Jan. 27, 2014 at 4:24 PM ET
That guy whom you share the house with? He’s the love of your life—remember? With the endless stress of daily responsibilities and getting the kids from one place to another, it can be tough to keep those same loving feelings that you felt when you said “I do.” But while you can’t exactly take an impromptu vacation or spend hours in bed like you did as newlyweds, there are some fun (and exciting!) ways to rekindle your relationship. Challenge yourself to fall back in love with your husband this month with these 30 tips. (We bet he’ll be glad you read this!)
Sure, knowing everything about each other is comfortable, but it’s no recipe for romance, says psychologist Harriet Lerner, author of Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up.
Make a rule that for the first ten minutes of any night out, you will not discuss the “business” of your relationship: no kid talk, no work recap. You may just remember what having a fun conversation is like again!
There is nothing wrong with vegging out with your man after a long day, but if Monday through Thursday evenings always consist of little more than zoning out to the DVR or doing separate activities side-by-side (he reads sports news while you cruise Pinterest), tweak your lazy, chill time to make it more loving. How about a movie in bed with a bowl of popcorn? Or his-and-her backrubs while you watch your favorite show? Or if you can squeeze it into your schedule, after the kids are in bed, put away the tub toys and enjoy a bath together.
As in, “Hey, can you pick up the kids after work?” or “Hey, did you remember to call the accountant?” One of the easiest ways to rekindle your romance is to act like you did way back when you were dating, says Michele Weiner-Davis, author of Divorce Busting. Try a pet name that you used in the early years of your relationship, or the simply more affectionate “Hon’s” and “Babe’s” that you may not have uttered in years.
Spend a few moments jotting down your greatest hits from your years together—from the biggies, like your wedding day, to the smaller memories, like the song you played over and over on a camping trip one year. Surprise him with the list—leave it on his bed, email it to him, sit down after dinner and read it together. He’ll be touched by the thoughtful gesture, and the exercise will give you an important reminder of why you picked him in the first place.
It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to increase the passion within your relationship may be to find new ways to develop yourself outside of it. “You can’t feel love for someone else if you’re feeling crappy about your own life,” says Weiner-Davis. Make a list of personal goals. Arrange a dinner date with a friend. Take a yoga class. Actually cook one of the meals in your “someday” recipe file (or your Pinterest board). Taking care of yourself will replenish you, making you more receptive to love in your life.
Dozens of studies have found that one of the best ways to bust a rut is by injecting some novelty into your usual routine. Find a free weekend this month, drop the typical Saturday chores-and-errands dance, and plan something that you’ll love doing together. Maybe it’s as involved as a weekend B&B trip, or maybe it’s as simple as spending an afternoon playing tourist in your hometown—say, by checking out the new neighborhood sushi place or visiting a nearby historical site.
“We all know that waiting until the end of the night to have sex often means you fall asleep before you get to it,” says Ian Kerner, a relationship and sex expert and author. Try alternative times to have sex—your lunch hour, on a Saturday afternoon when the house is empty or by slipping into his morning shower. If evenings are truly the only available time, make it a priority—get into bed earlier, forego the flannel PJs and make an event out of it.
Nope, he doesn’t bring home flowers like your best friend’s guy. Nor will he ever write you a love letter. But there are a bazillion ways that he’s loving in his own way: how he rubs your back after a long day, his inimitable Saturday morning pancakes, the ridiculous songs he makes up for your kids. When you find yourself feeling letdown by the things that he doesn’t do, make a mental list of what he does. Lerner says, “You're more likely to fall back in love with your husband if you're not trying to turn a cat into a dog.”
Pop quiz: Have you touched your husband today? If the only physical contact that you have with the person to whom you’re married on a typical day is a quick peck on the cheek before work or bed—it’s time to get your act together. That doesn’t have to mean upping your game to wild bedroom acrobatics, though, try simply hugging for thirty seconds, says Kerner. Hugging has been proven to boost levels of oxytocin, a hormone that increases feelings of bonding, particularly in women.
The habit of criticism is hazardous to any relationship, Lerner says, and no one can happily survive in a marriage if they feel more judged than admired. Limit yourself to one criticism a day, figuring out which one matters most is a good exercise. “Practice saying that criticism in three sentences or less,” Lerner says. “Do this over time and you’ll see each other in a more positive light and likely rediscover why you fell in love in the first place.”
Yes, really. Seeing him through his buddies’ eyes can reveal endearing facets of his personality that you might not have seen in a while, or maybe ever—how he can tell a joke that brings down the whole room, how kind he is when he’s having a conversation with someone he’s just the met, or the way that he (surprise!) brags about you. By seeing him with his friend, you will feel…
Okay, so maybe you do know the correct, more efficient way to do everything, but what matters in a marriage is not who’s right, but that each person is dedicated to contributing to each other’s happiness, Lerner says. “Give him the space to learn through trial and error, even if you have to leave the room when he's struggling to cut a tomato for the salad or put a snowsuit on your flailing toddler.” It’s not your job to correct him.
Yes, after your long day of hurtling work obstacles and wrangling kids, acting sweet and loving might sound as appealing as a jury duty summons, but when you let yourself off the hook every night, your relationship suffers. Don't wait until the spirit genuinely moves you to warm your partner's heart, Lerner says. “Just like we can act courageously when we're afraid, we can act lovingly and focus on the positive when we're feeling…well, not quite that way,” she says. Today, act like you’re madly in love: hug him, kiss him, call him just to say hello, send a loving text. You might be surprised how his response reverses your mood.
Researchers at the University of Virginia have found that couples who spend uninterrupted time together at least once a week have better communication, higher sexual satisfaction, and stronger feelings of commitment than couples who don’t. Get out your calendars and schedule weekly couple time for the next month in the same way you would schedule other appointments.
Yes, they are the light of your lives. Of course, you can hardly remember what life was like before they came along. But the best thing you can do for them is to develop a strong marriage, and the best way to do that is to spend regular time simply focusing on each other. Set some ground rules to make it easy: Maybe it’s that you don’t discuss the kids on date nights or after they’ve gone to bed during the week. Your entire family will be better off if you take some “just the two of us” time to talk about the grownup stuff.
Working towards a common goal builds feelings of togetherness, and doing something physical—whether it’s training for a half-marathon together or vowing to each lose ten pounds—gives you each an opportunity to encourage and call on each other for support. Plus, you’ll be trying something new together—a surefire relationship rejuvenator, Weiner-Davis says. Spend a Sunday afternoon hiking a nearby park, try a walk after dinner three times this week, or investigate active vacations you might try.
Stop worrying that "the feeling is gone” and remember that even the best marriages get stuck sometimes, and if you're focused on what’s wrong instead of bringing your best self to your marriage, that's a good recipe for failure. Lose the “woe is me” and make a list of the things you can do to make yourself happier right now—and do some of them! “The best way to love your partner is to work on yourself,” Lerner says.
Yes, you might talk to your husband one-hundred times a day, but if you’re like most couples, those chats often become more logistical than loving: “Who’s picking up milk on the way home?”, “What are the weekend plans with your in-laws?”. Taking time to do a daily check-in when you really talk will remind you that you’re partners in love, not just in the business of running a household. Here’s how to do it: Set an alarm on your phone to go off at a certain time in the evening, and when it does, stop whatever you’re doing—folding the laundry, answering emails, watching Homeland and take ten minutes to chat. The best way to start? A simple “How are you?”
Spend five minutes simply observing him when he doesn’t know you’re watching and mentally check off ten things you love about him—the sweet way that he talks to your baby as he’s feeding her breakfast, how he sings to himself while he’s getting ready for work, the quirky way that he puts potato chips inside his sandwich, the boyish way he bites his knuckles when he’s watching a game. This will remind you of all the little things that made you fall in love with him when you were first getting to know him.
Literally! There’s a reason why the old sentiment is such a classic. Spending time apart gives you a chance to reflect on your relationship, gets you out of your routine and, most obviously (and perhaps most significantly!), gives you an opportunity to miss each other! Get on the phone and schedule that girls’ weekend that you and your friends keep talking about, visit your mother or give yourself the gift of some time alone. A little bit of time spent apart will make a big difference in how you reconnect afterwards.
We all need to feel needed, and one easy way to show how much you value him—and increase loving feelings between the two of you—is by requesting his expertise. What does he know that you’d like to understand? How to score a baseball game? How to take a decent photo without relying on the auto setting? How to make his family’s famous gumbo recipe? Ask him to show you what he knows.
Sometimes, our biggest problems with our partners stem from the stories we invent in our heads, says Lerner. Instead of stomping around angry because you assume that he never wants to go out or that he doesn’t appreciate the things you do around the house—ask him how he actually feels. An easy cure for your resentment is to stop assuming the worst, and the only way to feel better is to actually talk it out.
Sure, you celebrate the Big One every year, but why not devise other reasons to mark the passing of your lives together? Reenact your first date by making the same sort of food you ate at the restaurant or rent the movie that you saw together in the theater. Make the first of the month “picnic on the family room floor” night. Have “half” anniversaries by celebrating the date six months before your actual anniversary. By giving ordinary days special significance, you’ll give each other reason to stop time and reflect on the life you’re building together.
Are quick texts and post-work check-ins your most common modes of communication? Shake up the way you connect by doing things differently: Send him the kind of long, chatty email you send to a girlfriend. Interrupt his evening reading to have a chat. In other words, talk for the sake of talking. It will help you remember that along with everything else, he’s also your best friend who you really like to talk to.
Bedroom routine a little too, well, routine? Make a risqué list of all of the things you’d like for him to do to you and leave it in a place where he’d never expect it (and no one else will find it!) like his sock drawer or inside his gym bag. Leave it to him to decide where, when, and how he’ll surprise you. Your sex life will get a boost because you’ll get exactly what you want, but the added element of how and when it happens will make it even hotter.
Simply browsing shots from your history together will help you remember why you fell in love with him in the first place. But if you want to take it a step further, examine your “relationship archives” together and reminisce about the memories, large and small, that you’ve created over the years, whether it’s the dozens of photos that you took during your first few weeks as parents or the random candids that you’ve forgotten about. Going down memory lane can help you…
You do not need another date night that involves discussing the kids from the minute you walk out the door until the minute you pay the sitter. You do not need another date night that involves periodic check-ins with your work email. What you do need is to make plans to have the kiddos cared for, and then meet your husband at a great bar (there’s something about arriving there alone that is so much sexier than heading out together) and let loose like you did when you were dating. A wild night will remind you that that cute guy next to you at the bar isn’t merely the person who shares your mortgage.
So he’s never romantic. He doesn’t say thank you. He isn’t affectionate. But are you? Examine your biggest gripes about your guy and turn the spotlight on yourself: When’s the last time you really kissed him? How long has it been since you called him at work just to say hello? “When you want more connection, suggest an activity. Instead of communicating about communication, talking about how you don’t talk, just try talking,” says Lerner. Be proactive and you might find that the easiest route to getting what you want is to simply make it happen.
Bust marriage monotony by lighting a fire under your typical conversations. Ask him what he thinks about a current event, email a link to an article you’ve read and discuss it over dinner, try an open-ended “What If?” Discovering something new about what he thinks and feels will help you realize that you don’t, in fact, already know everything there is to know about him—and help you look forward to all there is yet to come.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.