How to get out of your relationship's rut
by Lynn Harris
1: The hell with "date night"
Don’t do it — or feel bad that you don’t — just because you’re “supposed to,” especially if you just wind up staring into each other’s eyes and talking about flu shots. You can do that at home — with much cheaper drinks. One Manhattan mother of two reports that for their big (recession-friendly) nights in, she and her husband get takeout and sip (chug) cheap bubbly from their fancy flutes. (“A flute just feels eventful,” she says.) If you can afford it, do go out when you can. And do it with childless friends or go to an absorbing show or movie — anything that gets you out of the axis of parent. And if nighttime sitting (or being catatonic at 9 p.m.) is an issue, heck, squeeze in a date-morning, meet for lunch. “It’s all about breaking the routine,” says couples therapist Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic. “Family life depends on consistency and predictability. Romance and the erotic are about everything else.”
2: Stop being friends
On Facebook, that is. “It’s a terrible idea for spouses to be Facebook friends with each other,” says Ian Kerner, Ph.D., co-author, with Heidi Raykeil, of (best self-help title EVER!) Love in the Time of Colic: The New Parents’ Guide to Getting It On Again. “Relationships are already filled with enough banality. I want to preserve what little mystery there is, which means I don’t need to see my wife’s latest check-in with her third-grade pals on her Superwall.”
3: Get We-mail
But wait! You don’t have to, like, swear off the technology entirely. Perel suggests getting a secret your-eyes-only email address just for each other — not for “pls pick up Muenster” and “remember B’s ballet stuff” — but for loving and flirtatious messages only.
4: Spontaneity, schmontaneity
Buzz-killing as it sounds, you might need to start scheduling sex — or at least committing to once a week, by hook or by crook (which, bonus, could force you to get creative). “Ruts beget ruts,” says Kerner, noting that when you go without, your body actually becomes accustomed to lower and lower levels of testosterone. On the flipside, he says, couples (not just parents) who have at least weekly sex report better relationships and quality of life overall.
5: Postpone that argument
You know that fight you always have? Stop having it. Make a three-month plan for not solving problems, suggests couples therapist Sharyn Wolf, author of This Old Spouse: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Restoring, Renovating, and Rebuilding Your Relationship. The money fight, the recycling fight, whatever: you’ll have it on May 15, time TBA. Until then, not a word. “See what you’d be doing if you weren’t having that fight,” says Wolf. “Sometimes it uncovers something else that was really bothering you; sometimes it gives you so much energy you take on something new. And sometimes you realize maybe it wasn’t such a huge deal after all.”
6: Use "we" when you fight — and in general
You’ve probably heard this one, but they just checked again and found that spouses who use pronouns like “we,” “our,” and “us” when describing points of disagreement are better able to resolve conflicts than those who use “I,” “me,” and “you.” (Note: no fair using the royal “We,” as in “We feel that you suck.”)
7: Engage in "chore-play."
That’s Kerner’s term, and it’s a nod to the kabillion studies showing that husbands and wives who do more housework together have more sex. It has to do with cultivating teamwork, circumventing resentment, and, especially for type-As, the sense that you’ve earned the opp and created the space (perhaps literally) to get it on. “Researchers in the Netherlands found that the key to female arousal seems to be deep relaxation and a lack of anxiety,” says Kerner. (The key to deep relaxation and a lack of anxiety seems to be living in the Netherlands.) But don’t wait until the to-do list is done; that’s pretty much not going to happen. Acknowledge what isn’t done, make a plan for who’ll do it when, and then have at it.
8: Let it be truly be ok not to have sex tonight
Here’s what’s unsexy: feeling like you have to have sex right now because that damn article told you to light some candles or “focus on a special fantasy” or some shit so that you’ll totally rally and be glad you did, but you just can’t — and then feeling really bad about it. So let yourself off the hook. You’re tired. It’s basically just not as hot a time in your life as it was, oh, three months into your relationship. It’s really okay. In fact, says Sharyn Wolf: “It’s not the lack of sex that’s a problem. It’s how communication suffers when you don’t talk about it.” Also unsexy: that elephant in the room (unless that’s how you roll). So acknowledge that it’s not happening tonight and, if you have the energy, Wolf suggests, tell him or her something you would be doing if you had more energy. She adds, “You can say things like, “‘It isn’t going to happen tonight, but boy, when it does…’”
9: Get all your kids' crap out of your bedroom
Family photos, too. “Your bedroom should be for sleeping and sex only,” says Wolf. “When the moment finally comes, you don’t want to trip over a Wheelie or get a glimpse of your kids’ face — or your mother’s,” says Wolf. Toys, vacation pix: those belong in the kids’ space or living room. Only wedding or other couple-only pictures should remain — “something,” says Wolf, “that reminds you of the time when the only other person you had to think about was your partner.”