1. Establish and/or nurture relationships with other married couples. It is a good idea for couples to try to establish relationships with other couples who are in varying seasons of marriage and life stages. It is important for couples to have other couples to turn to who have either been through some of the same challenges of being married and raising a family or who can currently relate to those challenges. Having a younger couple to mentor can also be healthy for a couple’s relationship, as it helps couples to not only reflect on the challenges their marriage has survived but also reflect on the lessons learned.
2. Set aside time to be alone as a couple. Especially after there are children in the home, it is important for couples to insist on time alone as a couple. Each day, it helps for couples to set aside a time when they consistently spend time together. This time can be first thing in the morning before the kids wake up, at the end of the night, or somewhere in between. It’s important not to use this time to discuss the “business” of marriage such as finances or matters with the household or children. Instead, the aim of the conversation should be to reconnect on a personal level. In addition to a set daily time to reconnect, couples should set aside a weekly or biweekly date night. Dates can be as simple as a walk in the park, a trip to the gym, or taking the dog on an extra long walk together. To solve the childcare dilemma, many couples have tried swapping babysitting duties with other families on a rotating schedule to help support each other in maintaining a connection. Time alone is so important for maintaining the friendship that is essential to maintaining intimacy in a marriage.
3. Make a commitment to self-care. For many couples, emotional distance between spouses can result from one or the other person feeling as though their needs are being neglected. However, running “on empty” can make one more vulnerable to feeling as though their needs aren’t being met by their partner. In a marriage, it is important for each individual to have a self-care plan in place, making sure to address his or her own needs. Seeing to it that each person has opportunities to enjoy things like personal grooming (a new haircut, a mani/pedi, a massage), time with friends, or participating in personal hobbies can help make sure each person is in a good space mentally. This leaves both people in a better position to focus on meeting each other’s needs and the needs of the family.
4. Learn to recognize and counter negative, distorted thoughts. Distorted thought patterns are common culprits behind arguments. It is very important to learn to recognize when distorted thoughts are at play and to learn how to counter those negative thoughts instead of allowing them to color perceptions of day to day marital conflicts. One sure way to recognize a distorted thought is when there is a feeling that the other person “never” does whatever the desired action is or “always” does whatever action is undesirable. Catastrophizing, or exaggerating the importance of an issue, blaming, and having a list of things the other person “should” do are all examples of distorted thoughts. When there is suspicion that distorted thoughts are at play, couples can learn to call them out and refute negative thoughts. Working with a professional counselor can be very helpful in helping couples address distorted, negative thoughts. With practice, eliminating "stinking thinking" will become easier for couples to do together.
5. Identify needs and make specific requests. A good exercise is to try to identify any personal need that is not being met (be careful not to make a list of “shoulds”!) and determine whether or not there is an opportunity to make a specific request for those needs to be met. For example, take a wife who is feeling resentful that she has to pick the kids up from school every afternoon, take care of dinner and homework, take care of the housework, and is exhausted by the end of each day while her husband works late by choice each evening and stops by the gym after work a few times a week. After making her list, she may feel that she needs time to workout, or time to run errands after work once or twice a week, freeing up time during the weekend. One thing she may request of her husband is that he picks the kids up once a week or that they work it into their budget to hire a sitter once a week.