Reconnect with your partner with little acts of kindness

Over time, couples can take each other for granted. Here’s how to help rekindle feelings of love.

Mary feels disconnected from her husband Joe. “I just feel so alone,” she says.

Married for 20 years with three children, she’s going through a hard time. They love each other, but Joe is a very different person than Mary. She’s more emotional — wanting touch and affection. Joe is more likely to intellectualize his feelings.

I can see that Joe feels bad about Mary’s loneliness.

They haven’t been spending much time with each other. Mary’s busy with the kids and Joe works long hours. Over time, they stopped going out as a couple. At the end of each day, they both drop into bed exhausted. Joe doesn’t understand why Mary feels so lonely. “I love her and think about her all the time,” he says.

Sound familiar? Both Mary and Joe feel neglected. They love each other, but both feel that the other person doesn’t really understand what they need.

What can Mary and Joe do to reconnect?

Love is a verb. Over time, couples can take each other for granted, especially when raising kids. Life becomes full of shopping, cooking, cleaning, cabbying children and juggling two jobs. There isn’t much time or energy left over for romance. Those candlelit dinners can seem like a distant memory.

It’s not hard to feel neglected when both parents don’t have much gas in their tanks. Each partner feels needy, but each partner doesn’t have much to give. The net effect: No one is giving and, therefore, no one is receiving.

I remember coming home at the end of the day to my wife, Diane, who worked part-time, holding our daughters Naomi in one arm and Maya in the other.“Please, just take the kids!” she pleaded. No kiss, hug or “It’s nice to see you” for me — but, of course, I knew she just needed some time for herself.

It’s important for couples to remember that first came love, then the baby carriage. It’s through action that we express the love and appreciation we feel.

It’s all about the small things. Sitting out on our deck on a hot day last week, Diane popped open a can of sparkling water, looking forward to a cold drink. But the water was warm. So I offered to get her a glass with some ice. Tired and hot, she laughed and said, “I knew I married the right guy!”

Performing small acts of loving kindness expresses our inner-most feelings. It’s the everyday stuff that matters — folding laundry, putting away the dishes, offering to take the kids for a walk, texting your honey in the middle of the workday with an “I love you” — or buying a pint of your partner’s favorite ice cream on your way home.

Perform these deeds, sometimes in secret, without making a big deal over them. No “Look at what I did for you today!” Find small, lovely ways of letting your partner know how much you love them. Trust me, these small investments will yield big returns.

Renew your vows every day. Marriage is a choice that we make every day. Tomorrow, Diane could wake up and decide she doesn’t want to be married to me. Your children will always be your children, even if you have a fractured relationship with them. But not so with your partner. All the more reason to make sure that the home fires are always burning — even when there is little fuel to be had.

Paul Schoenfeld is director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. His Family Talk Blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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