Like most of America, I had no idea Ben Affleck moonlighted as a marriage counselor until his Oscar acceptance speech. But there he was onstage, close to midnight on a Sunday night, doling out the relationship inspiration.
“I want to thank you for working on our marriage for ten Christmases,” Affleck gushed to Jennifer Garner, sitting misty-eyed in the audience. “It’s good. It is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with.”
Wow, I thought. That’s a pretty bold thing to say in front of a bazillion people. Then I glanced over at my husband, fast asleep on the couch and snoring away, and it dawned on me just how right Affleck was. He’d succeeded in airing a dirty little secret about marriage few of us ever discuss: Couples get lazy. This is often because many of us are the opposite of lazy in all other aspects of our lives. My husband and I both work full-time. We have two kids, ages 10 and 8. I write this blog and one about raising Max, who has special needs. We jointly handle Max’s therapy and medical appointments. We take turns getting the kids to various activities on the weekends. Our lives center around theirs.
Our marriage is perfectly fine, but it has basically been running on auto-pilot, I realized that night—and felt kind of sheepish about it. I’m pretty responsible about most things in life. Also: I’m a women’s magazine editor and I’ve worked on countless rev-up-your-marriage articles. Now, mine was in need of a tune-up.
I had a stockpile of strategies in my head; we just needed to put them to use. And in the last couple of weeks, we have. What we’ve been doing:
A weekly Marriage State of the Union 1 of 6Tuesday nights, we've been sitting down at the kitchen table over wine to discuss parenting and relationship concerns/issues/things that are bugging us. Maybe a scheduled meeting sounds formal but they've actually been helpful, cathartic and fun (see: "wine"). The truth is, given our nonstop lives these discussions would fall to the wayside unless we carve out the time. And they're a way to prevent resentment from building, something that can seriously erode a relationship.
Photo credit: Flickr/FromSandToGlass
More car talk, less tech 2 of 6Our typical minivan ride consists of the kids watching a DVD, me scanning Facebook and Twitter, and my husband listening to a CD. The kids remain DVD zombies, but now my husband and I spend drives catching up, gossiping and dreaming dreams. A relationship expert I interviewed once told me that one of the key signs of a healthy marriage is talking about your future together. Retiring to Hawaii? Oh, yeah.
Photo credit: Flickr/Michael Nienaltowski
An enforced stay-outta-our-bed kid policy 3 of 6For years, we've had issues with bed crashers, aka our kids. The problem had dwindled to our son wandering in around 1 a.m.—so much better than having him as a full-time overnight guest, but still, an intrusion on sleep time and (wink, wink) together time. It's hard to have a whole lot of willpower at 1 in the morning, but the deal is we alternate nights escorting Max back to bed and tucking him in, then doing it again and again.
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Doing actual activities together 4 of 6My husband and I have always done Saturday date nights, usually dinner and a movie. But going to events and activities truly enriches a marriage, relationship pros say. You have more shared experiences to bond over and you have more to talk about, so that the kids don't dominate your conversations. It's also a great way to de-stress. The other night, Dave and I went to a wine-tasting where a sommelier taught us about pairing foods with vino. (If vino seems to be a running theme of our lives, I can assure you it is.) We learned some new things about wine, we had a great time and it was on a weeknight—which felt downright decadent. We're going to a jazz concert next month, part of our new Parents Night Out series. And we won't have an excuse for bailing because we've bought the tickets.
Photo credit: Flickr/Olivier Bruchez
More everyday affection 5 of 6A peck on the lips as I run out the door to work in the morning, a rushed "I love you!" at the end of a call: My husband and I still adore each other, but we've got into quickie routines of expressing it. Back when we were dating, Dave liked to give me bear hugs and proclaim "Endorphin rush!" We'd both crack up, but it's true—hugs and kisses boost our happiness hormones, science says. In fact, a study from the University of North Carolina showed that women who get more hugs from their partners had lower blood pressure. Dorky as it sounds, we've been making more of an effort to hug and smooch. In the scheme of things on our to-do lists, this is the best task ever.
Photo credit: Flickr/Luciano Meirelles
Thanks again, Ben! 6 of 6How much do we owe you for the marriage counseling?
Photo credit: Wikimedia/Justin N. McGarry