You’ve been married, one, two, 10, 15, 20 years. The novelty of getting hitched and starting a life together has worn off, and you find yourself facing the dreadful truth: The possibility that your marriage is in the doldrums is looming, and both of you are thinking you’re stuck in a rut—and the dreadful (gasp!) reality that you are with each other, for life.
The honeymoon phase of a relationship usually lasts from 18 months to three years. “Many relationships, even good ones, can become static or habitual,” say Richard and Kristine Carlson, authors of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love. “It’s easy to begin taking each other for granted or to lose that wonderful spark.”
How to keep it from getting that way? Real couples tell us how they keep the fires burning.
1. KEEP THE COURTSHIP GOING.
“My husband surprised me with a rose and a pack of Choc Nut while we were having a casual dinner in a restaurant, one weekday night,” shares Lynn, 28, married to Al, 28, for three years. “I cried and told him how touched I was. Now, he makes it a point to send me flowers now and then—just like the old days when he was making me ligaw.”
2. DO THE THINGS YOU USED TO DO.
“When we were newly married, Anthony and I used to buy bola-bola siopao from Kowloon house and other treats for each other after work,” recalls Tina 30, married for six years. “That habit stopped when we moved to a house in the subdivision, and I moved office. One night, I brought home the famed bola-bola siopao for him, which got us talking about our early days. Now, it may not be siopao anymore, but we’ve resumed our food treat giving!”
3. GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER AGAIN.
Even if you’ve lived together for many years, there’s always something new to discover about your spouse. Make it a point to find out—or to let the other know. “On a whim, I made him read my new blog, where I had listed random things about myself,” says Cathy, 31, married to Larry for nine years. “We ended up laughing, but he expressed surprise over the other things, like how I really like having cornick for merienda everyday!”
4. BE PALS.
Yolly, 29, says that even though she has good friends, she still relies on her husband Jake whenever she needs sound advice. “I know that after all these years, he has already accepted who I am,” she reveals. “Just the thought of letting my guard down and being myself with him gives me peace and makes me thankful that I married him.”
5. MAKE TIME.
After being married for 10 years, Helen, 31, and Raymond, 30, still make it a point to spend Friday nights together. “We take the kids to our parents’ house, and we do whatever we like doing together one day a week—whether it’s watching two movies in a row or wall climbing!”
6. DO FAVORS.
“Even though it’s not exactly easy for me, I offer to give my husband a massage, when I see that he’s stressed out or had a late night at the office,” reveals Annie, 33, who’s been married to Nick, 35, for 10 years. She knows that he appreciates it, so she doesn’t mind the extra effort. “In turn, he offers to make me my favorite dessert—avocado with milk—as a midnight snack!”
7. BE NICE.
Some couples have become so familiar with each other that they do away with the little niceties and just go straight to the point. Make the effort to say or do things nicely, even if sometimes it’s tempting to be curt, snappy, and grouchy. “Just because you’ve been together for so long doesn’t mean that you’ll be bastos na towards each other,” says Colleen, 31, who’s been married to Joacquin, 31, for eight years. “Please and thanks really go a long way.”
8. SURPRISES ARE ALWAYS WELCOME.
Take a chance and do something together that’s totally unexpected. For most couples, spontaneity was what fueled the excitement during the honeymoon phase in their relationship. “During the first year of our marriage, we’d suddenly decide to drop everything on a Friday afternoon, hop in the car, and drive to Tagaytay at a moment’s notice,” says Anna, 29, who’s been married to Don, 32, for five years. “After the second year, we lost those spontaneous moments.”
9. GIVE IT A JUMPSTART.
Sometimes, all you need is a change of attitude, a new perspective, and some useful tips from professionals to jumpstart your relationship. Give yourselves a positive jolt by attending a class or seminar together, something that could inspire and encourage growth.
10. BANISH BLAME.
Oftentimes, minor arguments turn into full-blown fights whenever feelings are expressed with blame. Avoid it as much as possible. “When I’m super naiinis at Joe,” confides Queenie, 28, “I try my best to not yell or sound sarcastic. When he responds in the same way—and things get done—all my efforts at self control become so worth it.”
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn to laugh at yourself. “We’re very serious about a lot of things,” says Gina, 37, who’s been married to Dino 39, for 13 years. They both work in a bank. “But we remain silly about other things!” She shares with him the funny instances she experiences at the office, and they tease each other often. Laughing with each other, say the Carlsons, allows couples to “not take each other’s habits, quirks, or imperfections very seriously. This lighthearted attitude keeps them from acting defensive, combative, or argumentative, and it keeps their expectations of another in check and reasonable.”
12. NURTURE EACH OTHER.
Buy him that new health drink he’s been wanting to try, or get him the new issue of his favorite magazine at the start of the month. “Because I work in a mall, I try to call before I leave the office just to check if he needs anything from the grocery or the department store,” says Kris, 26, married to Ed for three years. “The mix of surprise and pleasure in his voice at the other line makes me feel good and glad I made the call!”
13. TALK, TALK, TALK!
Have coffee at a café and talk like old friends. That’s what Madeline, 29, and her husband Mike do, even though they’ve been married for nearly five years. “We’ll just meet at Starbucks after work, forget about hurrying home, and just sit and talk about anything,” she says. “It’s comforting, de-stressing, and very, very good release.” “Sometimes, we open a bottle of wine even if there’s no special occasion,” reveals Greg, 35, who’s been married to Angela, 32, for eight years.
14. TAKE IT SLOW.
Just for once, don’t have hurried sex. Forget about time, and focus on pleasuring each other—like you once did. Taking the time you need increases intimacy, making the other feel desirable. Lack of intimacy, says Philip Hodson, author of The Cosmopolitan Guide to Love, Sex & Relationships, “is more threatening to a marriage than breaking your wedding vows.”
15. UNDERSTANDING IS KEY.
Cathy, 27, says that instead of taking it personally and starting a fight, she treats her husband’s occasional mood swings with patience and understanding. “I’ve been with him long enough to figure out that he can’t help but react that way to stress at work,” she says. “All these years, I finally figured out what makes him tick. Knowing that I understand and accept him fully makes me happy.”
(First published in Good Housekeeping, January–February 2006. Photo by Dakila Angeles)