“Yet if the friendship has started to suffer, you don’t enjoy hanging out with each other any more and there’s not much in common, then there is a kind of boredom and you drift apart,” she says. “If boredom starts to erode the quality of your friendship, then you’re in trouble, because it becomes harder to choose to stay.”
WORK IT, BABY
Mother of two Phoebe Hutchison knows all about that. She’s happily married to her partner of 23 years, but says things weren’t always rosy. “My marriage fell apart when I had my fi rst son,” she says. “That’s when I discovered that when people said you had to work at marriage I didn’t know what that meant.” It prompted her to take a closer look at her marriage and resulted in a manual for all couples called Honeymooners Forever: Twelve Step Marriage Survival Guide (Rekindle).
“People think that putting a strategy together is boring but it’s not. I believe in working on your relationship. As soon as it goes off track, after two days of not talking to each other or if there’s not enough romance, you need to ask, ‘What’s going on? Why do I feel disconnected?’ Whatever’s happening, you need to analyse it and get straight onto it.” That needn’t be a negative process, Hollonds says. “It can be an exciting adventure that the two of you take on,” she says. Here are some things to consider.
- Make the fi rst move. You’ve got 100 per cent control over your 50 per cent of the relationship, says Hollonds. “A lot of the time we try to make the other person change – ‘You never do anything interesting, you always just want to watch the footy’. Well, what are you doing to make it more interesting?” Book tickets to the next football match or suggest other ways you can spend time together.
- Have fun. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s new, exciting and free of fi nancial, family or other stressors, say researchers from the University of Denver. They found that couples who share fun activities (such as attending a sports match) are much happier than those who pursue individual leisure activities (such as TV and the internet). Just be sure to hire a babysitter and leave your money woes behind. Television is particularly destructive, says Doherty. “Not only does the TV absorb much of our attention during the day, but many couples have a TV in their bedrooms, thereby drawing eyes and ears away from each other at the only time of the day they may have privacy,” he says.
- Get a life. You also need to pursue external interests of your own, insists Hutchison. “You might want to do a course, Latin dancing, join a gym,” she says. “It’s really important to have things that make you excited, so when you come together it’s an explosive relationship because you’re excited about life.”
- Be a lover not a spouse. How do you react when your partner walks through the door? “Just stopping, acknowledging him and giving him a kiss or squeeze on the bum quickly re-energises any struggling relationship,” says Hutchison. She suggests watching couples that have just started dating. “Notice the way they look at each other, talk to each other and shower each other with attention and affection.” She also suggests a regular date night where you both dress to impress. That extra effort is important. Researchers have found that women don’t consider grabbing a coffee a date. There needs to be effort and planning involved.
- Smile more. Put on your happy face before you head home, says Dr Laura Schlessinger in The Proper Care And Feeding of Marriage (HarperCollins). “Expecting some automatic magic to transform you from the tired and stressed human being you are at the end of a work day into a happy, carefree individual is going to result in disappointment and resentment,” she says. Instead, think positively, prepare something fresh to say, store your gripes away and look interested. “This attitude shift immediately changes the marriage from a chore and a cross to bear to a pleasure and a blessing to embrace.”
- Ask questions. Remember those long conversations you had when you were dating, exploring each other’s hopes and dreams? You need to keep asking, says Hollonds. “Maybe you knew what they wanted to do when they were 25, but what turns them on now they’re 45? There’s nothing more flattering than to have someone interested in you.” Spend 15 minutes every day reacquainting yourself with your loved one.