Are you getting the most out of your marriage? Is your husband the person you turn to when times are tough, or is he more likely to be the source of your problems?
With a UK couple divorcing every 4.5 minutes, staying together seems to be harder than ever. No one ever said marriage was going to be plain sailing, and even the happiest of couples have to work to keep things rosy – but sometimes it may feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.
Many people settle for dissatisfying relationships in order to avoid rocking the boat, but that can lead to unhappiness for both partners. We speak to three relationship experts to find out how you can rev-up your marriage…
The days when you couldn’t keep your hands off each other might be a distant memory, but sex should still be an important part of your relationship.
Married couples have sex an average of 1-2 times a week, and experts agree this is an integral part of any relationship. “Sex is a symbol of intimacy and caring for each other, plus it’s a human need,” says psychotherapist Leila Collins.
Your libido levels fluctuate greatly over the years, so it’s likely that often one of you won’t be in the mood, but it’s important to try to maintain regular intimacy.
Clinical psychologist Linda Blair says, “Find a way to please your partner and show them how to please you. Tune into their needs, and remember those may change with time.”
It’s all too easy to slip into a pattern of busy domestic life. Before you know it your relationship can become a cycle of household chores, TV shows and takeaways.
“Many couples are happy to settle down into a relationship where they accept each other and themselves,” says relationship counsellor Christine Northam. “But it’s important to put aside time to invest in the relationship.”
If your idea of romance involves watching a chick-flick while your hubby watches football in the next room, then perhaps it’s time for a change. “Marriage means sharing life,” says Leila. “If you live like ships that pass in the night, then you leave yourself vulnerable and you neglect your partner.”
Start dating each other again
Take it in turns to plan a fortnightly date for the two of you. It doesn’t need to be anything too fancy, just something with thought behind it.
“Not only will this keep the romance alive, but you also get to know each other better, as we all change with age,” says Linda.
It’s no secret that communication is key to any relationship, yet so many of us stumble at this most basic of hurdles. “A willingness to communicate is incredibly important to marriage, and a large part of that is listening to each other properly,” says Leila.
In fact, studies suggest that a lack of communication is the cause of 65% of relationship breakdowns.
Stop, look and listen
Never engage in a conversation with your partner unless you have the time to listen with your full attention.
“In a relationship, nothing is more frustrating than questions that aren’t attended to – it creates distance, so turn off your screens and engage with one another,” says Linda.
Always answer your partner’s questions truthfully, but Linda warns against volunteering any unasked-for truths, which may be seen as criticism.
In the early days of a relationship, humour can play an important part in attracting one another and diffusing any awkwardness that getting to know each other may bring. But how often do you and your partner laugh now?
“Laughter’s a great tension buster – seeing the ridiculous side of a situation can really make your relationship better,” says Christine. In fact, humour can help you form a stronger bond, as well as putting things into perspective and smoothing over any difficulties.
Remember, it’s meant to be fun!
“Marriage should be enjoyable,” says Christine. “Don’t get bogged down with the serious side of life, and make sure you often have fun together.”
Try to be spontaneous and playful in your interactions with one another. Instead of criticising your other half, try making light of your complaints – and avoid mean-spirited snideness or sarcasm at all costs.
All couples argue from time to time, and our experts agree that a bit of conflict is healthy.
“Couples who never row often have very stale relationships. If you have a dynamic relationship, you are bound to argue sometimes, but it’s how you resolve it that’s key,” says Christine.
Without some conflict, a relationship can fail to move forward and you can end up avoiding discussing the issues that matter most to you.
Talk about it
If you are rowing on a regular basis, however, you need to think about the reasons behind this. Try talking to each other calmly, being as open and honest as possible. Going to a neutral place, such as a restaurant or café, can be a good way to discuss problems without getting into a fight.
“If there’s a lot of underlying anger in the relationship then you may need counselling,” says Christine. “Often couples will bicker and it’s not necessarily the presenting issue that’s the problem.”
When to call it quits
Knowing when to call it a day with your spouse is likely to be one of the toughest decisions you’ll ever have to make. Don’t give up too quickly – remember, it’s always better to try to mend something than it is to start again.
“Ask yourself: does this person enhance my life?” says Leila. “If the answer is yes, and you feel you can’t live without them, then there is something to work for. But if you’ve reached the point where you’re making each other’s lives a misery, then it’s time to let go.”