When the man who vowed to be with you forever changes his mind, it’s a slap in the face, a punch in the gut and a knife to the heart, all at the same time.
I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on anybody.
If you’re asking yourself how you got here when you never thought you would, you’re not alone.
Even a common life change, such as having a baby, can wreak havoc on a marriage. What should be the happiest time of your life can be the hardest when you’re sleep deprived, stretched thin in every way imaginable, and your so-called partner isn’t coming through for you so you’re left doing the hardest job around, all on your own.
Whether you’re going through death by a thousand cuts or a sudden crisis, if you’re here looking for ways to rekindle your marriage, my hat is off to you. Many women get so discouraged they call it quits. That’s what I almost did too. Choosing the road less traveled takes commitment and guts. Especially if you’re feeling the excruciating pain of your husband cheating or leaving you.
But even if there’s a breakdown, around here we consider that a gift because, with the right skills, it can be the breakdown before the breakthrough so that your marriage not only lasts, it thrives.
What are those skills, you ask?
If you want to learn how to rekindle a marriage after a baby, infidelity or separation, how to be more sexually intimate with your husband, or how to bring back intimacy in a marriage, period, I describe the proven steps that I took–and now thousands of women have taken to do just that–in my book The Empowered Wife.
Here are five steps you can get started with today to revive your relationship, even if he’s not on board.
1) Be Curious about
The minute we start talking relationship, what naturally comes to mind is the person you’re in a relationship with.
How could you show him how much you care?
What could you do for him so he’ll feel loved?
How could you show more interest in him and what he cares about?
It’s natural to ask yourself those questions. The problem is–and I hope you’re sitting down right now–those questions are not attractive. At all.
In fact, they are repellant.
Harsh words, I know. Especially for such well-meaning, tender sentiments.
In school, we were all taught to keep our eyes on our own paper. But most of us were never taught to carry that lesson into our relationships. As a result, if you’re anything like I was, you’ve tried to be superwoman making sacrifices and doing everything you can to be the best wife ever yet he doesn’t appreciate it and wants to be around you less, not more.
My eyes are on my husband’s paper when I’m looking at things like: How is he feeling? What would he like for dinner? Or what is he thinking wearing that outfit?!
You can hear the common denominator he, he, he. What I know now that no one ever taught me is that he, he, he signals inappropriate control.
It’s also a big distraction from the really important question: What’s on your paper?
I bet your paper was rich and full when you met your man.
You had your own friends, your own interests. Your paper was clearly attractive because he chose you!
If, like women the world over, you’ve gotten so busy caring for others’ needs that your own paper has worn down to tatters, here’s the first assignment for your new manual.
Get out a fresh sheet of paper.
Figuratively and literally too. Go ahead, I’ll wait (you’ll need a pen too). Now write down ten desires. If any of them has the word “you” or “we” in it, cross it out.
So “More time with my husband” would be OUT, “Turtle watching in the Galapagos” IN.
“Family time” OUT, “Dinner at the new tapas bar” IN.
“Date night” OUT, “Girls night” IN.
You get the idea? If not, you’re not alone. It took me years to get it!
2) Explore a New Hobby
Time for a pop quiz. Is this desire in or out: Explore a new hobby together.
The correct answer is OUT.
The word “together” put it back on your husband’s paper. Control is sneaky like that!
Sure, you could try to drag him to a tango class or a tantra workshop. He might even go, obligingly.
If he does go out of duty, it probably won’t be much fun.
What could be fun is exploring your own new hobby. What if you learned salsa or took a cooking class… solo? What if you had so much fun that you were bubbling over with excitement by the time you got home? What if you felt so joyful that you were gushing with gratitude that your man took care of the kids so you could do your thing?
Talk about attractive.
It’s so attractive that he’ll probably start inviting you to do things. He might even invite you to a cooking class or a night out dancing. (Especially if you tried expressing some of your desires in a way that inspires.)
So part 2 of your manual is to make a new list, this one with ten self-care ideas that would make you happy.
If you wrote down cleaning your closet or getting that mountain of laundry folded, that would feel great after it’s done, but leave that off your list. We’re after things that would make you happy while you’re doing them.
Be sure to include something creative, something spiritual, and something social.
My list includes pampering myself with a facial, laughing to stand-up comedy, singing, lots of girl talk, and volleyball, of course. That is non-negotiable!
After making it a point to do at least three things on my self-care list every day for decades now, I’ve made a discovery…
Self-care is the single best beauty aid I know. My husband wants to be around me a lot more when I look happy and relaxed than he did when I went around looking exhausted and frazzled.
How dramatically would self-care increase your magnetism and thus intimacy? I can’t wait to find out!
3) Avoid Criticism during Conflict (Better Yet, Avoid Conflict)
Your two lists may overlap, but there is a difference: Women need self-care.
I don’t tell John “I would love to play volleyball.” I go all Nike and just do it. If I had kids, obviously I’d make sure they were taken care of before I walked out the door. But the point is that self-care is a need rather than a desire. It’s like oxygen for us as women.
And respect is to men as self-care is to women.
I’m probably preaching to the choir. Of course you’re a respectful wife, or you wouldn’t be here looking for ways to be an even better wife!
I thought I was a respectful wife too. Problem was, I had no idea what respect looks like for a man.
Most of the ways I was trying to be a good wife were actually disrespectful and sucking the oxygen right out of my marriage. Like doing things for him he could do for himself. Expecting him to mess things up. And trying to be helpful, which actually means “controlling” in husband language.
I was an expert at all those. A master of coming up with pros and cons, I had a retort for everything, especially for all the reasons his latest idea was a bad idea.
Turns out, Wikipedia Wife is not so sexy. As much as I still enjoy being right, being right all the time can get pretty lonely.
Since the stream of words flowing out of my mouth wasn’t doing much for me in the intimacy department, I decided to experiment with something completely foreign: applying duct tape. To my mouth (figuratively only this time).
What I discovered was counterintuitive but seems obvious now: The less I talked, the more he started opening up and wanting to share with me.
Finally, we were having the deep talks I’d always longed for!
Next time your man is thinking aloud about a new invention, a business venture, renovating the house someday or planning how to spend the lottery winnings he’s counting on, it’s like bait luring you to react. No matter how juicy the bait is to critique, be “helpful,” or just give him your two cents, is it worth the intimacy it costs?
That’s a question worth considering. So your next assignment is to jot down a few examples of bait you’ve gotten, how you responded and how it served you. Maybe he actually asked your advice about how to handle something at work. How did it serve you to take that bait?
Also write down how you’d like to respond next time. Maybe it’s just saying “I don’t know” or “That’s a great question!” or “Whatever you think” (unless it has to do with your desire).
Or just put a big ol’ piece of duct tape on this page of your manual for help next time you want to choose intimacy.
4) Make Time for Afternoon Delight
At this point, I’d be remiss if I didn’t disclose the fine print, as this article does come with a warning: Now that you’re a woman who knows what she wants, who’s got the best beauty aid on the planet AND a bottle of the best aphrodisiac for men, things could get spicy.
Granted, if your man has already been wanting sex every day, maybe your challenge is how to say “I can’t” so you don’t feel like a sex doll.
But if you’re like most of the women on our campus, myself included, who were getting busy with our sock drawers more often than with our men, I’m sure you’re beyond ready to switch things up.
Maybe you’ve tried to break the dry spell and pointed out to him how long it’s been. Notice how that old helpfulness or subtle criticism creeps in? Or maybe you said my old mantra, “We should have sex.”
Nothing like adding it to the to-do list to get him excited!
I bet you didn’t have to initiate sex in your honeymoon days. And that him pursuing you was more exciting for both of you. It feels good to be desired.
What if you relinquished control when it comes to the bedroom and let him initiate?
If you’re ready for this experiment, then part 4 of your manual is to write down a new mantra…
Receive, receive, receive.
It may not be on your schedule. Maybe you’re elbow deep in dishwater or busy writing a blog and his friskiness is bad timing. Or maybe he’s not initiating sex yet even though you’re making all these changes and he should be by now, gosh darn it! Either way, you could always practice receiving by saying yes anyway.
Wait, how do you say yes to physical intimacy he’s not offering?
Physical intimacy comes in many forms. Enjoying his hug or lingering for his kiss. Maybe he’s just jiggling his leg next to yours, which is annoying, but does it have to be? You might miss it if it weren’t there, so could that too be an opportunity to receive?
Even if he’s not chasing you around or showing any affection just yet, there are plenty of ways to stretch your receiving muscles. Simply saying “thank you” if he does the dishes, even if he loaded the dishwasher the wrong way (and not taking the bait to redo it).
Saying “Thank you” if the grocer offers to carry your bags to the car.
Saying “Thank you” if your girlfriend offers you a coffee, a compliment or an apology.
Notice a theme?
Your receiving muscles will look so sexy before long that you’ll not only be having sex–hallelujah!–but having better sex. (Whatever you do, just please do not schedule sex. That’s as unsexy as instituting date night, another common relationship tip that will destroy your marriage.)
5) Express Your Gratitude
If you’re feeling awkwardly quiet now that you’re not asking for sex and you’ve got your duct tape handy in general, it’s time for the most powerful skill of all: gratitude.
As Kristin Armstrong said, “When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.”
When I am feeling disappointed, hurt or resentful, those are great opportunities to choose gratitude. When I least feel like getting grateful is when I most need it.
It can take some discipline, but reaching for pen and paper to drop and do ten gratitudes shifts my heart like nothing else. In minutes, my man goes from hindrance to hero.
So this last assignment is to list ten things about your man that you feel grateful for.
Feel free to decorate this page with some ’80s sketches because you are about to experience a total eclipse of the heart!
To maximize the power of this skill, add to your list daily and tell your husband at least three things you’re grateful for about him every day.
It could be as simple as “Thank you for taking out the trash” or as heartfelt as adding “You make me feel so taken care of.”
It could be as small as “Thank you for letting the dog out” or as big as “I appreciate you being such a great provider for our family.”
Point is, you can’t go wrong with gratitude, a skill that does double duty: It shifts your perspective and also inspires your husband to want to do even more to make you happy. It’s a virtuous cycle.
If you’ve come this far, excellent work creating your marriage manual!
If your paper has some blanks, that’s okay. You can always go back and keep filling it in. After all, no one taught this stuff in school, so it does take some stretching to try something new.
So, now that you have your own manual, what’s one new thing you’ll do today to revive your relationship?