A while back I was talking with a married couple that was getting ready to finish up their couples therapy. They had been separated for quite some time and were essentially living as a divorced couple, co-parenting their children effectively, but not much interaction outside of their parenting efforts. After several months of therapy, moving back in together, enjoying date nights, and starting to have civil and even meaningful conversations even around difficult issues, we decided that it was about time to try things on their own.
As is typical toward the end of therapy, we talked about all of the wonderful changes that had happened in their marriage and all of the goals they had met by working together on being together. As I tell my graduate students all the time, there’s no magic elixir, no magic pill, no special word of advice or wisdom that will fix any relationship. It takes two people committed to doing the often difficult work of recommitting to put their partner first, just as they did months or years earlier.
During our happy discussion about all the exciting changes in their relationship I praised their hard work and tried like crazy to make sure that they took the credit for the positive changes they were seeing. I mentioned the “no magic elixir” bit, as I had many times before with them, and the wife mentioned something I’ll never forget.
“It just took weeks and weeks of little tweaks,” she said, not knowing just how brilliant it was at the time. Now this obviously simplifies the process substantially, but how true that statement is! Some couples will be able to mend things and reconnect faster than others, but relationships are still, at their core, about doing the little things. Sweeping gestures and grand gifts are nice, but it’s not about what have you done for me lately. It’s about what have you done with me, done for me, and shared with me every day, whether we got to see each other in person or not.
If you’re in a rough spot in your marriage, weeks and weeks of little tweaks are likely a big part of what you need to be doing. Fancy vacations together, calling sappy radio shows at night to dedicate a song, and other cheesy actions are great, but make sure they’re not a one-time deal. Make sure your lover knows you love them! Every day. In many ways. Do the little things.
If you’re on board for doing the little things and maybe are having a hard time deciding which tweaks need to be made, it might be time to ask someone who is trained to help you and your partner get back on track. If you happen to be in the Orange County area, feel free to give me a call to see if I might be able to help you and your partner out. But wherever you are, get in touch with someone who can help. You’re worth it, and your relationship is worth it.
Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.