“Ask Anna” is a sex column. Due to the nature of the subject matter, some columns contain language that some readers may find graphic.
My wife and I have been together for nine years. He started a new job that is much more demanding on his time, and we have two children who keep us busy as well. We don’t seem to see each other very often anymore, and when we do, we’re either tired, in a bad mood, or dealing with house maintenance crap.
We love each other very much, but I can see the fire in our relationship dying out. How do we get that fire back? I don’t just mean sex, although that is part of it. We hadn’t had a date in months either. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks. — For privacy, rethink everything
Sometimes we think that relationships, especially marriage, are the end of courtship. Like, great, I got the girl, now I can rest on my laurels. But it is not so. You should never stop dating your partner.
Everything in life requires maintenance, from the mundane (changing the water filter) to the profound (keeping the spark alive in lifelong partnerships). If you stop devoting time and energy to eating well or exercising, your health suffers. If you don’t keep in touch with friends, those friendships diminish.
Like the fire metaphor you used, relationships require tending or they burn out. So how can you re-prioritize your relationship? You do it with intention, a little planning and action.
Intentionality implies a change in mindset. It’s not about finding the time to stoke the fires of your relationship; it’s about making time. Life is hectic. Plans derail. Children derail them even more. But if you mentally promise each other that your relationship is important and worth preserving, you’ll be more likely to succeed.
Planning involves setting aside real time to figure out how to nurture your marriage, whether it’s starting a regular date night, researching a getaway, or even taking five minutes to connect each day when you get home from work. (I recommend all three!) As a bonus: Doing this planning with your spouse has added accountability and social connection.
While you’re dreaming and cheating, take some time to also think about the obstacles that might come up and then figure out how you’re going to overcome them. Then put the time on your calendar. Set reminders on your phone. Get babysitters or do baby swaps with other parents if money is tight. Planning is about setting yourself up for success. To use an exercise metaphor, you’re much more likely to exercise if you leave your running clothes on the night before.
Actions are the fun part, what you’ll actually do together. A popular option to consider is the 2-2-2 rule, which originated from Reddit user ckernan2and it goes like this:
Every two weeks, leaves in the eveningEvery two months, leaves on the weekendEvery two years, leaves for a week
It’s a simple rubric and can easily be adapted to your lifestyle or budget. Prefer a 1-2-1? Do this! Can’t go away for a whole weekend? Make a stay! A friend of mine turned her spare bedroom into an “Airbnb” for her partner, complete with fresh sheets and mints on the pillow. It was beautiful and cost next to nothing (minus the mints).
Dates don’t need to be elaborate or expensive. They might include cooking a meal together at home, taking an evening walk around your neighborhood, talking about your hopes and dreams, or learning something new together.
The latter is particularly useful, since variety and novelty are very important to our happiness and keep that spark alive. Our brains have an annoying (and necessary) function called hedonic adaptation, which basically means we get used to things pretty quickly. That’s great when we’re overcoming hardships, but less great when we’re bored in our relationships because the things that used to excite us no longer do. Therefore, having new experiences with your spouse is tantamount to thwarting hedonic adaptation.
TL;DR: Vary your routines. Try new restaurants or activities. Learn to tango or draw anime characters or build a bookshelf. Change your gender. Get out of your comfort zone. (For more ideas, see this post about dates and activities that take advantage of the five senses.)
Good luck, FIRE.
Anna Pulley is a columnist for the Tribune Content Agency who answers readers’ questions about love, sex and dating. Email your questions (anonymity guaranteed) to firstname.lastname@example.org, sign up for her infrequent (but amazing) newsletter, or check out books!
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