14 Lifelines to Revive a Fading Marriage in 2 Weeks
Is your marriage starting to sink a bit? Or maybe it isn’t sinking so much as floating aimlessly. Either way, check out these fourteen easy “lifelines” and see whether throwing one into your marriage every day for two weeks can help make things a little better.
I’ve chosen a scroll-down delivery (versus a click-the-day delivery), since it’s important for you to review, each day, what you read the previous day. Each lifeline adds to your inventory of happy relationship habits.
Day #1 - Listen to Your Spouse
“You never listen to me!”
It’s the oldest joke in the book, but it isn’t very funny when a spouse routinely feels unheard or ignored by his or her spouse. Feelings of being unheard are sure to be followed by feelings of being unloved and unimportant. Worse, ignoring our spouse can become something of a habit. We’re so accustomed to them that we start tuning them out, even if we aren’t really intending to. That’s why the first lifeline to revive your marriage is to simply listen more to your spouse. Listen to them talk about their day, listen to what they want for supper, even listen to their complaints. Take it all seriously. Hear them. When they see you doing this, they are far more likely to keep their ears open and listen to you.
Day #2 - Anticipate Your Partner's Moods and Needs
When I’m meeting a client for the first time and trying to gauge the general state of their marriage, I will often test the waters by asking something like, “What kind of mood will your spouse be in when they get home from work tonight?”
Sometimes, the client will have a reasonably insightful answer. They might say, “Well, she had to chair a big meeting at work today, so I think she’ll be drained when she gets home tonight.”
Other times, the client is clueless. They might say, “I have no idea what kind of mood they’ll be in. I’m not a mind reader.”
What marriage do you think is standing on stronger legs?
The truth is, you don’t need to be a mind reader or a psychic to predict your partner’s moods or needs, at least not all of the time. By simply committing to paying more attention, to being more tuned in to what is going on in their life, you can often anticipate their mood and needs. Make doing that today’s lifeline.
Day #3 - Respect Your Spouse
When we talk about respecting one’s partner, we typically mean the big things like respecting their point of view or respecting them as a person (e.g. by not cheating on them or otherwise betraying their trust). But we should also be respecting our spouse when it comes to the little things. Respect their time by not being late. Respect their simple preferences by making their favorite supper. Respect their liberty by letting them steal a power nap on the couch after dinner. You get the idea. And that’s today’s lifeline—respect, and the little things.
Day #4 - Praise Your Partner
Who doesn’t love it when someone starts singing our praises? Do that for your spouse. Show appreciation for what they do for you and your family—how hard they work, how devoted they are, how funny they are, whatever. Even better, make sure you heap on the praise in front of your children if you have them. Flatter your spouse when you’re out with friends. Build them up, and you’ll build up your marriage in the process. That’s today’s praiseworthy lifeline.
Day #5 - Pique Their Interest
When was the last time your spouse said, “I didn’t know that about you”? Maybe they didn’t know you liked Frank Sinatra or that you knew how to make cabbage rolls. Maybe they didn’t know you always wanted to paint or take a pottery class, or learn how to ride a motorcycle. Maybe there’s things you’ve forgotten about yourself, too. That’s fair enough. Life gets busy. But now’s the perfect time to make things, including yourself, a little more interesting. Bring something new and intriguing into your marriage and life together – that’s today’s lifeline.
Day #6 - Show Desire
Affairs start for many reasons, but one of the primary things that often kick them into high gear is the feeling someone gets of being desired by another person. Today’s lifeline is therefore about making your spouse feel like the object of your desire, both emotionally and physically. Bring home flowers or their favorite supper. Flatter their appearance, tell them how much they turn you on, and treat them to an x-rated evening under the covers.
Day #7- Voice Tone
This lifeline is as simple as it gets. Pay attention to how you speak to your spouse, and be sure you aren’t being too impatient, dismissive, critical or sarcastic. Think of your words and your tone of voice as little unseen tentacles that reach out, physically, to touch your spouse—how do you want those tentacles to make them feel? Tense and unloved? Or comforted and adored? Decide, and then choose your words and your voice tone accordingly.
Day #8 - Live in the Moment
Couples are often overly focused on the future. They might think or say that life will be better “when we buy a house” or “when we have a baby” or “when we’re out of debt.” Yes, those things will bring happiness, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the many happy things in your life right now—the morning cup of coffee you share together, the movie nights on the couch, the warmth and laughter that are—or should be—between you every day. So by all means, look forward to the future, but don’t forget that the present has incredible value. If you want to remember it fondly as part of your past, start living in the moment today.
Day #9 - Have Regular Date Nights
Having regular date nights is an absolute must in today’s hectic world, especially if you want to avoid having a child-centered marriage – or worse, a gadget-centered marriage! And that leads me to an important point. Make sure your phones stay at home, or at least in your glovebox, pocket or purse during your date. Few things will kill the mood faster than pulling your eyes away from your sweetheart to stare at that glaring screen.
Also, remember that date nights don’t need to be fancy or expensive. They certainly can be if you have the time, effort, and money to spare – but if expending too many of those things would only cause more stress in your life, then keep it simple! As long as you’ve taken steps to avoid distractions, as long as you’re doing something enjoyable together, you’re good.
Day #10 - Improve Your Marriage Skills
As boring and unsexy as “marriage skills” sound, they are absolutely essential when it comes to maintaining the integrity of a happy, healthy romantic partnership. But what are marriage skills? Basically, they’re people skills! They’re things like good communication, pleasant interactions, and decent conflict resolution skills—all things that make people want to be around us, not scramble to get away.
Yet as important as marriage skills are, it all starts with you as an individual. Are you aware of your shortcomings—whether it’s defensiveness, impatience, know-it-all behavior, and so on—and are you aware of how that is affecting the way your spouse feels about you? Today’s lifeline is also about taking a look inside and being honest about those personality traits or behaviors that you feel could use a little improvement. If you need work instituting this lifeline, check out my online crash course New You, Renewed Marriage.
Day #11 - Make Meals Count
Eating and drinking aren’t just about survival: they’re also about being social and forming bonds between people. You can imagine our hominid ancestors swapping stories over a leg of mammoth meat, strengthening alliances and creating customs. You can use that ancient aspect of our species to strengthen your marriage, too. The candlelit dinner-for-two is always enjoyable, but so too is the tray of cheesy nachos while binge-watching your favorite TV show. This lifeline is about reminding yourself of the connection between food and bonding, and using that to reinforce your partnership.
Day #12 - Be An Open Book
There’s no doubt that one of the surest ways to poke a hole in a marriage is for one or both partners to have an affair. Sure, the hole can be plugged before the marriage sinks, but it takes a lot of work and it’s infinitely easier to just keep it afloat in the first place. Because many if not most affairs begin as friendships that become too close, and because those friendships are almost always sustained via phones, I encourage you to think about having a policy of full transparency in your marriage. No secret passwords, no locked screens, no indignant looks when your spouse glances at your phone or asks who you’re texting. Keep everything in the open. That is one practical way to prevent secretive friendships from starting or deepening. So as much as you are an open book with each other, I urge you to be a closed book when it comes to the rest of the world. Protect your privacy as a married couple. Committing to doing that is today’s lifeline.
Day #13 - Spice it Up
There are many reasons that people fall out of love. There are many reasons they lose passion for each other and stop being intimate. One of these reasons is simple—it’s boredom. When you and your spouse are making the same moves over and over again, over the course of years, it’s going to get a little ho-hum. Before you know it, you’re just “too tired” to have sex…but is it really fatigue? Sure, sometimes it is. Definitely. But other times it’s a lack of motivation…it’s just…meh. Unfortunately, when people get bored, they often go looking for a way to feel a rush of excitement and novelty. Before that happens, take the initiative and spice up your love life. That’s today’s (or rather tonight’s) lifeline—browse the internet for a few new twists and turns you can try in bed, read or watch something salty together, or try a new toy. Remember: the couple that plays together stays together.
Day #14 - Change Together
Marriage, like life, is in a constant state of change. Our jobs, where we live, what we like to do, our worldview and priorities, they all change. Our children are born and get older, and as we get older too, our friends and family members die. Our bodies change, and so do our feelings and even fears.
In my practice, for example, I work a lot with midlife crisis or midlife episode situations, many of which are caused by some kind of change like this. That’s why this lifeline is about changing together.
Take some time to look back at where you’ve been as a couple and what changes you’ve already been through. Now look ahead and commit to changing together, each of you prioritizing the other, so that you can both remain happy and fulfilled—together—in the coming years, no matter what changes come. Commit to having a marriage that is like a tree—the wind blows and it bends and adapts, instead of breaking in half.
Now, can these simple lifelines save a marriage? Maybe. Maybe not. But they sure can’t hurt. And if your marriage is fading a bit, sometimes it only takes a few tips to revive the embers. So if things are good, or at least pretty good, use these lifelines as friendly reminders to keep doing what you’re doing.
If things aren’t so good, I offer resources that might help. There are also many other types of resources out there, so I encourage you to keep looking until you find the approach that’s right for you. Your marriage is worth it.
Does your marriage need a lifeline? I suggest you start here.
Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is an international marriage expert and the founder of MARRIAGE SOS™. She specializes in helping women reclaim their marriage from their husband’s midlife crisis behavior, including a midlife affair. Debra has served as a resource for major media around the world, from The New York Times and Entrepreneur to ELLE and Men’s Health.