Watch out! It's easy to become guilty of marriage neglect. You can start taking each other for granted. You can stop doing romantic things together. You can get too busy to show you care. And, without realizing it, you can ruin your love life - and your relationship.
The cure to keeping your love alive and growing is simple: Invest in your marriage each day. Here are strategies to draw from that will act as a kind of preventive love medicine to strengthen your relationship: - Give and get a 60-second hug every day. A minute-long hug can help you to build intimacy, to open up communication, and to re-establish a touching bond if it's missing in a marriage. In implementing a "hug-a-day," agree to limit it to just that - a hug - an affectionate but non-sexual gesture designed to aid you to feel closer and more open with your partner.- Make a special occasion of an activity you and your partner now do together mechanically. Pick something you may be simply hurrying through - perhaps eating breakfast together or talking over the day's events. Then slow down. Try giving twice the time - or more - to that activity. Savor both the activity and having your partner there with you.
- Think about what you value in your partner. Picture yourself without this person. What did you leave unsaid? "Thanks"? "I'm sorry"? "I love you"? What would be missing in your life from now on? Your partner's smile? The good times? The company? Decide to let your partner know often the vital role he or she plays in your life.
- Be your partner's biggest fan. Talk to your partner about what you like, enjoy and admire in him or her. Be generous. Says one woman who has experienced this: "My husband has always been my best audience. Whether it's something I did at work that day, or a clever remark I made to someone at a party, or the way I dress, or a meal I've prepared - he seems to notice everything. And he lets me see his pride and delight. I feel like I'm standing in the most marvelous spotlight - his special way of being aware."
- Pick a day and agree that on that day all criticism is taboo and that you'll shower each other only with love, affection and appreciation. Talk later about what happened.
- Consider your partner's comfort as important to yourself as your own. Say things like, "Can I help you clean up, dear?" Or, "I want to cook for you tonight. Turnabout is fair play." Or, "Just stay seated. I'd like to get that for you." Observes a man: "I think that one of the most important things we look for in love is one person who will be truly devoted to our well-being. And that's what the other person naturally expects in return. Without that, what is love? What is marriage?"
- Set aside a time each day to be alone. Many couples enjoy walking and talking - a habit that, when followed each day, accomplishes both the goals of exercising and of having relaxed and uninterrupted time to communicate.
- "Re-romance" the relationship by surprising your partner with small gifts or gestures that you think will please. Revive some of the endearing behaviors characteristic of your early relationship.
- Express your love verbally. "Saying the words is a way of touching," says one woman. "Words can nurture feelings - can keep love strong and in the forefront of a relationship."
- Overlook your partner's flaws. "Keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half-shut afterwards," says one sage. Says another: "Often the difference between a successful marriage and a mediocre one consists of leaving about three or four things a day unsaid."
As you regard your partner's foibles, take a look at the big picture, says Linda Lee Small, author of the article, "Give Your Mate a Break." Ask yourself: How does your partner rate on overall performance? Says one woman, who's coming to terms with her husband's checking out on Sunday morning until he's finished the entire Sunday paper, including the crossword puzzle: "The question isn't so much much what he's like for two hours on Sunday morning, but what he's like the other six and a half days a week. He's basically a giving, loving, involved father and husband. I'm not about to have a fight and destroy the rest of the week because he's not `with' the family on Sunday morning."
- Celebrate your wedding anniversary in style. Judith Viorst, author of the article "Honor Thy Marriage (and Anniversary)," recommends that couples take their anniversaries seriously, because remaining married is a major accomplishment.
Viorst and Milton (her husband) make a ritual purchase each year for themselves as a couple. She says: "We decided early on that instead of buying separate gifts for one another, we'd give an anniversary gift to that entity - The Couple - that we are together. . . . All we have to do is walk through our house to recall the anniversary year associated with this or that special purchase, every one an homage to . . . staying married."