The truth about marriage is that it’s not easy. It requires extreme effort. Why? Because conflict is inevitable after those lovey-dovey chemicals start to level out. Our unrealistic expectations in marriage come from when we fell in love—when euphoric brain chemicals kept us up all night, "high" on love. This preferred state sets us up for the letdown when these hormones inevitably die down and stress, life, and relationship differences cause conflict.
People worry this might mean their relationships are falling apart or that they're not as compatible as they once thought. But that's looking at things the wrong way.
Conflict challenges us, helps us grow, and promotes a great sex life. (Makeup sex, anyone?) Conflict is our friend, not our enemy, as it brings us closer to our partner. The challenge is in building the bridge from conflict to passion—the glue that keeps us trucking. If we saw conflict and effort as the door to passion and harmony, we would embrace and welcome it as a true test of love. We would not fear it, or run from it, or divorce because of it. We would make up, not break up. Otherwise, we would be doomed to repeat the same pattern in the next relationship once the honeymoon period was over.
Here are some simple tips for how to reignite the magic in your relationship:
1. Put each other first.
Before work. (And yes, before children.)
2. Connect with at least one 30-second kiss daily.
This ignites the cuddle hormone—providing your brain with oxytocin—that bonds you to your partner and makes you feel attached and safe. A 20-second hug gives you a dopamine rush that helps you feel in love with your partner.
3. Bring on novelty and excitement.
Get out of your rut or comfort zone by changing up your routines for some added stimulation and surprise. Trying new things with your partner bonds you in a new way—especially when your activities are adrenaline boosters like watching a scary movie, taking a risk of some kind (for example, cutting out early from work for a little afternoon delight?), or doing something that scares you (like riding a roller coaster).
4. Try forgoing virtual communication during the day.
This means no emails, texts, and phone calls about non-emergent things. Giving yourselves some time away from each other encourages an air of mystery and gives you the chance to start yearning for when you reunite with your beloved at night. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be thinking about your partner. Think about your partner several times during your workday—but challenge yourself to focus on only the positives. I suspect that by not talking to each other all day every day, you'll begin to focus, naturally, on the things about your partner that you love—the things you miss when you aren't in contact.
5. Schedule at least 10 minutes of face-to-face time at night to connect.
This is a time to reconnect and talk about your days, dreams, or interests. You've been away from each other all day, and this is your chance to just revel in each other's presence. Do it every night, without fail. It can last more than 10 minutes, if you both wish, but 10 minutes should be your baseline. During this time, there should be no discussion of problems, scheduling, or your children.
6. Give your partner space.
Even if it's only an hour a day or week, you need alone time—both of you. A lack of space and insufficient time apart is one of the biggest frustrations in marriages. You both had lives before you found each other. It can be easy to start giving up hobbies and interests in that first flush of a relationship, when you want to be with your partner all the time. But when those hormones settle, you'll want those outlets for individual growth and recreation. Not only do you need this for yourself, but when you allow for time apart, it improves your relationship. You're less likely to get bored with your partner, and those solo pursuits enhance your time together because you have more to share.
7. Do a "brush with death."
If you’ve been practicing the tips above for some time, and you still aren't feeling happy (at least more often than you're unhappy) to be in your relationship, there's a way to take it to the next level without just breaking up. If you think it would benefit your relationship, consider taking some time apart—whether that's a few days or a few weeks—in hopes of enhancing your appreciation and passion for each other. Sometimes, this is all a couple needs to reconnect to their mutual admiration and desire.
These days, people seem to expect relationships to be easy. They leave as soon as it gets hard. But the truth is this: It is supposed to be hard to stay in love. The hard work is what creates the long-term benefits as you grow together and turns you into the best version of yourself as a person and as a partner.
And, honestly, it can become pretty easy (with practice) to navigate conflict if you don’t run from it and learn the skills that help you promote empathy and safety. Conflict bonds you when you learn how to traverse it as a team. Robert Browning said, "Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be." The reward is in the struggle that gives us real-life love—if we can just get through the tough times.
Want more insight into your relationship? Find out the things you should always be selfish about in your partnerships and the questions that could keep your marriage from ending.