If You’re Not Doing These 4 Things In Your Relationship, You Better Get On It

I recently saw the movie Hope Springs, in which Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones portray an empty-nester couple on the skids.

After 30-something years of marriage, they sleep in separate bedrooms, no longer have sex, and limit their communication to the necessities.

Tommy Lee comes home from work, sits in his recliner after dinner to watch TV, and promptly falls asleep.

Meryl washes up after dinner, wakes him to go to bed, and they proceed to their separate bedrooms.

At the beginning of the movie, it’s clear that Meryl’s character has been lonely and dissatisfied with the marriage for quite some time. She signs them up for a week-long intense marriage therapy program, dragging a very reluctant and defensive Tommy Lee along with her.

Both characters have their issues, but Tommy Lee’s character has built layers of walls and resistance over the years. You keep praying he will finally break free and embrace the real love his wife is offering him. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you if you haven’t seen it. Regardless of where you are in your marriage or love relationship, this is a movie worth seeing — with your partner!

The Steady Decline

The characters in this movie didn’t reach the point of marital malaise overnight. It was a slow process of losing connection with each other that led them to become strangers under the same roof. Sadly, I think this is the state (or the future state) of many marriages in the real world.

If a marriage or relationship begins with a foundation of love, chemistry, and friendship, the couple can ride that tidal wave of happiness for several years. But real life has a way of chipping away at that foundation, especially after the initial intense passion begins to wane.

With the pressures of work, raising a family, financial struggles, and unmet needs, many couples begin that slow and steady decline toward living separately while living together under the same roof.

A hundred years ago, marriage was a necessity for survival. Someone had to earn the money (the man) and someone had to raise the children and tend to the home (the woman). By the time the last child was out of the house, death of one or both partners wasn’t too far behind. The life expectancy in 1900 was 47 for men and 49 for women (and much younger for African American men and women). Divorce wasn’t necessary because marriage generally ended the old-fashioned way.

Today the average life expectancy is 78.6 years and higher in many states. That means a couple getting married in their mid-twenties could be together for 50+ years before one of them dies. That’s a long time to sustain a happy, healthy marriage. Roles for men and women have changed drastically over the last century. Marriage isn’t a necessity any longer. It is much easier for couples to walk away.

The decline of many marriage relationships often begins when children are born. Suddenly the relationship itself is relegated to the back burner while each partner scrambles to take care of life responsibilities and still snag a scrap of their former freedom.

Our culture in the last 25 years or so has venerated child-centered families rather than marriage-centered families. We put far more time and energy into birthday parties, extra-curricular activities, and carpooling than we do in connecting with our spouses and tending to the marriage.

But marriages are not self-sustaining. Like a garden, they require regular care.

A little water and sunshine will keep it alive. Daily attention, weed-pulling, and fertilizer will make it thrive. When a marriage reaches the empty-nester stage, you need a backhoe to clean out the brambles and give it a chance if you haven’t been tending it all along. Sometimes it’s too late.

If your marriage or romantic relationship is stagnating, drifting into a roommate arrangement, or turning bitter, you can begin to turn it around if you both have the desire for something better. And if things are pretty good, it never hurts to refocus your attention on the relationship to ensure you aren’t unknowingly letting something slide.

Your marriage relationship needs to be the number one priority in your life — not just in words but in actions. If this relationship isn’t healthy, it will taint all other areas of your life. Take a hard look at your own relationship, and ask yourself truthfully where it ranks in relation to work, hobbies, kids, television, etc. Is your love relationship number one?

If it’s not, here are four things you can do to put your marriage or romantic relationship back at the forefront of your life and nurse it back to full health and vibrancy.

1. Create Time

If you aren’t actually spending time every day with your beloved, it’s hard to have a real relationship. Filling your days with work, chores, and child-centered activities doesn’t leave any room for time with your spouse.

You must make that time non-negotiable. Commit to have breakfast together without the distractions of TV, the newspaper, or children. Get up 30 minutes before kids awaken if necessary.

Take time during the day to check-in by phone or meet for lunch on occasion. Set aside an hour or so at the end of the day to talk, share the events of your day, take a walk, or just sit quietly together.

Set aside regular evenings for a date night each week and regular getaways together for a week or weekend during the year (without children). Make this time with your spouse a sacred commitment.

2. Have Fun

Just spending time together isn’t enough for a marriage to really thrive and reach its full potential. You need to have fun together.

Why do we get married in the first place? It’s not so we can sit around in a tired daze in front of the TV. We want a partner in life to share the not just the hardships but also the joys and adventures. We want someone to laugh with, to see the inanities of life and share in the humor of that.

Having fun with your spouse can mean traveling together, enjoying a sport or hobby together, going out together with friends, trying something new together. But it also means taking time at home for play, for lighthearted moments preparing a meal or cleaning out the garage.

It requires both partners to view the world less seriously and more playfully. Serious things will always be there, but we need to allow fun to have a big place in our lives. When you know your beloved wants to share fun, you want to be around them.

3. Share Intimacy

This doesn’t just mean sex, although sex is a huge part of relationship intimacy. If you aren’t having regular (weekly) sex, get on it! Allowing your intimate physical life to dwindle makes it far more difficult to rekindle passion. The longer you go without it, the harder it is to feel comfortable jumping back into to it. Don’t allow your partner to become a bedroom stranger.

If one partner requires more or less sex than the other, find a happy medium that still puts sex in your weekly life. Making love draws you together in many more ways than just physical. It sets the stage for emotional intimacy and fosters a biological attachment between the two of you.

Intimacy also involves regular affection and intimate but non-sexual touch (snuggling, back-rubs, holding hands, etc.). And intimacy involves sharing inside jokes, knowing what your spouse likes in his coffee, a few minutes of pillow talk in the morning before getting up. It involves understanding and responding to facial expressions, shifting moods, and emotional needs.

Intimacy requires knowing someone in the most personal ways, flaws and all, and loving them in spite of and often because of those things.

Intimacy is the glue that makes a couple a couple. It is the private, deeply personal elements of the love relationship that makes this relationship singularly central to your very happiness in life.

4. Provide Safety

I’m not talking about installing an alarm system in your house. Relationship safety is the security and knowledge that your partner has your back and will love you no matter what.

This safety requires that you and your partner can communicate openly without fear of anger or recriminations. It means you both can comfortably express your needs and fears. You both have the best interest of the relationship at heart when working for solutions to problems or issues.

This kind of safety requires that you don’t tally up scores, punch below the belt, embarrass each other in front of others, throw out painful barbs or underhanded zingers to prove a point, or attempt to control the other persons ideas, behavior, or needs.

When you have relationship safety, you treat your partner’s dreams and vulnerabilities with dignity. You listen and really hear them, without lining up your retorts. When anger or frustration does get the best of you, you are each able to ask for forgiveness and offer it readily.

On a daily basis, it simply means being kind to one another.

Please don’t allow your love relationship to drift into a state of malaise. If your marriage is good, continue to take preemptive actions to maintain its health and vibrancy. If your relationship is stale, falling into disarray, begin now to turn it around before it’s too late.

26 thoughts on “If You’re Not Doing These 4 Things In Your Relationship, You Better Get On It”

  1. Thanks Barrie,
    One of the things I have thought is sad is that we have made relationships so disposable. I think relationships are such a fertile ground for personal growth and it is only with deep intimacy we can move beyond many of our limitations. Of course, as you point out relationships take time.

    I find having a date day, with yourself as well as your partner extremely useful. A day to nurture yourself is a great gift and I find when I do that on a regular basis I have more to offer in all of my relationships.

    • Susan, you are so right. Relationships test us in so many ways. If we are willing to learn, we can grow tremendously from the work we do within a relationship, especially a marriage. I love the idea of a date day with yourself. It sounds so romantic. 🙂

  2. Great article. Very true, I’ve had it happen to my relationship when my kids were small. Now that they’re older I try to remember to focus on my relationship with my husband. It is easier now and we relate very well. It is so important to make your partner feel special and know with actions that you love him. Saying ‘I love you” is easy. Making someone feel loved is what counts.

    • I so agree Denise. When you understand your partner’s “love language” you are truly giving them the gift of the love they really need. Words are meaningless without the actions to back them up.

  3. I have some things to get fixed. In the ripe old age of 55, the sex-thing is a thing in my life that could create some trouble, but many other things are wonderful enough to make up for it – almost.
    Wife seriously ill for a prolonged period, now she’s fully recovered, but I can’t seem to convince her to get back in the bedroom game. Anyway, I am really grateful she’s still here, and there is much love, fun, happiness, respect and curiousity in our life together. She’s still here. Anything else is secondary.
    Still, I wonder if any other have the same problem, and how their marriage manages to survive and perhaps even thrive?

    • Erik, see if you can get your wife to go to that movie (Hope Springs) with you. Sex is the electricity that keeps the marriage fresh, intimate, and fun. Once you get back in the habit, perhaps she will find it more fun than she remembers. 🙂

  4. Barrie: I was once in a relationship and we started out wonderful and went strong for a few years, but my attraction to her started to dwendle. I noticed that my body language and hormones towards her was not the same as the beginning and in the beginning, I found her wildly attractive! I tried everything to get back to the way things were. I even thought about taking hormone increasing pills, but that was too much for me and I was not going to do that. She noticed that my attraction to her was not the same, but I think she believed it was because of another girl and the truth was that it really was not. I hope it does not happen in my next relationship. I figure she just was not the one for me.

    • Hi William,
      I think she probably wasn’t the right one for you. Romance will dwindle in every relationship over time, but if you have no chemistry at all, then it may be time to move on.

  5. Excellent! Excellent! One of the best–if not the best–relationship posts I’ve read recently.

    You sum it all up so thoroughly, touch on all the right issues, push all the right levers–that I should really just shut up, sit back and let it all soak in.

    Note worthy in particular was the connection between increasing life expectancy and declining marital longevity. I’ve heard many theories why many marriages end in divorce but I don’t think I’ve heard any others draw that particular connection, namely that folks living longer automatically gives them more time and opportunity to divorce in the first place.

    As regards intimacy, it pains me to see how many folks let this part of their relationship slide and then seem completely flummoxed when other parts of their thing go into free fall as a result.

    This, for me, is a real head scratcher: Almost always, you snare a mate and nurture the resulting blossoming relationship with an abundance of mutually sought and enjoyed sex.

    Somewhere along the line couples seem to forget this fact, take their mate’s needs for granted. It’s not until they stumble upon an email from an old beau/girlfriend or—God forbid, a stranger’s underwear in the backseat of the family car–that their eyes begin to open.

    Gulp! Turns out somebody else has the time, interest and inclination to have sex with your mate—only it’s not you.

    There’s nothing quite like the scent of possible competition for folks to get their rear ends into gear.

    My advice to any couple: Got a problem? Have sex first and see if the problem subsides, dwindles or goes away completely.

    Talk about a cheap ten minute bandage to plaster over almost any marital woe. Trust me, after a good vigorous session of hanky-panky a bunch of the angry, tense, pissed off emotions you might feel toward your mate are bound to drift away.

    Yet few seem to realize that lack of sexual frequency may be poison rotting away at the center of their marital dilemma.

    • Dear Spouse

      I have forgotten about myself in our marriage and quite conceivably, I feel my roots have grown dry and brittle. Somewhere along the past ten years, my blooms have withered so most are now dead, hanging off of the main stem barely holding on.
      I wish I could say they died from being watered too much, but I would be lying to both of us. In fact, I slowly starved and died from lack of watering. Sure every once in a while the refreshing drops of rain fell upon my leaves and gave me hope and a little more strength to hold on hoping for a torrential downpour, but sadly so, the drops never made it to my roots, there just was not enough.
      The sun was warm beautiful and beamed at first. It felt so refreshing to feel and see the growth from my roots to the incredibly beautiful flowers that sprouted from our garden of love. Sadly so, the sun became overbearing and began to burn and hurt terribly. There just was not enough nurturing and attention and eventually, I began to die a slow lonely death.
      I must move my plant to find hope and passion and ways to enjoy the sun again. To find a place to be nurtured back to life and feel the refreshing coolness of water as it nourishes my roots, stems and again experience the beautiful blossoms of life started all over again. There may only be a root ball left to begin once again, but with nurturing and love I know my life will be what it once was and the beauty I once was can overcome the struggles it take to have a new beginning.
      I know you were busy and forgot to water me and give me love and affection. I am not angry, just hurt and now alone as I feel my flowers are the only dead flowers in our garden. You were wonderful when you chose me to sit beside you but along the way, I feel the garden became too complicated, too demanding. I do not blame you, the weeds took over and what little rainfall and watering that had been done just could not fix the damage already done.
      I wish you luck in weeding the garden and replanting in my spot. I just ask that if you let your garden get too complicated again, don’t forget about that beautiful rose bush that stands out amongst the others so your prized garden does not falter and hurt another beautiful soul. The pain of dying slowly will live with me forever and although there is life again, I still have my root ball, I would hate to see another beautiful rose bush die the death that I had.

      Yours Truly,
      Withered Rose

  6. Hi Adam,
    I’m so glad you liked the post. It is interesting how much time has changed the way our culture treats and views marriage. More middle-aged women than ever are leaving long marriages because they don’t need them to survive. One note about your suggestion to have sex to help with relationship problems. Many women that I’ve talked to can’t easily have sex if they are angry or upset with their spouse/partner. That solution might work for a man, but women need to feel emotional intimacy before they have physical intimacy. Of course, ladies, if your guy is mad at you, that may be a quick way to move past the problem. 🙂

  7. hey Barrie. Thanks for the time spent to instruct on how to make our marriages a haven. I ,actually agree on the watering to make things better and work out. Thank you and I love your regular posts.

  8. Hey Barrie,

    Wonderful post, I completely agree. A great relationship to me is about not even considering that there are 2 sides, and you both need to defend your own side. It is about always being together on the same side, knowing that at all times you love each other and ultimately are both doing everything you think is best. To me, if the trust is there that you’re both on the same team ALWAYS, then even if you might not have the same view on things (which very well may happen), then it becomes a question of how to merge those 2 points of view so both feel good about it, not an instant debate to prove your side is better.

    I was in a relationship that usually led to arguments about the smallest of things. Looking back at it, I am so glad for that relationship now, because it really showed me how wonderful it is to have the mindset of a team.


  9. Hi Barrie,
    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks you for dedicating so much time to come up with up-building posts like this one.

  10. This are indeed some of the most important elements in a marriage that works, though I would add that learning to communicate with each other is also very important. You have to become a “communication expert” to make a marriage work. Too many loving marriages have fallen victim to the lack of knowledge in this departement.

  11. Often Truth is want we don’t see, Wise. My Spouse says she’s happy and appreciates her kind & caring wonderful Husband he does everything a woman say they want. She Let everyone know she could never be without him. She puts life all in one “sandbox” emotion. Mean Uncaring Father; self absorbed exhusband, 4 estranged children, single 20 years and remarried now 6 years. Migraines, back surgery, breast cancer, her daughter disowned mother and missed out that grandmother died. Now 71, unresolved issues in one box. See even though we are intimate, she has had her bedroom several years, she sits in recliner with the remote between the TV and me on the couch. Sex is painful and rarely ever happens. The world says it the Husband’s responsibility and he can wake up and fix this. Oh Really? See over 50% women don’t like sex. Here physical problems are a very big issue that drugs and chemo does not fix. The Doctor says that the TV and internet are not Reality. Basicly you get out what you put in to it. It is Not up to one person, everything works together for good or not so good. Top of list is denial, then control, relationships, venting hurts, isolation, blame, defensive actions, provoking others, so on down the list is life has a way of add to the list. You have to reverse the list to get back to the top. Everyday Life happens.

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