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Marriage is hard work: 7 ways to make it fun again

What happens when our relationships aren't "picture perfect" anymore? Ups and downs are normal and every couple will face conflicts.
/ Source: TODAY

A few weeks ago, Pink announced to the world what she thought about marriage: "Monogamy is work!" she declared. But she didn't stop there — Pink revealed that sometimes she swoons over her husband, and other times, she cannot stand him. Celebrities — they really are just like us, huh?

Is marriage work? Yes, it most certainly is. However, what we see in Hollywood movies tells us that it isn't. Most love stories end happily ever after — in just two hours. We don't see what a real marriage looks like five, 10, 20 years down the road — when it's not so much "sweep me off of my feet" as it is, "sweep the kitchen floor for my affections."

What happens when our relationships aren't "picture perfect" anymore? The cold hard truth is that ups and downs are normal and every couple will face conflicts. Both happy couples and miserable ones have the same problems — it's how they deal with those problems that dictates the future of their relationship.

So, what can you do to make your marriage fun and happy? The key is becoming the better spouse — and here are seven ways to do that:

1. Practice gratitude.

The key to having more passionate and fun feelings about your spouse is to write down the things your spouse does for you, both short-term and long-term, that make you feel grateful. Happiness stems in large part from gratitude. Here, I'll start my own list so you can see how to structure yours:

What I'm grateful for about my husband Andy:

  • He brings me coffee every morning in a great mug (I collect mugs and he always finds a good one).
  • Not only that, but he brings it up three flights of stairs to where our room is.
  • He wakes up happy most days.
  • He loves my job and supports me in every way.
  • He wants me to buy nice things for myself, because I'd prefer to hit the sale rack.
  • He is kind to my family and loves them like his own.

Do this, and watch your positive feelings re-kindle, and watch the smile on your own face as you write. Have your partner do the same — and watch how things grow lovelier, and so quickly.

2. Let go of your resentment.

If you have a chip on your shoulder because your partner isn't helping in the kitchen often enough or planning social outings, those negative thoughts could be affecting the love and good feelings you've created over time.

Take a hard look at the expectations you believe your spouse isn't meeting. Expecting your partner to always be sexy, funny, reasonable, sensible and accommodating is a set-up for bad feelings. To get the excitement back, first you have to get over your resentments and strive for acceptance of your spouse. Doing so will change the whole dynamic of your relationship, making it a lot easier to communicate, connect and feel more in love.

3. Get physical.

When you're falling in love with someone, you constantly look for ways to be in physical contact with that person: holding hands, hugging, kissing, cuddling. Reincorporating everyday physical gestures here and there can help stir up those loving feelings again.

Start small with a gentle brush of the arm, a pat on the back, holding hands, just putting your hand on top of his. Every gesture counts. The skin is your body's largest organ, and physical touch is an important human need — 30-second hugs are my favorite. Touch really brings you closer together. Before you know it, those little touches will translate to a deepened emotional connection.

4. Avoid the negativity bias.

The longer you're married, the more likely you are to pay attention to the negative aspects of your spouse, rather than the traits you found adorable at first. It's part of human nature.

To counteract this tendency toward criticism, you have to change your mindset and look for what is good. It's not always easy, and requires work. Remember that gratitude list I told you about? The next step is to tell your partner what you love and appreciate about them — specifically!

5. Learn how to de-escalate.

When those inevitable arguments happen, try this approach. One person gets to call "Stop!" in our house. We call it "de-escalation." We put the heated discussion on pause by sending everyone into their own safe, quiet spaces in the house to calm down. My kids call it "boxers going back to their corners."

The pause usually lasts 20-30 minutes, maximum, and it is miraculous how we can solve things in two minutes after a de-escalation.

6. Always be kind.

This is hard to do — especially when your partner pushes your buttons. Make a list of the things that irritate you most about each other, and have a plan to respond with kindness instead of venom. This will improve things fast and make your partner feel loved and important.

7. Do new things together!

More and more is being written about increasing happiness by increasing novelty — meaning doing new things and sharing new experiences together!

Suggest taking a salsa or ballroom dance class, go on a biking trip together — even trying a new restaurant can help to break up the monotony and build excitement again. Tell your partner about why novelty works (it's also great for your sex life), and I'm sure they'll be happy to join the fun!

Dating coach Bela Gandhi is the founder and president of Smart Dating Academy.