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Managing Expectations for Mother’s Day

Break down these 3 barriers so you can all win and feel the love!

Have you ever asked your spouse what they plan on doing for you on Mother’s Day? Raise your hand if they’ve replied:

Shoot… Is that THIS weekend? 

or

Whatever you want to do, Babe.

or

Umm… nothing. You’re not my mom. 

All wrong answers. That sinking feeling of being unappreciated, taken for granted and forgotten drowns out any last-minute plans they may try to scramble together. The damage has been done. 

Your expectations to be thought of and celebrated have been shattered to dust. And if this isn’t the first, second, or third offense, you may even feel numb to it now. Disappointment is inevitable. No point in getting your hopes up, right?

You’ve probably figured out by now that motherhood is a thankless job. It’s not just what you do – it becomes who you are. It’s like breathing… and it’s natural, instinctual, automatic. But it’s also grueling, emotional and exhausting. So having your family acknowledge all that hard work AND celebrate it one day out of the entire year is not asking for too much. 

But what trips up most couples is actually that – the ASKING part. “What are you going to do for me?” is a loaded question if you already have unspoken expectations of what you want.

But shouldn’t my spouse care enough to look at a calendar and plan ahead? Shouldn’t they know me well enough to know what I’d want to do/how I’d like to be celebrated? Shouldn’t they realize that even though I’m not THEIR mother, I’m a mother, and that’s what this holiday is all about?!

First, that’s a lot of shoulding… So let’s break down some expectation barriers together so we can all win on Mother’s Day.

Barrier #1: You expect your spouse to think and act like you.

It’s easy to believe that everyone (including your spouse) sees the world the way you do. This sets you up for some pretty unrealistic expectations and 

disappointment. You want your spouse to magically know and do exactly what you would do (and probably are doing for your own mother). Maybe you expect them to…

  • Speak the same love language as you. For example: Your spouse may think a signed card shows they care, while you long for a handwritten, thoughtful love letter. Or they may think flowers are the universal language of love, but you find them impractical and a waste of money. Or they may tell you to take the “day-off” and go get a massage or do your nails or whatever you want… but your love language is Quality Time, and you want to celebrate with your family (without any of the normal responsibilities of motherhood…)
  • Have the same skills as you. For example: Your spouse is a spontaneous, in-the-moment kind of person. They don’t enjoy planning. So they wait ‘til the last minute to figure out what to do. But this seems lazy or unthoughtful to you (a planner) when really, it’s their natural temperament. Or they are very logical, and thinking of creative ways to show love is like speaking a foreign language to them. So they get you a super practical gift like new towels or a car charger when you want something meaningful.

Break down the barrier by realizing that your spouse is a unique individual.

They are not YOU. And that’s a good thing! Our differences make us stronger. Talk about your differences. You most likely are speaking different love languages, so discover what each other’s love language is and try to speak it fluently and frequently. If you already know each other’s love languages, a simple reminder can go a long way! 

Barrier #2: You expect your spouse to read your mind.

Whether you’ve been together for 3 years or 30… your spouse cannot read your mind. We joke about this – but when was the last time you’ve thought or said, “You should know what I like! I’ve only told you 1 million times!”? Been there, said that way too often.

The real issue here is that you long to feel seen, understood, and known deeply. This requires intentionally working on your emotional intimacy, which is an ongoing process of growing in your understanding of each other’s feelings, hopes, dreams, fears, motivations, etc. You know what you want and need. But it changes over time and throughout different seasons of life. 

Break down the barrier by telling your spouse exactly what you’d like for Mother’s Day and why it’s so important to you.

Sharing what would make you feel the most acknowledged, valued and celebrated doesn’t diminish your spouse’s effort; it encourages it. The more you tell your spouse how you feel loved the most and why, the more your spouse has the chance to love you in that way… and the deeper your emotional intimacy will grow.1 This doesn’t mean you have to plan the whole day. You just have to clearly communicate what you want or need. Leave the little details up to your spouse! 

Barrier #3: You expect your spouse to be perfect.

No matter how hard your spouse tries, they’ll never be perfect. Expecting perfection sets unrealistic standards that will make them believe they aren’t good enough. It’ll push them away, and you’ll end up experiencing the opposite of what you wanted to feel.

Break down the barrier by realizing that your expectations may be unrealistic.

Take a moment. See if maybe you’re setting the bar too high so that it feels out of reach to your spouse. Have you criticized their efforts in the past? If you have, there’s a good chance they don’t want to fail again (and maybe they think they can’t fail if they don’t even try…). Think about what your spouse is good at and enjoys doing – that still fills your love tank. Telling them exactly how you’d feel loved and appreciated will set them up for success and set your expectations at a realistic level. 

So this year, instead of asking what your spouse will do, try telling them what you’d like to do first. 

Take the pressure off of them to decode your side-eye sighs and do your spouse a favor:

  1. Spell it out.
  2. Be clear and specific before any resentment starts to build. If you’re a planner, talk about it a couple of weeks in advance.
  3. If you like surprises, give your spouse a few options for things you’d like to do and let them choose!  

You DESERVE to be celebrated, Mama. Mother’s Day is a great opportunity for your husband and family to do that. So be honest and open about what would make you feel appreciated and loved. 

Source

1McNulty, J.K., et al. (2004). Positive Expectations in the Early Years of Marriage: Should Couples Expect the Best or Brace for the Worst? 

Easy Ways to Make Your Wife Feel Loved on Mother’s Day

Celebrate and appreciate Mom for who she is and all she does.

It’s May, and you know what that means… Mother’s Day! Mother’s Day is a wonderful time to celebrate the women who have been influential in our lives. My mom, grandmothers, and mother-in-law have been significant in shaping me into the person I am. 

But, this day is about all the moms in my life. And my wife is the most significant mom (don’t worry, my mom knows it’s true). She’s the one I chose to do life with. She’s the one who made me a dad. So, celebrate your mom, grandmothers, and mother-in-law, but also celebrate your wife. And I don’t mean just helping the kids make her feel special. Guys, you should make her feel all the love as well. 

Here are some ideas to help you make sure that your wife feels all the love this Mother’s Day:

  • Make a video asking your kids what Mom means to them. Here are some questions to kick you off. What does Mom say the most? What is Mom’s favorite thing to do? Of all the things you love about Mom, what do you love the most?
  • Have the kids create a song about Mom and perform it for her on Mother’s Day. 
  • Help the kids make her breakfast or lunch. It doesn’t have to be extravagant… just from the heart. Let the kids lead out and choose what they want to make.
  • Let her sleep in on Mother’s Day. This is a big win in my house. We all know moms need rest.
  • In-Home Spa Day, anyone? My 6-year-old likes to paint nails and give foot rubs. You can all pamper Mom as a family.
  • Homemade cards are always a win. Encourage the kids to make cards that represent their personalities.
  • Does Mom love to travel? Spring is an excellent time for a day trip. What’s within driving distance in your area that she would love to visit?
  • Is Mom crafty? What is her favorite craft? Whether she likes to paint, knit, or anything else, get some supplies together and create as a family. 
  • Does Mom love movies? Watch her favorite movie as a family. Create a movie theater experience for her, complete with popcorn and her favorite snacks.

Here are a few more ideas specifically for you fellas:

  • Plan a date night or weekend getaway for just the two of you. Work out the details yourself.
  • Be intentional about speaking her love language on Mother’s Day. 
  • Give her a massage. I don’t just mean a shoulder rub. Break out the massage oil and pamper her.
  • Clean the house. Moms often feel the pressure to have a clean house. Take care of this for her.

Most importantly, let’s show Mom that she is loved and appreciated.

Research shows four factors had more effects on helping moms feel supported in well-being and parenting:

  1. Feeling loved unconditionally.
  2. Feeling comforted in distress.
  3. Authenticity in relationships.
  4. Satisfaction with friendships.

I’ve learned over the years (from both my mom and my wife) that celebrating Mom is less about the cost and more about the thought and heart that’s put into the gift. That’s what matters most. 

Don’t let anything stop you. Make this the best Mother’s Day ever!

Sources:

Who mothers mommy? Factors that contribute to mothers’ well-being. Dev Psychol. 2015 December ; 51(12): 1812–1823.

Other blogs:

How to Celebrate Mother’s Day With a Difficult Mom – First Things First

Mom, Here Are 5 Reasons Why You Should Be Celebrated – First Things First

What To Do When Your Spouse Lacks Empathy

Your spouse can develop empathy. Here's how to help.

You want your spouse to be fully present with you in your feelings, thoughts and situations in life. But what happens when they don’t show empathy? You probably feel alone, unimportant and misunderstood. You’ve opened up, but your spouse seems unable or uninterested in responding in an empathetic way. So, what do you do when your spouse lacks empathy? 

First, my heart goes out to anyone married to a spouse who indeed lacks empathy. This is a hard road.

Let’s begin by establishing what we mean by the word empathy. According to Harvard psychologist Susan David, “Learning to label emotions with a more nuanced vocabulary can be absolutely transformative.” 

The term empathy has evolved and has recently exploded in popularity.

That’s great, but it can be confusing if it’s not clearly defined. In Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, researcher Brené Brown describes two types of empathy:

  1. Cognitive Empathy is sometimes called perspective-taking or mentalizing. It’s the ability to recognize and understand another’s emotions. “Your best friend told a bunch of people something you confided in them! It’s completely understandable to feel betrayed. I get you.
  1. Affective Empathy is often called experience-sharing. It is one person’s emotional attunement with another’s experience. “Your best friend told a bunch of people something you confided in them! I feel that sting of betrayal. I feel you.

Your spouse is the one person you hope will get you and feel you. Why? So they can be there for you. (In whatever way you need them to be.)

Simple phrases like, I get you, I feel you, and I’m here for you, are gestures toward empathy. When they’re sincere, they mean I. Am. With. You. You are not alone. But empathy doesn’t stop there. Empathy isn’t complete without action. 

Empathy should lead your spouse to put self aside, be present in your story and absorb it. They understand, believe and validate it and you… they don’t judge, criticize or dismiss it and you. (And they definitely don’t make it about them.) Empathy is the catalyst to respond with appropriate, compassionate actions.

How to Respond vs. React

Telling your spouse they’re not empathetic is probably not gonna help. It’s more of a label when you actually need their labor. You need them to do the relationship work to get outside of themself and be considerate of you. 

You may be able to help your spouse who lacks empathy by fine-tuning your communication. Be clear and direct about what you need. Invite them into your story. Frame the conversation by saying things like, “At the moment, I’m not looking for you to judge me, give me advice, or share your opinion. I need to feel heard and understood.”

Pause. Reframe. Rephrase. “I need you to be present with me.”

Begin your statements (like the ones below) with “I need you to…”

  • Understand how I feel and care about my feelings.
  • Listen to what I’m thinking and consider my thoughts.
  • Hear me and care. I need to know I have your full attention.
  • Support me and be my partner in this situation.
  • Understand this part of me I’m trying to share with you.
  • Understand how important this is to me.

Empathetic conversations can lead to tangible, actionable things for a caring spouse. You can set measurable goals around these statements. Often, we can address a lack of empathy with better communication. There is help and hope to improve communication so you feel heard and understood

But what if this doesn’t snap my spouse out of themself and into being present with me?

Why isn’t your spouse empathetic even when you ask them to try to empathize with you? There can be a variety of reasons. We don’t fully understand why some people are more empathetic than others or why some people have little to no empathy. But there are indications that a person can learn to be more empathetic. 

Here are a few things you can do:

1. Model empathy for your spouse.

Make empathetic statements “out loud” and do empathy work “out in the open” where your spouse can see it. For example:

  • Help me understand how it felt to get that raise at work… 
  • Sarah, how did it feel when Hunter wouldn’t share his toys? 
  • Imagine what it must be like to lose everything as those people on the news did.
  • Amanda, I’m not going to offer unsolicited advice. I just want to sit with you as you go through this difficult time. You tell me what you need.

2. Practice talking about emotions with your spouse.

Try books, games, apps, and websites with “get to know you” questions and conversation starters. This can be a helpful practice for discussing your interior lives. Make it a “Judgment-Free Zone” and a safe sharing space.

3. When your spouse does express empathy, acknowledge it and thank them for it.

Hard Relationships. Hard Choices.

Living with a spouse who isn’t empathetic can be draining and demanding. Because your spouse lacks empathy, they might be critical, cruel, or unforgiving. They may react with anger when they feel like you are being “too sensitive.” They could be oblivious to how their behavior affects you, or be unresponsive to your needs. 

Unfortunately, this might be your reality. It’s one thing to be patient with the change process and support growth in your spouse. It’s quite another to be hurting all the time and in over your head. 

Here are things to consider: 

1. It’s not your job to “fix” your spouse.

Several factors can contribute to someone’s inability to empathize. Genetics. Socialization. Childhood trauma. Your spouse may have grown up in a family that suppressed emotions. You can support and encourage your spouse if they’re trying to grow in this area. But this may be an issue they need to work through. You also need to recognize if they’re not trying to grow in this area.

2. Seek professional help.

Diagnosable disorders may play a significant part in why your spouse lacks empathy (Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, or Borderline Personality Disorder, etc.). Know when to bring in the professionals. But remember: Your spouse may not change. 

And if abuse is going on, it may not be a safe relationship for you to stay in. Your safety and mental health are important. 

**Constant criticism, mocking, and devaluing your thoughts and feelings are forms of emotional abuse, and if your spouse is completely unwilling to get help to change their behavior, that’s not ok. Understand what abuse is in all of its forms. [See below for The Domestic Violence Hotline number.]

3. Find validation from within and from other supportive people in your life.

It can take quite a bit of time for your spouse to hone their empathy skills. It’s a process that will have ups and downs. You can’t allow your self-worth to be tied up in their ability to empathize with you; it should come from within. Practice self-acceptance and self-care, and in the meantime, turn to trusted friends you can share your thoughts and feelings with. And there’s no shame in seeking a counselor for yourself, either.

Life is certainly not easy with a spouse who lacks empathy. You can do several things to improve the situation. But you also need to recognize when those things aren’t working. Many people have successfully maintained their marriage knowing that their spouse may have many positive traits, but being empathetic is not one of them. You can set boundaries with your spouse and still get your need for empathy met in other healthy ways.

At the end of the day, we all want to be heard and understood without judgment. And chances are, you both want your marriage to be a safe space to share your thoughts and feelings. Fine-tune your communication around what empathy looks like in your relationship. Practice talking about feelings. Dig deeper into understanding and believing in each other. Recognize and appreciate any progress toward more empathy – it’s a process that will bring you closer together in the end.

Sources:

*Special thanks to my colleague, Tamara Slocum, for her insights/contributions to this piece.

Susan David, Ph.D.

Brené Brown

Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience

8 Steps to Better Communication Today

Empathy Definition | What Is Empathy

The Origin of Empathy

The Surprising History of Empathy | Psychology Today

The Secret to a Happy Relationship Is Empathy | Psychology Today

What to Do If You or a Loved One Lack Empathy

Resources:

Why Should I Consider Counseling? – First Things First

How to Find a Counselor Who Will Fight for Your Marriage – First Things First

How to Crack the Code of Men’s Feelings | Psychology Today

Keys to Effective Communication in Marriage – First Things First

Why Some People Have a Lack of Empathy (And How to Deal with Them) – Lifehack

200 Questions For Couples

**Domestic Violence Hotline

Do you feel safe? For a free, confidential, and clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the Domestic Violence Hotline, 24/7, at 1−800−799−7233.

I’m Unhappy In My Marriage. What Can I Do?

Take the time to examine what's really going on.

I’m sorry to hear that you’re unhappy in your marriage. I don’t need to tell you that an unhappy marriage can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, and insecurity. That hurts. But the fact that you’re here is a sign that you’re looking for help. That means you’re still hopeful. Hold on to that hope

Now let’s make a plan. (We’re going to look at your Marriage Mindset. It’s how you think about your marriage. There’ll be sources at the end to go deeper, plus a ton of practical help.)

If you Googled “unhappy marriage,” you know that most articles head straight to, “Should I stay or should I leave?” Fortunately, those are not your only options. This is a chance for growth.

Many “unhappy” marriages are actually feeling growing pains. They could potentially hit a growth spurt and go to a whole new level.

I recently heard someone tearfully say, “I want to be able to say I did everything in my power to make this relationship work.” I remember thinking: This person has the power to change the relationship and flip the whole story! (It looks like it’s working, too!)

Nobody knows you, your spouse, and your marriage better than you do. I won’t give you one-size-fits-all answers for your unique marriage. My goal is to walk alongside you and give you some things to think through. Together, we’ll discover actions to make tangible improvements to your marriage. (You may want to have a pen and paper ready.) 

(1.) Is your marriage causing you to feel unhappy, or are you unhappy about your life in general?

These aren’t entirely unrelated, but they need different solutions. It’s easy to confuse the two. Settle in and give this some real thought. List issues in two columns on your paper.

(2.) Is this an “unhappy” marriage situation or an “unsafe” situation?

There’s a difference between “unhappy” and “unsafe.” If you feel emotionally, psychologically, or physically unsafe, please IMMEDIATELY seek out the professionals listed at the bottom of the page.*

(3.) Start with a positive mindset. (Before you roll your eyes, stick with me.)

We are what we repeatedly think. Let’s keep things positive and in perspective. Take a few minutes to write down five things each (about your life and in your marriage) that you’re grateful for. (If you can go past five on either list, keep going!) Look at both of those lists and try to immerse yourself in gratitude. 

This is where it starts. Your marriage isn’t totally and completely terrible. See the positives for what they represent. The positives are real, concrete, and significant. It’s super easy to focus on the wrongs and overlook what’s right. Your Marriage Mindset can make all the difference.

Time Out For Some Optimistic Realism

Before we go any further, here are some things you need to understand for real, lasting change to happen. You may want to sit with these ideas a bit.

If you don’t believe you can be happy in your marriage, you won’t.

No one can make you feel anything without your permission. This doesn’t mean you’re responsible for your circumstances or your spouse, only that you’re responsible for how you respond to them – in your actions and emotions. We tend to misjudge our own power in these situations. What if you aren’t the Victim in an unhappy marriage? What if you’re the Hero?

If you don’t believe you and your spouse can change, you won’t.

Change in yourself is, by definition, change in your relationship with your spouse. Don’t underestimate that. As you change, you can be a catalyst for change in your spouse. (If you frequently fight, but now you’re aware of your words, it will help if you try to stay calm. It’s a powerful thing when you don’t escalate situations. Boom! Marriage-changer. And maybe a spouse-changer.) 

If you don’t believe your marriage can change, it won’t.

Sometimes marriage feels romantic. Sometimes it feels like work. Marriages go through ups and downs and seasons. Make sure what you expect matches the realities of marriage. 

Organize your thoughts.

Let’s keep keepin’ it real. You’re in an unhappy marriage. I want you to write down five things you wish were different in your marriage. Take your time. Now, look at your list. 

How many things are mainly about your spouse? How many are mainly about you? And how many involve you both? What things can you control, and what things can’t you control? What things can you influence, even if you can’t control them? Which things are due to circumstances? 

These aren’t just changes to your thought processes. These are radical perspective changes that can transform your marriage.

Assuming that many of the things on your list weren’t always that way, how have they changed? This should encourage you. Change works both ways.

Time to make a plan.

Take another look at the things you wish were different in your marriage. Where do you want to start? What would have the most immediate impact? More importantly, what can you control? How will you be the change? 

Use the Principle of Replacement: Instead of __________, I’m going to __________. Set a reasonable goal(s) and go for it! Watch what happens!

Let’s get your spouse in on this!

Does your spouse know you feel unhappy in your marriage? Do you know how your spouse feels? Don’t be surprised if your spouse isn’t aware of how unhappy you are. Don’t be shocked to find out your spouse is unhappy, too. It’s time to talk.

How to have a productive conversation:

  • Take turns talking and listening to each other’s needs and concerns. 
  • Use “I” statements (I feel, I need, etc.) and be respectful and kind.
  • Avoid defensiveness, over-generalizing, trying to be “right” or “to win.” 
  • Work toward and commit to mutually satisfying compromises.
  • You should each have a concrete list of 2-3 things to work on.
  • Set a time to talk again to re-evaluate, make adjustments, and celebrate growth.

Be patient and gracious with yourself and your spouse. Lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. Give yourselves a month to work on these things. Be intentional during that month to work on being your best self, spend quality time together, communicate, and have some fun.

➤ Read 30 Tips On How to Have A Happy Marriage & 50 Marriage Tips From Couples Who’ve Lasted 50 Years.

Keep your positive Marriage Mindset. Restructure how you think about a “happy marriage.”

I want you to be able to say you did everything in your power to make this relationship work.

Sources:

Effects of Conflict and Stress on Relationships

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Relationship

Cognitive Restructuring for Stress Relief: Introduction

How to Survive in An Unhappy Marriage | Psych Central

The Five Stages of Relationship | Free & Connected

Does Couples’ Communication Predict Marital Satisfaction, or Does Marital Satisfaction Predict Communication?

Resources:

Six Good Habits to Start for Your Marriage in the New Year – First Things First

5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage – First Things First

Is Conflict in Marriage Inevitable? – First Things First

*National Hotline for Domestic Abuse

Are you nervous or afraid to disagree with or displease your spouse? Do you feel safe? For a free, confidential, and clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse, 24/7, at 1−800−799−7233.

Image from Pexels.com

6 Things To Know Before You Get Married

Knowing some things ahead of time can lead to a happier relationship.

My wife and I often get asked a common question: “What do you wish you’d known before you got married?” 

Our marriage isn’t perfect by any means. We’ve had our ups and downs. But according to recent statistics, the average length of marriage in the U.S. is just over 8 years. So, it makes sense to ask questions of a couple who’s been married longer than that.

Most couples anticipate having a long, happy marriage. And they should! But if you’ve been married any amount of time, you probably recognize it’s not always smooth sailing. Your marriage is going to get rocked by waves. Sure, there will be times when the sun is shining and the seas are calm. Just know before you get married, there will be storms ahead. But you can navigate the storms and make it through.

In his book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, Dr. Gary Chapman says, “No one gets married hoping to be miserable or to make their spouse miserable, yet the highest percentage of divorce occurs within the first seven years of marriage.”

Chapman’s book provides a marriage blueprint. He lays out 12 potential areas of stress for married couples – they’re great to think about before you get married.

Here are six of the areas he addresses:

1. Being in love is not an adequate foundation for building a successful marriage.

The “honeymoon phase” of marriage typically lasts for up to two years. This phase usually is idealistic and romantic. Don’t get me wrong, this stage is fantastic; it just needs to be treated realistically. This is a time to learn and adjust to each other. Differences will become apparent, but that’s OK. A healthy marriage requires commitment, trust, and communication. You need more than just that loving feeling.

2. Romantic love has two stages.

Chapman describes the first stage of love as a time when couples expend lots of energy doing things for each other, but they don’t consider it work. The second stage of love is more intentional. It requires work to keep emotional love alive.

3. The saying, “like mother, like daughter” and “like father, like son” is not a myth.

Chapman doesn’t suggest that your spouse will become their mother or father. But parents do greatly influence who we become. You will see some traits of your spouse’s parents in them. Be aware of this.

4. How to solve disagreements without arguing.

Conflict is a normal part of marriage. When two people spend lots of time together and grow closer, they won’t agree on everything. That’s OK. Not every conflict has to end in an argument. You can handle disagreements through healthy conversation and compromise.

5. Apologizing is a sign of strength.

Apologizing isn’t always easy. Some even see apologizing as a sign of weakness. It takes a strong person to say, “I was wrong; please forgive me.”

6. Mutual sexual fulfillment is not automatic.

Many newlywed couples don’t anticipate this being an issue. Dr. Chapman shares that while men focus on sex, women focus on relationship. We’re all built differently and have different sexual drives. Those drives change with varying stages of marriage as well. So, what do you do when you feel like sexual fulfillment is lacking? Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Couples who have been married for a long time talk about these issues and more. Marriage takes open, honest communication and flexibility from both people. It won’t always be smooth sailing, but you can navigate the storms together and enjoy those smooth seas. There is beauty in every phase of a relationship.

Other blogs:

5 Tips For Newly Engaged Couples – First Things First

5 Things You Should Have In Common With Your Spouse

Can A Marriage Survive Without Intimacy? – First Things First

You probably don’t need convincing that ongoing, open communication is vital to a healthy, growing relationship. If we’re honest, it’s a struggle to make it happen in our marriages. 

We all have our own reasons for why quality (and quantity) communication is hard for us, but I want to encourage you. I’ve yet to meet a couple whose communication was all it could and should be. We’re all in this together.

Sometimes you just need a little help getting started. Questions can be a catalyst

Productive answers come from provocative questions. These questions for couples’ communication can spark quality interactions. And they can draw you toward a deeper marriage connection. Buckle up.

Why work at communication? 

Let’s face it: Honesty, transparency, and vulnerability can go sideways – and fast. So, what are you trying to do? What do you need to try to avoid? 

  • The goal is definitely not to be “right,” open healed wounds or hurt each other. This doesn’t mean you can’t be true to yourself or say hard things in a constructive way. Genuine intimacy-building conversations aren’t always comfy-cozy.
  • The goal is to go deeper into each other and your relationship. It isn’t to exchange facts about each other. You’re seeking insights that move your relationship forward. You’re trying to understand each other’s thoughts and feelings so you can love better. Look for ideas and solutions that improve your life and marriage.
  • Agree to take a break, refocus, or stop altogether if the conversation escalates, becomes destructive, or creates problems instead of solving them.

Check out these questions for couples’ communication and get closer as you speak!

Group 1. Communication. Talking About Talking.

  1. What’s a topic we don’t usually talk about that you think would be interesting, important, or fun to discuss? Let’s go there!
  1. When you were growing up, how did your parents talk to each other? How did they speak to you? Has that influenced the way you communicate with me?
  1. If you could adjust one way I communicate with you, what would it be? Why?
  1. What’s a topic or area that you’re kinda uncomfortable discussing with me? How do I contribute to your discomfort? How could I make you feel more comfortable?
  1. What do you think are the main obstacles to improving our communication? Let’s make a plan!

Group 2. Understanding. Seeing How You See Each Other.

  1. How do you see me differently than you think I see myself? What are my blind spots?
  1. What do you think I haven’t taken enough time to learn or understand about you?
  1. Where in my life do you think I’m settling for less than the best? Inspire me!
  1. What’s an area where you think I don’t give myself enough credit or am too hard on myself?
  1. What are three of my qualities or attributes that you’re grateful for? How do you see them in action?

Group 3. Relating. Bringing Out The Best In Each Other.

  1. What relationship problems are we solving together? And what issues are we avoiding?
  1. What do you think is the most crucial factor in making our relationship grow? Do you think we’re paying enough attention to it? How do you think we could lean into it more?
  1. Sure, marriage takes effort, but are we having fun and enjoying each other? How would you suggest we “relax and enjoy the ride” more? What’s a fun thing we could do? Let’s put it on the calendar!
  1. What’s a part of our life where you feel a little under-appreciated? What could I do today to make you feel more appreciated? 
  1. Where in our relationship do you feel like we’re totally a team? Where do you feel alone? Help me help you to never ever feel alone.

Group 4. Wildcard Round! Oh, We’re Doing This!

  1. OkayOkayOkay! So I’m not perfect. I’m sure there’s some little thing I do that annoys you. (Thank you for overlooking it all this time.) If you tell me what it is, I won’t get defensive. And I promise to work on it. 
  2. What’s something I do for you that I obviously think is sweet and romantic, but it does next to nothing for you? What could I do that would be meaningful? 
  3. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Explain in psychologically revealing detail. (Set a timer for 30 minutes. Take turns.)
  4. I’m just curious… if I suddenly died (after you eventually worked through the paralyzing, soul-crushing grief), which of our single friends, co-workers, or acquaintances do you think you could have a high-quality, meaningful relationship with? Listen, it’s okay. Really. It’s just a hypothetical question. I mean, I’d want you to be happy. So, tell me: Who?*

*The only acceptable answer is: I would be in mourning for the rest of my empty life. Nobody could ever fill the hole in the meaningless existence I would have to sadly wander through, alone, until the end of time. I love you so much. ❤️

About these questions for couples’ communication: How do you know if all this talk is helping? 

  • You understand your spouse better, and you feel better understood. 
  • You’re taking action. You’re setting goals to improve your relationship and create deeper connections. Follow through!
  • You discover things you have in commonalities, compromises, opportunities, and maybe even fun or forgiveness.

Other Resources

THE ART OF COMMUNICATION

8 STEPS TO BETTER COMMUNICATION TODAY

17 TACTICS TO DRASTICALLY IMPROVE COMMUNICATION IN RELATIONSHIPS

8 SIMPLE WAYS YOU CAN HAVE MORE MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONS

5 TOOLS FOR HEALTHY COMMUNICATION IN MARRIAGE

WHAT GREAT LISTENERS ACTUALLY DO

HOW TO VALIDATE YOUR SPOUSE’S FEELINGS

30 CORE DISAGREEMENTS COUPLES ENCOUNTER

You might phrase it differently, but when you’ve lost romantic feelings for your spouse, you’re probably feeling something like:

  • That spark’s gone. I feel like I’m just going through the motions.
  • I’m not attracted to my spouse like I used to be.
  • I love my spouse, but I’m not in love with them anymore.
  • Over the years, we’ve grown apart. We’ve become different people.
  • My marriage hasn’t turned out like I thought it would.
  • There’s no passion. No magic. No romance. I just don’t feel it.

That romantic feeling is going, going… gone now. What happened?

First, we need to make sure we are talking about the same things when using words like romance and love. These words can mean a variety of things, and that makes discussing them difficult. Let’s get on the same page. This might bring some clarity to what you’re feeling.

Passionate Love

This will be our term for romance. It’s usually characterized by a strong desire to: 

  • be around your spouse,
  • please them,
  • enjoy them,
  • be sexually attracted to them, and
  • overlook their flaws.

This is what people usually mean when they say they are in love with their spouse. 

Passionate love has a unique effect on your brain and body chemistry. Those fireworks! But some researchers claim passionate love naturally gives way to a deeper kind of love as your relationship grows. Other researchers argue that passionate love doesn’t have to fade. 

Passionate love might come and go, and romance might ebb and flow… but it doesn’t have to disappear from your marriage completely. You might have to be more intentional and purposeful to keep that romantic spark lit.

Compassionate Love

This will be our term for what people generally mean by the word love. It’s usually characterized by:

  • deep feelings of security,
  • emotional connection and intimacy, and
  • best-friendship in your marriage. 

Some researchers call this companionate love. 

Compared to passionate love, this love is often considered more stable, mature, and steady. It doesn’t feel as fun, euphoric, or exhilarating as passionate romantic love. But this makes sense. Because researchers have found that this love activates different parts of the brain – even different body chemistry – than passionate love. So, yeah, it actually feels different.

Perhaps your relationship has undergone a normal transition. Maybe it’s been creeping up on you. Maybe it hit you all at once. It’s not a crisis, but it can feel like one if you didn’t expect it. Now you’ve gained some perspective and can be purposefully passionate moving forward. 

Perhaps conflict or circumstances have deflated your passionate love. This is less of a relationship transition you can accept and walk through… and more like relationship issues you can expect to work through. (Compassionate love can be the safe context to work through these issues.)

That romantic feeling is going, going… gone. Now, what happens?

You don’t have to pick between passionate love and compassionate love. Healthy, growing, long-lasting marriages have both. 

Explore the depths of compassionate love. Enjoy the heights of passionate love as you keep cultivating those romantic feelings. Here’s a practical place to start – back at the beginning.

★ Here Are Some Things To Think About And Try!

Okay, today, you don’t have romantic feelings for your spouse. Look at all your yesterdays. Take a step back, like, all the way back to your wedding day. Rekindle old feelings by reviewing old memories.

1. Remember Why You Married Your Spouse.

Many counselors and therapists recommend listing what attracted you to your spouse in the first place and the reasons you wanted to marry them. What caused you to fall in love? Remind yourself of why you’re grateful for your spouse. 

  • Take time to reminisce about the first time you met. How do you remember it? How does your spouse remember it? Similarly, talk about your first date. Can you recreate it? While on your date, talk through five things you appreciate about each other and your relationship. How did you get engaged? How did you propose/were you proposed to? What were the feelings surrounding that occasion? What was your wedding day like? Did everything go as planned? What were you feeling on The Big Day? What was your first year of marriage like? Share favorite stories. What were you naive about? How has your relationship grown since then?

Passion Power-Up:

You know your spouse better today, including their faults, annoying habits, and when they let you down. Yes, reality puts some big dents in romance. Reality also invites you to a deeper love that transcends romantic feelings and builds a stronger bond with your all-too-human spouse. This could be a huge marital growth opportunity.

2. Remember All The Things You’ve Been Through With Your Spouse.

What circumstances have changed since your wedding day? Children? Careers? Stress? Illness? It could be as simple as being busier now. It could be as complex as significant unresolved marital conflicts. Commit to each other to work through any obstacles as a team. And commit to shaking things up a bit. (In a good way.)

Passion Power-Up:

Have you talked to your spouse about how you feel? Are you creating the time and space to maintain your marriage so there’s room for romance? This probably doesn’t sound romantic, but frequently the effort comes first. The feelings often follow. You might be surprised by the romance conjured by a planned night out, the habit of taking a walk together after dinner or even scheduled sex. Do something different. Don’t let your relationship get in a rut.

3. DANGER ZONE.

Gut-check time. Have you entertained romantic feelings for someone other than your spouse? It’s difficult to have romantic feelings for two different people simultaneously. It can be subtle at the start. A friend or co-worker seems fun and interesting. Maybe you see some qualities in them you feel your spouse is lacking. That romantic feeling for your spouse starts to wane. This is the Danger Zone.

Passion Power-Up:

If this is the case, you need a reality check. You know your spouse, warts and all. It’s unfair and unrealistic to compare your spouse to someone you know comparatively on a superficial level. The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. The grass is greener where you water it. 

See those “feelings” for what they really are and refocus on your spouse. Nourish your relationship with your spouse and see what happens to your romantic feelings.

4. Start with you. 

Maybe this isn’t about your spouse at all. You might be experiencing some changes in how you look at yourself and your life. Several things could cause this. You might not be experiencing success in your career like you’d hoped. Maybe you’re feeling the burden of financial stress. You could be dealing with physical or mental health issues. This could be a season of life thing. You could simply be aging and not handling it in a healthy way. 

Passion Power-Up:

Do a personal inventory. You might need to take a good, honest look deep inside yourself. Many things may have changed or shifted inside of you, affecting how you feel about your spouse. You might not have noticed slow, silent repositioning in your perspective or personality. It might be helpful to enlist a trusted friend in answering these questions. See your primary care physician if you haven’t had a check-up in a long time. Our physical health and our feelings are bound up together. Don’t be afraid to seek out a counselor or therapist if you feel like you can’t quite understand what you’re feeling. Your spouse will thank you.

You’ve lost romantic feelings for your spouse. How you respond is critical. 

Some people want a romance-based relationship. Ask yourself if that’s a reality-based relationship. You might not always feel that heady, passionate love. But as you experience that heavy compassionate love, the romantic feelings that follow might surprise you.

Don’t be afraid to take a hard look at yourself. Ask yourself the tough questions. Respond in a way that’s healthy for yourself and your marriage. Seek out help where needed. Lost romantic feelings may be complex, but they may also be very simple. Taking these steps is a great sign, and there is hope!


TAKE THE GUESSWORK OUT OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

The Relatable Report handpicks the latest and greatest relationship content and delivers it straight to your inbox every week.


Other Blogs:

Keep Romance Strong in Marriage

What is Romance in Marriage?

Sources:

Love and the Brain | Harvard Medical School

Brain Study Reveals Secrets of Staying Madly in Love | Psychology Today

The Dark Side of Believing in True Love – BBC Future

15 Things About Being in Love vs. Loving Someone

The Psychology Behind Love and Romance

Thinking About Romantic/Erotic Love

Navigating the 4 Stages of a Relationship

8 Warning Signs of a Troubled Marriage

Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Divorce

Getting It Right the First Time: Creating a Healthy Marriage

Intimacy can be a scary word for some people, but it is an essential part of keeping romance strong in your marriage. We often think of intimacy as sex, but it’s so much more than that. It’s how we connect at the deepest levels. Connecting in one of the six types of intimacy (emotional, intellectual, physical, experiential, spiritual, and sexual) deepens the others. That’s totally a win for your relationship.

Ready to dive a little deeper into each type of intimacy and learn ways to pursue it? Let’s go!

1. Emotional intimacy happens through trust and vulnerability. 

It’s about revealing yourself fully to your spouse. 

How can you build emotional intimacy? For starters, be vulnerable with one another. Sharing your dreams, faults, fears, and hopes increases emotional intimacy. Each day, commit to really talking about your day and more. Ditching the technology and making eye contact can help you focus. It can help you grow emotionally closer, too.

2. Intellectual intimacy creates a space to share thoughts without fear of judgment. 

Remember, you’re two people with different backgrounds and views. You may not always agree on everything. And that’s ok. 

How can you build intellectual intimacy? Practice having conversations around challenging topics. This isn’t about changing each other’s minds; it’s about better understanding one another. Ask lots of questions to make sure you understand. Genuinely listen to what your partner says. 

3. Physical intimacy is about what you do physically to increase closeness. 

Get this: This kind of intimacy isn’t about sex. (Read that again.) Maybe it’s hand-holding, massages, or passionate kissing. Sitting next to each other on the couch or in the booth at a restaurant. Being physically close in affectionate ways is what this kind of intimacy is about.

How can you build physical intimacy? Ask your spouse what makes them feel loved and appreciated. Then practice doing those things.

4. Experiential intimacy is what you get when sharing experiences. 

Trips, adventures, hobbies – all those things you do together that bring you closer.

How can you build experiential intimacy? Do something together you both enjoy or try something new. Take a crafting class, go for a hike, kayaking, or a bike ride. Make a list of things one or both of you would like to do. Doing fun stuff together makes you want to do more, strengthening your bond.

5. Spiritual intimacy isn’t just about religion. 

It’s about sharing values and beliefs. More than likely, you and your spouse share some core values. That may be part of what brought you together.

How can you build spiritual intimacy? Start by writing down your family values and beliefs. Look for ways to implement those. 

6. Sexual intimacy seems pretty obvious. But getting to a place of sexual intimacy isn’t always easy.

If you aren’t connecting intimately in the other ways, this one can be pretty tricky (or non-existent). Physical and emotional changes, stress, and kids can impact this intimacy. This intimacy can also be difficult if there’s past trauma. 

How can you build sexual intimacy? Have a conversation about your sexual needs and desires. Be open and talk about it. And schedule sex. Your calendar is full of appointments and activities, so why not add sex? When you prioritize it, you’re more likely to make it happen. Anticipating it can make it more enjoyable for you both, too. [How’s Your Sex Life Quiz]

Connecting with your spouse intimately in each of these ways can fuel the romance in your marriage. 

Turn toward each other and talk honestly about how your relationship is going in each of these six areas. Learn each other’s intimacy needs. If you feel that one area needs work, focus on growing that intimacy together. 

Keeping romance strong in your marriage takes intentionality and commitment from both of you to make it happen. Taking small steps toward each other every day can keep you from getting overwhelmed. And seeing your romance blossom can motivate you to stay the course.

Other blogs:

6 Exercises to Strengthen Emotional Intimacy in Your Marriage

What is Romance in Marriage?

5 Things To Do When You Feel Disconnected From Your Spouse

Course: Discover Deeper Intimacy – INTRO – First Things First