that resonated most with readers of the Strong Women, Strong Love blog and newsletter this year. To read each article, just click on its title. I’ve also included some suggestions for further reading so that you can continue to explore the topics that are most relevant to your marriage.
I’m not surprised that this article was so widely read, since this is a very common situation among couples. The key takeaways here are: 1) Talk openly about household responsibilities so that everything doesn’t fall on your shoulders. 2) Take couple time to maintain your intimate friendship with your husband. 3) Be aware of the pressures on parents to do everything “right.” Let go of perfectionism.
Even during the holiday season, there’s still a lot of negativity pervading our lives — from news headlines to colleagues who love to complain to rude people we encounter on the road and in stores. All of that can take a toll on your marriage if the two of you aren’t deliberate about building a “fortress of optimism” together. Taking good care of yourself also helps shift your mindset.
This article further reinforces the importance of positivity in marriage. In longtime happy couples, there’s reduced activity in the part of the brain that skews negative, researchers have discovered. Another fascinating finding: The brains of happy couples show more activity linked to empathy and emotional self-control.
I really love the video of older women looking back at their lives that’s featured in this article, and many of you responded to it as well. What can we learn from them? As I wrote previously: “Amid all the doing, take time for simply being. Right here. Right now. As the women in the video remind us, the years will pass quickly. And you don’t get a second chance to recapture the moments you lost.”
It’s a sobering reality that divorce can spread through a social circle. But the good news is that you can build your “immunity.” Put the time and energy into nurturing yourself and your marriage. And remember that what you do in even the smallest moments can either strengthen your relationship or tear it down.
Thank you so much for reading this blog in 2018! I hope that you’ve found insights here that have made your marriage happier and more fulfilling. I’ll be back in January with more articles that will help you keep your relationship strong amid the stress and busyness of everyday life. Until then, enjoy the rest of this festive season!
P.S. As you shop for gifts, consider picking up a present that you and your husband can share: a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. I’m very grateful to be celebrating the fifth anniversary of this book, and I’m so happy that it’s made practical, down-to-earth marriage advice accessible to more couples.
Sometimes looking at your social media feeds can give you an inferiority complex about your relationship. Other couples seem to be taking more romantic trips, giving more beautiful gifts, posting more effusive birthday tributes to each other, living in fancier houses and even looking more in love in their photos.
It’s time for a reality check: 1) You don’t know what’s truly going on with other people. 2) The things I described above don’t actually have a lot to do with how good a marriage is.
Instead of comparing yourself with other couples, there’s a better way to gauge the health of your relationship. Take a look at the list below. If statements like these describe your marriage, then you and your husband are doing awesome — even if your life doesn’t seem very Instagram-able sometimes.
You Fight Fair
Having a great marriage doesn’t mean that you never disagree. How often you fight matters less than how you fight. For example, if you can argue without attacking each other’s overall personality or character, that points to a strong relationship. For more on arguing in a healthy way, check out my article “The Right Way to Fight With Your Husband.”
You Manage Ongoing Issues
Whether it’s your hypercritical mom or his needy ex-wife, some things will always be a source of tension. That doesn’t mean your marriage is bad. According to leading marriage researcher John Gottman, almost 70 percent of disagreements in marriage are recurring. The key thing is learning to manage the issues you can’t resolve.
Your Sex Life Is Right For You
Do you have a friend (or even a celebrity you follow on social media) who claims that she and her husband are going at it all the time? Your own marriage might feel less sizzling by comparison. But the truth is that frequency of sex varies a lot among happy couples. The important things is that both of you are satisfied with the amount of sex you are having.
You Have Your Own Lives
There’s a romantic ideal in our culture that your spouse should be this magical person who fulfills all of your needs and whom you never want to be away from. But couples who believe this are actually putting a lot of pressure on their marriage — and making it boring. Each of you needs strong friendships outside of your marriage to get all of your emotional needs met. You also both need space to pursue your own hobbies and interests. When you cultivate yourself, you change the whole energy you bring to your marriage.
You Know How to Apologize
Nobody’s perfect in marriage. You’re going to make mistakes, and so will your husband. What keeps your marriage on track is knowing how to apologize and recover from mistakes.
You Own Your Stuff
Great relationships don’t just happen to people who had happy childhoods and parents who modeled what a healthy marriage should be. If one or both of you came into your relationship with emotional baggage, you can still have very satisfying marriage — if you work together on your issues. I talk more about this idea in my article “How Attachment Styles Affect Your Marriage.”
You Speak Up
Some people don’t want to make a big deal out of anything — even if it is a big deal! They think that a good partner should have infinite patience. But this can backfire. Little things can spiral into big issues if you don’t deal with them. In healthy marriages, each partner feels comfortable raising concerns and can talk about them in a way that isn’t hurtful to the other partner.
You Respect Each Other
Romance gets all the attention, but respect is what keeps marriages together. If you’re in a period where passion is low (for example, after the birth of a child) and you still treat each other respectfully, that’s a great indicator that your relationship is still strong — and that you’ll eventually rekindle your passion.
Your Lifestyle Supports Your Marriage
We all get lots of messages about the things we’re “supposed” to be doing, having or achieving. Successful couples know what’s important to them, and they know that their relationship has to be among their priorities. They’re not afraid to say no to what they don’t value.
You Know It Takes Work
There’s a misconception that true love should be effortless, but happy couples know that’s not true. They realize that, like everything else, a marriage needs maintenance to stay functional. That’s why they’re deliberate every day about noticing positives, showing appreciation and giving their spouse moments of focused attention.
I hope that this list has highlighted all the things that are going right in your marriage and that you take a moment to appreciate all you and your husband have created together. To keep your relationship going strong, and work on any trouble spots, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
Or at least it’s not the first word that comes to mind when you think about the qualities of a successful marriage. Talking about boundaries doesn’t get us as starry-eyed as talking about love, passion and devotion.
Is your whole life about your marriage and family? Is your husband your only source of emotional support? Do you neglect your health, your basic needs or the hobbies and interests you had before you got married? Then you need some healthier boundaries around your sense of self.
Maintaining a strong sense of yourself isn’t selfish. Neither is tending to your own needs on a regular basis. The reality is that nurturing your independence makes you a better partner. You take pressure off your husband because you’re not looking to him to fulfill all of your needs.
Having a life outside your marriage can also bring fresh energy into your marriage by giving you other experiences to share with your spouse besides the household chores. Your separateness also sends a strong message about how much you value yourself – and that can make you much more attractive to your husband. You may even lower the chances one of you will have an affair. Psychotherapist and bestselling author Esther Perel believes that many people stray from their marriages because they are trying to recapture a part of themselves they lost by getting married.
Boundaries around Privacy
True love doesn’t necessarily equal being a completely open book. You and your husband can have very different boundaries around privacy.
For example, let’s say both you and your husband were married before. You feel comfortable talking freely about your ex with your husband. No detail is off limits. On the other hand, your husband is more reticent in talking about his previous marriage. He does share information that’s relevant to your relationship – like how his ex’s overspending affects his behaviors around money in your relationship. But overall he keeps most things about his first marriage private.
Your approach may baffle him, and vice-versa. But neither of you is necessarily wrong. The important thing is that you can each maintain the privacy boundaries that feel healthy to you and that you understand and respect each other’s boundaries.
Boundaries around Behavior
Every marriage has rules about off-limits behaviors, whether those rules are spoken or not. Almost all of us would agree that having sex with other people and physically or emotionally abusing your spouse are clear boundary violations in a marriage.
But beyond these common rules, there are some other, lesser-known boundaries that are critical to a healthy marriage. Specifically, fighting dirty and openly disrespectful behavior should be unacceptable in your marriage. Displaying contempt is one of the top warning signs that your relationship is headed for divorce. Tolerating disrespect in any form will ultimately damage your relationship, so it is vital you put some clear boundaries around it.
Other behavior boundaries in marriage are important to negotiate. For example, different couples might set different boundaries around social media use. You may need to discuss how you feel about each of you having friends of the opposite sex. You may even have boundaries you want to set around how often you have sex or how household responsibilities are shared.
It’s essential to talk about what the boundaries are in your marriage and to make sure that you’re both playing from the same rule book.
This week, take some time to think about the boundaries in your marriage. Are there any boundaries you want to change? Are there boundaries that you and your husband need to communicate more about?
You can get more useful insights on boundaries and other ways to keep your marriage healthy in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
Today I just want you to find a way to lighten things up.
The weight of all our daily tasks and worries can wear us down — even when we think that they’re no big deal. Have you ever read the “How heavy is your glass of water?” story. The point of it is that we all have to put down our burdens sometimes.
Now that we’re in the heart of summer, maybe there’s some extra space for you to do this. If the pace of your work life and family life is a little slower right now, don’t rush to fill that freed-up time with things from your to-do list. Your world won’t fall apart if you take a break from being responsible and mature. Really.
What does lightening up look like? Go on an impromptu vacation or staycation. The next time the kids want to have an adventure or just hang out, put down your phone and join in. Goof around with your husband. Remember how fun it was to be silly together? (If not, the video with this post is a good refresher course.)
Giving yourself a break from the routine stress we are all under will help keep your marriage healthy. You’ll also reconnect with a side of yourself you may have forgotten.
You — and your marriage, and your family — need joy. Don’t put it off.
It might not sound romantic, but Helen Fisher has love down to a science.
Fisher is a biological anthropologist and a scientific advisor to Match.com. She and her fellow researchers have spent a lot of time using MRI scanners to look at the brains of people in love.
While all of Fisher’s work is fascinating, her findings about people in long-term relationships who report that they’re still in love are especially intriguing. We usually think of new love as the most exciting and swoon-worthy. But the brains of Fisher’s subjects — mostly n their 50’s and married an average of 21 years— clearly showed their passion still burning.
“Psychologists maintain that the dizzying feeling of intense romantic love lasts only about 18 months to—at best—three years. Yet the brains of these middle-aged men and women showed much the same activity as those of young lovers, individuals who had been intensely in love an average of only seven months,” Fisher writes in O Magazine.
What’s keeping their love alive? And what can the rest of us learn from Fisher’s findings?
Does Your Brain Wear Rose-Colored Glasses?
Because our brains are wired to keep us alive, we naturally tend to look for the negative in order to quickly spot anything potentially risky or dangerous. Unfortunately, this thinking bias can cause problems in our relationships if we’re not careful.
Fisher found that longtime lovers have reduced activity in the part of the brain that skews negative, which suggests that they’ve honed their ability to see the positives in their partner.
“Men and women who continue to maintain that their partner is attractive, funny, kind and ideal for them in just about every way remain content with each other,” Fisher writes. “Perhaps this form of self-deception is a gift from nature, enabling us to triumph over the rough spots and the changes in our relationships.”
Does your brain need some training to accentuate the positive? Make an extra effort to notice the good things that your husband does and to remind yourself of all the reasons you fell in love with him in the first place.
(A quick note here: In no way is Fisher suggesting that you overlook serious issues, like abuse.)
How Active Are Your Mirror Neurons?
Another interesting thing about the brains of Fisher’s subjects was the higher activity of the mirror neurons which are nerve cells linked with empathy. That’s not surprising. We all long to feel heard and understood in our relationships.
Unfortunately, life gets so busy and draining sometimes that it depletes our ability to be empathic with others. To improve your ability to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, there are a couple of exercises you can try. First, there’s the “marriage hack” that takes only 21 minutes per year. You can also work through the 36 questions that build closeness (which you may have seen featured in The New York Times).
Are You Caring For Yourself?
Finally, Fisher’s subjects showed notable activity in the brain regions associated with controlling emotions. Again, this makes a lot of sense. As I’ve written before, respect is the often-overlooked ingredient in lasting love. And it’s a lot easier to be respectful with your partner when your emotions don’t feel out of control.
If you do lash out at your husband frequently, take a look at the rest of your life. I’m betting that you’re pushing yourself hard and may not even realize the pressures you face. To get a better handle on your emotions, look at the factors that put you at risk for “flipping your lid” and engage in more self-care. As women, we’re often taught that tending to our own needs is selfish. But the truth is we can’t be there for others with love and respect if we don’t care for ourselves.
Be sure to take a few minutes to watch Fisher’s full TED Talk. I think you’ll come away with a fresh appreciation of the power and wonder of love. And for a guide to writing your own lasting love story, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love