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11 Ways to Reignite the Spark in a Marriage

It's never to late to reboot your relationship. Here's how.


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(This article appeared previously on HuffingtonPost50.com.)

The average length of a marriage that ends in divorce is eight years. And in America, there is one divorce approximately every 36 seconds.

The honeymoon period in most marriages has a shelf life, but it's possible to reignite the sparks in your marriage even when your relationship is decades old.

1. Remind your partner (and yourself) that you appreciate each other

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After you’ve been married for many, many years, that passionate kiss when your partner walks in the door can easily morph into a peck on the cheek that can then morph into an inability even to look up from your computer. There are times when couples become so familiar with each other that the marriage starts to feel like a stultifying — albeit comfortable — routine. There’s a real danger in that.

Studies show that nearly half of men who have cheated say it was because of emotional dissatisfaction — and not sex. When men don’t feel connected or appreciated by their wives, they are vulnerable to the advances of any attractive woman who casts a lustful glance their way. And it works the other way as well.

In his film Annie Hall, Woody Allen charged that “a relationship is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies.”

2. Say 'thank you' for the little things

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Don’t keep score, constantly calculating who does what. “I cleaned out the kids’ closets, so you have to clean the basement.” “I moved for your job when we first got married, so now you need to move for mine.” “I initiated sex last time, so now it’s your turn.”

Playing tit for tat is childish and will do nothing but chip away at the trust and connection you’ve built with your spouse. If you are so inclined, keep score of all the positive things your partner does in a day — and then thank him or her. Hopefully your mate will get the hint and do the same for you.

3. Practice honesty, even when you’re ashamed

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If you have maxed out a credit card or two and find yourself hiding the bills each month, you can bet it’s going to come back to bite you. Eventually, whether you’re applying for a home loan or simply talking about the costs of summer vacation, these kinds of money issues will eventually be brought to light. Although infidelity usually happens in bed, it also can happen with money. And it will be a tough road gaining back your spouse’s trust if you’ve lied about overspending.

Along that same vein, if you feel you aren’t connecting with your partner the way you used to, you need to say something — now. Sometimes it takes a third party — a therapist— to get things back on track. Marriages rarely heal on their own.

4. Take care of yourself

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You can give all the lip service in the world to the idea that appearances don’t matter. But how about health? Make time to keep your health in check by going on a 20-minute walk, joining a yoga class or start playing tennis — if you play with your spouse, you'll get quality time and both of you will work towards a healthy lifestyle.

5. Foster relationships outside your marriage

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Weekends away with friends are important breaks to take. Swapping stories with others and enjoying new experiences make us more interesting. When Katie Couric asked Barbra Streisand the secret to her happy long-time marriage to James Brolin, she replied: time apart. “It gets romantic because even the conversations on the phone get more romantic. You need some distance,” Streisand said.

Your marriage should be your primary relationship — but it needn’t be the only one.

6. Watch your words

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There are many things you should never say to a longtime spouse, the first being: “Don’t you think our new neighbor is attractive?” That’s a question you just think you want to know the answer to. It’s also never a good idea to start a sentence with: “You know it’s always been your problem that...” Who wants to hear that from their partner? We hopefully all have a pretty good sense of ourselves at this point and having someone you love point out a failing in this way does little to engender a loving relationship.

“You always...” or “You never...” Think about it. Neither of these is true. If you start a sentence with these words your mate is certain to shut down or start a fight. Stop for a minute and think about what you really mean to say — and then say that instead.

7. Put away the jumper cables yourself

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In life, there are big things and there are little things. The big things — draining the bank accounts to support a gambling habit or that he has a second family stashed in Queens — are of course one-way streets to divorce court. But most of us don’t have problems of that size — they tend to be more petty and repeated annoyances that build up over time.

Most of our problems start out small enough — he borrows the jumper cables from your car and leaves them sitting out — and from that sprouts a giant festering sore. It leads you to utter words like, “If you loved me, you would have put the jumper cables back in my car so when I get stuck in a bad neighborhood with a dead battery I could save myself,” which, in my household, generally results in a reply like “When do you ever drive in bad neighborhoods?”

It is the small annoyances that, if left unaddressed, do us in. For a happier marriage, address them right away and keep it simple. “Honey, did you put jumper cables back in my car?”

8. Relish the silence

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Sometimes the best way to address a problem is to just walk away from it — as in seriously let it go. Not every slight must be addressed. Know that not every insult is intended. Practice letting go as much as you can. Forgive more. Forget more. Bite your tongue until the tip bleeds. And, once in a while, remind yourself of why you married this person. Focus on those reasons and let stuff pass without mention.

The trick to successful silence, however, is that you really let the problem pass. If you stay silent and still harbor bad thoughts, well, that’s where ulcers come from. As the Beatles told us, Let It Be.

9. Recognize the ebb-and-flow

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Relationships aren’t flat-lined; that’s death, actually. Life has ups and downs, peaks and valleys. We all go through periods where the mere thought of life without our partners can bring tears to our eyes and then a week later we can’t stand the sound of their breathing next to us. We’ve all been there.

The trick is knowing that you won’t stay in either place forever. Truth is, in a marriage, you spend most of your time in an emotional middle ground. It’s not songbirds chirping, nor is it considering which poison in his pasta will cause the most painful demise.

This middle ground isn’t the couple who sit in the restaurant across from one another without conversing. No, the middle ground is when months meld into years and you know what the reaction will be before you say something. It’s when the book you finished last night just migrates automatically to the nightstand on his side and he tells you about the recorded Modern Family episode you slept through. It’s the everyday ebb and flow without the waves.

10. Be kind

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We tend to take advantage of those we love the most — probably because we know they love us and we can get away with it. You have a bad day at the office and come home and take it out on your mate. A much healthier pattern is to start out each day by asking yourself, “What can I do today to make my partner happy?” And mean it.

Doesn’t it make more sense to put your best face on for someone you love? Look for ways to say “yes.” That sometimes means sitting through endlessly long ball games, putting on a tie, watching a horror movie with your eyes closed and traveling around old Civil War battleground sites when you really wanted to be vacationing on a beach in Hawaii. It’s doing things for your partner.

11. Maintain intimacy and passion, both inside and outside the bedroom

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Intimacy isn’t just sex, and passion isn’t just doing it on the kitchen counter. Bedroom habits age along with the marriage. There may be no stronger aphrodisiac than a moonlight walk on the beach that ends in a kiss. There may be no greater display of passion than the zeal of a partner in a hospital room trying to get the nurse’s attention for an ailing wife.

Don’t let others define what is a “normal” or “healthy” amount of sex for your marriage. Know that things change, but that doesn’t make them less exciting or fun. And intimacy comes in many shapes, including conversation and cuddling.

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By Ann Brenoff
Ann Brenoff is a writer and columnist for the Huffington Post.

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