A.The suggestions that emanate from this concern and question seem to lie within its own content. That is to say, one reason you may not feel emotionally attached to your spouse may be due in part to the fact that “we don’t really do much together anymore.” My initial suggestion would be to start doing things together. The old adage of “the family that plays together, stays together” might ring true here.
First, you might try making a list of the things you did together when the relationship and marriage was in its initial years. Did you worship together, travel together, go to the beach or mountains, take walks, have long talks, rent movies, go on dates, go out to eat, read together, play sports, do hobbies, etc.? The things that brought you together may have fallen by the wayside as life’s responsibilities increased. A word to the wise for those currently dating: don’t let your relationship rest primarily on the physical part of the relationship, for this generally does not sustain a relationship long term. Shared interests are important. Maybe try out a new hobby or interest together.
Second, share with your spouse that you don’t feel as close as you once were; that you desire to be closer to him or her. Use “I-statements,” stating what you do want, and avoid accusing statements of how your spouse may not be measuring up to your expectations. For example: “I would like for us to take walks together;” “I would really enjoy a back rub from you;” “It would be nice to go to the ballgame with you this weekend,” etc.
The story has been told of the wife who gently, yet assertively, told her husband “it’s nice to receive flowers and/or a card from you from time to time. And, please don’t give these to me tomorrow, but sometime soon would be nice.” Now, it wasn’t that the husband had never done this before; but evidently, it had been a while since he had made her feel special with such gifts. So, in a couple of weeks, guess what? He surprised her with a small bouquet of flowers, AND a card! She was excited, thrilled, and felt special! They talked about this later and she said she realized her husband was not a mind reader, and if she doesn’t occasionally let him know what she needs, her needs may go unmet. Of course, neither spouse should have to constantly remind the other what they need, but it’s okay to let the other know from time to time what you need to feel loved and special. And, the other spouse would do well to honor such honest requests. Also, make sure you share your hopes and dreams with your spouse; this helps to have a shared meaning and purpose in your marriage.
Third, be intentional about making time for each other. Most people are intentional about going to work, paying their bills, and even completing maintenance on their cars; but sometimes couples expect their marriages to be exciting and thrilling without doing the necessary maintenance to get out of them what they desire. Set aside at least a monthly date night. Make this a priority as if it were a doctor’s appointment. If you have children and finances are a challenge, barter with another couple for child-care services so you can go out. Picnics can be inexpensive, and quite romantic.
Research has shown that feelings and emotions are at their bases "neurological and physiological. People feel it in their bodies. Conscious articulation of feelings and thoughts comes only later” (Greenberg & Goldman). When couples are active together, things start happening in their minds and their bodies. The more couples are together, actively engaged in positive activities, the more emotionally attached they can feel towards one another. It takes a commitment to doing the work that will give the results for which you are looking. It’s often not a lot of work, but it does require consistent effort. It’s much like a financial investment; you have to put something in, in order to get something out. We do reap what we sow. So, be intentional in making your marriage a priority.
If, however, these suggestions are not making any headway, you may want to consult a professional counselor for the possibility of any unresolved issues between you and your spouse, or to see where you may be “stuck.” In the mean-time, John Gottman* has what he calls the “magic” 5 hours to improve a relationship. There is no actual “magic,” but putting in effort here and there can create an atmosphere and climate that can improve your marriage and help you feel closer to your spouse.
• Partings. Do not part in the morning without knowing one interesting thing that will happen in your spouse’s day. (2 minutes a day X 5 working days: total 10 minutes)
• Reunions. Take 10 minutes, each, to talk about your day (the stress-reducing conversation). Partners alternate in actively listening. Rule: Support and understanding must precede advice. (20 minutes a day X 5 days: total 1 hour 40 minutes)
• Admiration and appreciation. Find some way every day to genuinely communicate affection and appreciation toward your spouse. (5 minutes a day X 7 days: total 35 minutes)
• Affection. Kiss, hold, touch each other. Play is good. Make sure to kiss each other before going to sleep and follow the admonition in Ephesians 4:26, “Do not let the sun set on your wrath.” (5 minutes a day X 7 days: total 35 minutes)
• Take at least 2 hours a week for a marital date. During this date, couples do a number of things, such as updating their Love Maps (Gottman’s term for continuing to cognitively know your spouse: what’s happening in their life, what’s important to them, etc.), turning toward one another for support and comfort, and often just asking one another how each is. Some think of questions to ask their spouses and then actively listen (such as, “How are you thinking of changing the bedroom these days?” or “What would be your idea of a great getaway?” or “How are you thinking about your work these days?”).
*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.
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* Gottman, John M. (1999). The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, p. 304.
**Greenberg, L.S. & Goldman, R.N. (2008). Emotion-Focused Couples Therapy: The Dynamics of Emotion, Love, and Power, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, p. 19.