Get Closer -- Even Now
1. Forgive each other for something you've held on to. Maybe you've resented the unfavorable comparisons he's made between you and your mother; he may still be mad about the time your generosity at Christmas ate into the retirement fund. "Petty little grudges can be an obstacle to joy," says Gregory K. Popcak, MSW, author of The Exceptional Seven Percent: The Nine Secrets of the World's Happiest Couples. Popcak points out that some people nurse hurts because they like to be right, which makes them feel superior. "But self-righteousness leads to estrangement because you hold the other person beneath you," he says. "Real intimacy requires a relationship between equals."
2. Give up a habit your spouse dislikes, or at least cut back, and vice versa. Maybe it's smoking, or your marathon phone chats with friends in the evening, or his thing about not screwing the cap back on the toothpaste tube after brushing. "My husband always worried that I drank too much wine," says Patricia Kendall* of Denver, who rewarded herself with a glass of wine or two each night after getting the kids in bed. "Last summer, I gave up the wine except for special occasions, which removed this source of tension between us and had the additional effect of helping me lose weight. My husband has been so elated and proud of me since I've cut down. I think it shows him that his opinion really matters to me."
If each person attempts to make a change that will please the other, it will go a long way toward reaffirming that the relationship is a top priority. One important element of intimacy is putting "we" ahead of "me" or "you," and often that means making sacrifices, not begrudgingly, for the good of the marriage.
But don't be too disappointed if your spouse can't make the break as quickly as you would like him to. "You've got to have patience with him," says Joyce Dolberg Rowe, LMHC, a marital therapist in Boston. "Avoid saying things like, 'If I've told you I don't like it, why do you continue to do it?'" Use positive reinforcement to help him along in his struggle, realizing that a sincere attempt speaks volumes about his regard for you. You might say, "That you're making the effort means the world to me."
3. Get physical. Take up a new activity together, such as a massage class or a dancing class, that will allow you to touch each other in a nonsexual but sensuous way. "The more senses that are involved, the more intimate the experience," says Rowe. "Touching, tasting, smelling, getting into someone's space, they all help break through your emotional barriers."
Taking a class together will also let you experience the excitement of trying something new. "When you think about who you are closest to in your life, it's people who share the same experiences and interests," says Popcak. Too often, he says, husbands and wives only connect at home or with the children, and then pursue separate hobbies with friends. "When we share things that we find good and beautiful and exciting with the person we love most in the world, it is natural that we will feel closer," he says. It's as if you're tying new threads between the two of you, which helps prevent your getting pulled in different directions.
4. Write down memories of your meeting and falling in love and read them to each other. This can create such good feelings that you may even re-experience those initial pangs, if only briefly. When men and women fall in love, a hormone called oxytocin is released, producing a sense of well-being and contentment. This exercise has the potential for getting the hormones flowing again, creating reserves of goodwill.
"Remembering your first meeting, the things you loved to do together, how it felt to touch each other, and what brought you together, you get perspective on the pettiness of things that you bicker about on a day-to-day basis," says Rowe. The more you can focus on the qualities that made you fall in love with him, the smaller his annoying qualities will seem. And when you hit a rough spot in your marriage, the romantic history you share can serve as a glue that binds you to each other. Happily, the memories of your earliest times together are something you can return to again and again.
*Name has been changed