The spice seems to dwindle for many couples that have been married for a long time. However the good news is any couple can put the spice back into their marriage. To help understand why after many years of marriage the excitement in marriage seems to disappear and how a couple can spice up their marriage, I have interviewed intern therapist Peter Sholley.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a Marriage and Family Therapist intern working with adults and children in private practice in San Francisco. I studied at the California Institute of Integral Studies, earning an MA in Counseling Psychology with a concentration in somatics, or body-centered psychology. In my practice, I use body and breath awareness to bring a client to the present moment and make room around difficult emotions or obstacles.”
Why is it that after many years of marriage the excitement in the relationship disappears?
“The answer to this is very individually dependent, of course. One of the first broad notions off the top: we are, to varying degrees, stimulus-seeking. We often crave the new (which might be a new kitchen appliance, a new outfit, or a new love). We are social creatures, too, and that brings us to relating, dating, and mating in the first place. But time wears on, and novelty wears off. We might seek new connections outside ourselves. Sometimes this happens because we aren’t necessarily seeking connections within ourselves: to patterns, to possibilities, to others.”
“As people, we are growing from conception through death. Think of a tree’s roots. If its roots can’t grow, it cannot thrive, and will eventually sicken. Without the direct experience of established connectedness and newly established connectedness, we have a very hard time growing.”
“So, we might feel the excitement of a relationship wilting if that relationship is failing to send out new roots.”
“Fortunately, a solid and mature relationship can nurture growth. We grow ourselves in connection with another. And as we grow, new things become possible in relationship. Intimacy deepens as growth broadens. The roots reach out to feed the growth of the tree, which in turn feeds the growth of the roots.”
“Lastly, excitement in a relationship can dwindle or disappear because we forget that it is an act of will that grows intimacy. In the beginning the will to be close to each other churns as we are in the throes of early love… But as a relationship matures, we have to choose to reconnect and to sometimes churn that engine ourselves. To turn the ignition on and take the relationship for a spin someplace new, as it were: that is the conscious act of connection that brings a couple back to their relationship, their belonging together, and back to their shared adventure.”
“An illustration: Imagine the tree of your relationship. Take a moment to see it clearly in your mind, closing your eyes for, say, half a minute. Can you see the roots? Do they show above the surface? Can you feel their texture? How far down to they go? How about the branches? The foliage? Leaves? Needles? Is it an evergreen? Is it deciduous? Can you tell if the roots could use more water, air or light? What would serve the tree best right now?”
“Take some time to see it through each of the seasons. Notice what you are feeling in each season, and, if possible, where in you that feeling starts.”
“Now slowly, in your own time, return to this moment. If you want, write down your impressions. Perhaps your partner will want to try the same exercise, and you can talk about your different trees.”
What type of impact can that lack of excitement and spice have on the marriage?
“The biggest impact might be adultery, and what goes along with it: deceit and rupture of trust. The other impacts may or may not include: boredom, feelings of staleness, resentment, antsiness. And when we are experiencing these feelings, we are probably not at our best with our intimate partner. Feeling underserved/under loved, we might regress to immature or destructive behavior out of childhood or younger adulthood. We lose that sense of connection, and selfishness determines our actions.”
“Another impact, put simply, is that the lack of excitement is deadening. There isn’t as much blood pumping to the tissues. We don’t feel alive.”
How can a couple add or maintain the spice in their marriage?
“The good news is there’s a lot a couple can do to spice things up, to get the blood pumping and nutrients to the roots of relationship. Talk about desires. Hug often. Body contact is key, and new research indicates that a sustained hug (20 seconds or so) releases oxytocin in our brains, which is the feel-good chemical first transmitted to us through mother’s milk, centering us in being and belonging. One way to do this without looking at a stop watch is to take some of the best advice for couples I ever read: Hug until you relax. (Hats off to David Schnarch, A Passionate Marriage)”
“Play! Games nights, bridge or canasta or midnight bocce ball. Marbles. Monopoly. Twister. Doctor. Oops, I mean Operation. Or perhaps I mean Doctor. I am brainstorming here. So should everyone.”
“Have a check-in. Tell each other what’s going on. Update each other on your hopes and dreams. (“just ’cause I married ya don’t make me a mind-reader!”)
Brainstorm together. (It bears repeating). Vacation ideas. Colors. Dinner.
Break old patterns.
Surprise!! We can delightfully surprise ourselves and each other, but as with breaking old patterns, it takes initiative.
Intimately related to surprise is romance… (Romance: initiative, surprise, and its own special fire.) Now, we might want to brainstorm about what constitutes romance at some point so we know we’re on the same page.
Create: make something side by side. Could be a meal, a model ship, jewelry, etc.
Write each other every once in a while, even if you are sleeping in the same bed. And no, texts and e-mails don’t count.
Imagine meeting the other for the first time right now. Imagine wooing the person all over again, right now. Start from scratch. First date, people.
Be in each other’s story.”
“Don’t give up, give over.
Look in each other’s eyes.
Lastly, work on renewing trust if it’s broken, get excited if you are bored, and reach out with those roots.”
What type of professional help is available for a couple that is having a challenging time spicing up their marriage?
“Couples therapy. Even just a single consultation session with a couple’s therapist can help clear some things up and can give couples strategies like the ones I list above, but really tailor them to the individuals and the couple together. Part of the navigation of being a couple’s therapist is finding the suggestions that will work for both people. Now, there are many different modalities/ways of working and many ways for couples. And finding the right person and the right way of working can be a bit like blind dating. (Back to dating and relating…)”
“There’s also a lot of great professional advice that has been written down. I mentioned one book resource here, and there are, of course, many others… The local library is a great place to start; save the money for dinner out. One thing to bear in mind with books: it’s sometimes really helpful to read them aloud together and to talk about the ideas and suggestions.”
Thank you Peter for doing the interview on how a couple can spice up their marriage. For more information on Peter Sholley or his work you can email him at [email protected] Websites:sfpsych.com and sholleysomatics.com.
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