Marriage is a living thing. To grow properly, it must be tended to. Anyone who has been married knows it takes nurturing to keep a relationship from becoming distant and de-energized. Work commitments, kids, financial strains, caring for older relatives, or the ways in which people grow in different directions over time—all of these can add up to feeling stuck in the same old ruts.
When couples come into my psychotherapy practice, they arrive with a set of concerns. They aren’t communicating effectively. They have frequent arguments—or one repeating argument that never gets resolved. Sometimes one spouse feels shut out: the couple isn’t having sex or one partner regularly works late. These issues are commonplace in modern marriages. They may not be much fun when you’re going through them, but they are normal!
As clear as couples may be about the nature of the problem, many don’t realize that just by coming in together they have already begun to find a solution. My office has no phone, TV, or computer. The decor is simple, the loveseat cozy but small so that couples must sit closely. In short, my office contains nothing that prevents clients from focusing on one another. Seeking the help of a professional to talk through conflicts and foster greater closeness is a privilege that many couples can’t afford. However, eliminating distractions to focus on togetherness is something everyone can achieve.
- Listen to each other. When having a difficult conversation, don’t respond immediately to what your partner is saying. Try counting to five silently before answering. Arguments often happen because they escalate quickly. This slowdown mirrors the way marital therapists work to mediate the pace of arguments, asking spouses to breathe, listen, and think about what the other is trying to say.
- Talk it out. At home, reserve at least an hour weekly to sit together and talk. Put the kids to bed. Turn off phones, music, TV, and computers. Sit in a comfortable place, preferably touching.
- Spend quality time together. Institute a “date night” twice a month. Minimize distractions: don’t choose a restaurant with TVs or bad acoustics. Better yet, take a long walk!