Ahhhh, it finally happened. You and your spouse sat down to eat and… dead silence. In fact, this has happened a lot lately: while lying in bed, riding in the car, sitting on the couch, deciding what to do for fun. You realize that the two of you have absolutely nothing in common to talk about. If you aren’t talking about the kids, work, responsibilities, or bills—there’s nothing.
Many emotions creep in—Fear. Sadness. Concern. Bewilderment. What happened to us? We used to talk non-stop for hours. We had endless fun and romantic dates. And now it feels awkward and forced. And it feels “in your face” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yes, I remember those feelings. My wife and I have had that moment where we sat in the bed, both wide awake, and couldn’t think of anything to talk about. We’ve had the arguments about us never wanting to do the same thing for a date or for fun. We’ve experienced the tension with not being able to connect intimately. And we know the awkwardness of not being able to talk about what’s going on at work.
So, what do you do? These 9 things can help you really connect.
1. Accept that it’s NORMAL.
You’re not the first couple to experience this, nor the last. Marriages go through stages. The Gottman Institute, a relationship research institute says that “a person’s inner world changes as they pass through the seasons of life.” Each of you may be growing, changing, and evolving. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. It’s likely that you’re becoming better versions of yourself which is good for both you and the marriage. There are times when it is difficult to connect with your spouse because your way of connecting is becoming different.
2. Be aware of letting the world creep in to your marriage
- Is all your brain energy focused on work?
- Are you totally focused on your children and that’s all you talk or think about?
- Are you consumed with social media? Work, kids, and social media are, in and of themselves, not distractions. However, we can place a higher priority on each to the detriment of our marriage.
- Are you taking the allotted vacation time from work?
- Do you care more about your success at work than your marriage?
- Are you overscheduling your children so that there’s no couple time?
- Do you find yourself sharing all of your thoughts and getting absorbed in the information and conversation on social media? When your brain is focused elsewhere it can feel like you don’t have anything in common with your spouse.
It may be time to evaluate where your time and mental energy is going. If you are communicating, who are you communicating with and what are you communicating about? Be willing to make the necessary changes to ensure that your relationship is priority. Regular date nights may be in order.
3. Curiosity is key.
Commit to learning new things about your spouse. Remember—you used to talk all the time. Part of that was because you were learning all kinds of new things about each other and it was fresh. There’s a good chance that one or both of you has grown or changed in the time you’ve been married. Kids may be grown and gone. Your philosophies on parenting or success may have changed. Instead of being bored with your spouse, take the initiative to become a student of your spouse. Talk about their dreams, what success means, or how they like to spend their time.
4. Focus on loving the differences.
Get into your spouse’s world and learn about it. Sometimes we allow our differences to drive us apart. We begin making value judgments about our differences. For instance, I like to make lists and get things done on Saturday morning which I think is way better than my wife who likes for us to take Saturday morning and visit with other families. She’s an introvert—I’m an extrovert who likes to socialize and build relationships any and everywhere and I often think my way is better.
Don’t let differences lead to judgments. Instead, allow your differences to take you down a path of learning more about your spouse. She likes to garden and you don’t. Spend time with her in the garden. He likes to read, you’d prefer to watch a movie. Read a book together. Consider the ways that your spouse’s differences are not only likable, but helpful to the marriage. There’s a saying, “If both of you were the same, then one of you would be unnecessary.”
5. Plan and do some everyday things together.
Planning our weekly menu and cooking together was one thing that worked well for me and my wife. We didn’t focus on the silence. We were trying to accomplish a task together. For example, we started trying new recipes. We had to work together. We were learning about each other’s likes, dislikes, comforts, and discomforts. My wife is more willing to try new things. I began to appreciate and even love that more. We created some new dishes that we still eat to this day. We made memories. DIY home improvement projects, vacation and holiday planning are all fair game. The key is learning about your spouse by listening and doing things together.
6. Shared experiences create great memories.
It’s amazing how shared experiences of giving can increase your spirit and help you to remember what’s important in life. The two of you can accomplish more together helping someone else than you can apart from each other. Do something for an elderly neighbor. Serve food together at a community kitchen. Volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. Come together and decide what the two of you can do for someone else as a team.
7. Explore new things.
This is how my wife and I got into hiking together. She liked doing puzzles. I liked playing sports. I liked being in social settings with lots of people. She liked intimate settings with few people. I’d rather go to the movie theatre. She’d rather watch it on Netflix. We knew this wasn’t going to work forever. We needed some fun stuff to do together.
There were some hits and misses along the way. But getting outside and hiking became something that we tried and both loved. She doesn’t feel like she’s lost herself and neither do I. Be willing to try new things. Some couples create YouTube channels and post videos as a couple. Others take up doing regular community service. Don’t get discouraged. You’ll look back one day and laugh at the things you tried that both of you hated and others that one of you loved and the other hated.
8. Support your spouse’s strengths.
Is your spouse really good at building relationships, problem solving, budgeting, fixing things, being a peacemaker, etc.? It’s not unusual that our partner’s strengths attracted us to them in the first place, especially when they are good at what we’re not. Opposites do attract. We used to admire it, encourage it, and even be excited to watch them work in their strongest areas. Look for ways to support your spouse in what they are good at.
9. Turn toward, not away.
It’s easy to build resentment or begin to think your spouse has the problem. They aren’t making you happy. We’re growing apart. And our mind will begin to complete the story for us. I can spend the next 2 pages alone making lists of all of the differences me and the wife have, and the things we don’t have in common. Don’t shut each other off. Instead, talk about your concerns. Train your brain not to think of your spouse or yourself as the issue. Check any resentment, bitterness or criticism at the door. And see this as an issue that we will work through.
When you begin to feel like you have nothing in common with your spouse, instead of looking for a way out, see it as an opportunity to learn how to enjoy the beauty of your differences. If you focus on what you don’t have in common, you will for sure find it. The opposite is true as well: if you look for what you have in common, you will find that also.
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COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.
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