Pete and Debbie used to be a model couple—but these days, they’re having trouble maintaining that status. Debbie is caught up in a theft at her boutique, while Pete struggles to keep his new record label afloat. Meanwhile, their two daughters argue nonstop, further tampering with the family’s breaking point. And as if their lives weren’t stressful enough, Debbie is shocked to find out that she’s pregnant just days before her most-despised 40th birthday.
The chaos that is their life proves to drive a wedge between Pete and Debbie. And while they may be fictional characters from This Is 40, they demonstrate the very real difficulties of marriage and life as a whole: rarely do they talk about anything other than their bills and their kids, but when they do give love and affection a go, it always turns into an outright argument. Fortunately, the couple learns to prioritize and communicate their love for each other—but it’s not always that easy. Sometimes it takes professional intervention: Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship therapist, is here to share advice with couples hoping to reconnect, to rekindle that spark that brought them together. Here are her four tips:
1) Act like a long-distance couple.
This tip likely comes as a surprise, but Dr. Walfish says all couples may benefit from a long-distance couple’s mindset: “Surprising the heck out of pretty much everyone, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ has been scientifically proven to be true—but not for the reason our grandmas may have believed. According to a recent study, all that time long-distance couples spend texting, video chatting, and emailing really does help them forge a stronger connection. Partners who live in the same place could learn a thing or two, in fact: long-distance couples try harder than geographically close couples in communicating affection and intimacy, and their efforts do pay back, says Crystal Jiang, Ph.D., coauthor of a 2013 study, which appeared in the Journal of Communication. People in long-distance relationships often have stronger bonds from more constant and deeper communication than normal relationships.”
2) Keep in touch, but don’t go overboard.
It’s easy to overwhelm or agitate your partner with constant texts or calls while they’re at work or the gym. Instead, Dr. Walfish says you should simply send them a couple meaningful messages throughout the day. “Love notes can perk us up when the daily grind wears us down. One short and sweet text or email per day can make your lover’s heart pitter-patter—without causing his or her head to spin from electronic overload,” she explains. “Be sure to include an intimate and heartfelt detail in your notes as a key way to boost your bond. For example: thanks for bringing me my coffee in bed this morning. I loved that—and I love you.”
3) Really talk to each other.
“It’s easy to get stuck on conversational autopilot and spend too much time on the necessary, but mundane details of everyday life,” says Dr. Walfish. But it is important the conversation goes far beyond the mundane: “Local couples’ communication is more likely to be related to daily routine, such as planning dinners. They are less motivated to adapt their communication to focus on intimacy. So, try lifting things to a higher level. While cooking with your partner, share the funny-sad story behind your deathly fear of peas; tell each other your childhood pet stories while walking the dog. Begin to see each conversation as an opportunity for connection, from your heart to your partner’s.”
4) Build on your effective communication knowledge.
Effective communication is the key to healthy and happy relationships, and there’s always more to learn, as explained by Dr. Walfish: “Learning communication techniques such as Imago Relationship Therapy (which focuses on becoming empathetic about your partner’s childhood wounds) or Nonviolent Communication (which emphasizes deep listening) can help you clear old emotional blockages and access more meaningful ways of connecting with your partner. With just a little know-how and an upgraded approach, you’ll soon notice the warm fuzzies of a deeper love connection. I think the spirit here is to stay positive about your partner, tell your partner about your needs and concerns, and encourage yourself and your partner to be responsive to each other’s needs.”