It is sometimes said that familiarity breeds contempt. I think that’s often true. Or if not contempt, at least boredom and stagnation. And the last thing you want your marriage to become is boring and stagnant.
There is an artistic device known as defamiliarization. Most simply, this can be understood as the effort to present common, overly familiar things in a new and often expected way. The goal is to enhance our perception of what has become familiar to us, often so familiar that we don’t notice it anymore. When we see something in a new and different light, we do a “double take.” We notice it again. We even notice things about it that we never noticed before. That’s good, because it keeps us interested!
When two people have been married for a while, they become exceedingly familiar to each other. A wife can guess what shirt her husband is going to wear on a Monday morning, while he can guess what she’s going to make for supper on Wednesday. They can predict each other’s appearance, words, reactions, routines and behaviors.
To be sure, there is comfort and security in such predictability. It certainly isn’t all bad. Yet there’s a difference between being comfortable in a relationship and growing complacent in it. The first is loving and wonderful, but the latter is just plain lazy.
That’s why I encourage you to employ the technique of defamiliarization in your relationship. The challenge is to present yourself and your home in a new light, thus reinvigorating your marriage.
Avoid the Roommate Rut!
This can help you avoid or break-out of the “roommate rut” that so many couples fall into, where excessive familiarity has sapped the spice from their relationship so that they feel more like roomies or siblings than passionate life partners.
Take a look in the mirror. When was the last time you changed something about yourself? The style or color of the clothes you wear, your hairstyle, even your make-up or the fragrance you wear.
Remember that the point is to make your spouse do that “double take” when he or she looks at you, and to see you in a new way. New can be very appealing. Even a small change – wearing your hair differently, for example – can have a big effect.
In addition to defamiliarizing yourself, defamiliarize your space. Change something about your home – in particular your bedroom. Is it a sexy space? Does it have an erotic, enticing aura? If not, get to work. A married couple’s bedroom should be a sensual sanctuary where they can retreat from the rest of the world and nourish their bond as husband and wife.
You can defamiliarize your routine and habits too, even with the smallest of things. Experiment with different foods or wine. If you typically watch romance movies, choose a horror flick instead. You get the idea. Keep your spouse in a constant state of wonder about you. Keep a sense of newness in the life you share.
• Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B. can help you now, not weeks from now. See her Marriage SOS instant-access marriage recovery programs.