Marriage Makeover

We recently celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary. While that may not have meant much fifty years ago, it is a milestone by todayís matrimonial longevity standards. More impressive is that at dinner that night, we were asked if we were newlyweds.

But what is most noteworthy, is that while we never heard that question when we were newlyweds, it is one we are asked repeatedly, over a decade into our marriage.

Thirteen years after meeting one another, and eleven years after promising to put up with each otherís moods, mania and morning breath, it is both terribly flattering and intensely satisfying to be mistaken for two people who are just starting out in the "Love Stakes." Is it by virtue of magic?, a fairytale?, simple kismet? No, no and no.

While there is certainly no discounting the importance of compatibility, it takes much more than having the same favorite color for a marriage to stay truly alive and vital. Unfortunately, too many people have bought into the "hearts & flowers" version of married life and parenthood, and they are wholly unprepared for what actually happens. Think about it. You say "I do", embark on a wonderful life together, and then somewhere along the way, something comes between you. Something that, while beautiful and miraculous, is equally stressful and potentially destructive: children. How is it that something you both wanted can wreak such havoc?

No longer the center of each otherís world, you find all your energies focused on caring for a helpless infant. Any free time you may have is still spent in bed ó but asleep. You stop communicating, rifts develop, feelings are hurt and ignored. And often, just as you may see some light at the end of the tunnel, another rabbit dies, and you begin the cycle all over again. Suddenly you realize that while you still love your spouse, you no longer feel in love. This is all too common and also when too many people give up. I know from where I speak, for it is a road Rudy and I traveled, a road that eventually led us to what we considered our last resort: a marriage counselor.

Long story short, the counselor experience was far less beneficial than we had hoped and we quickly realized that the only answers to our problems lie within us. If it was going to change, we had to change it. So to be mistaken for newlyweds these days is the miracle. And I am here to give you the inside scoop to performing this makeover in your own marriages.

Be warned: Those of you familiar with my writing know that I tend to be pretty straightforward. This time, how about "blunt as a spoon"? And these all apply to BOTH husband & wife unless otherwise indicated.

Open Your Mouth: Talk. Not about the kids, work, or the thirty dirty diapers you changed. Talk about your marriage, each other. You will be very surprised to find out that your mate has almost identical fears and concerns for the marriage and what is missing as do you. You both want to feel special, appreciated, needed, attractive. The first step is saying what you need out loud and committing to making it better. And remember, no one respects a doormat, which is why we wipe our feet on them.

Helping Hands: Listen up, because this is a HUGE issue. If your wife/husband stays home with the children, that does not mean she/he is the family servant. Clean up without being asked. Offer to bathe the children. Help with homework, housework, PTA, laundry, whatever you see that needs done. Your paycheck does not acquit you from household duties. Besides, if you had to pay someone to do all the things the stay at home partner does, I guarantee you your paycheck wouldnít be big enough. If this one rule were followed, a ton of resentment would crumble in a puff of appreciation.

The Dating Game: Men, I guarantee you that your wife desperately needs to be romanced. That does not mean sex. Sex is not a cure-all, and not even a very good band-aid. Romancing means doing the things you did when you dated. Give her a card, call her in the middle of the day to say I love you, woo her, care, be interested. Women, the same goes for you. Regardless of any machismo he may front, he needs to be complimented, noticed, wanted. Do this religiously and sex will follow.

Face The Mirror: Are you happy with what you see? This is a very blunt statement, but if you donít pay attention to how you look, why should anyone else, including your spouse? Women, having given birth is not an license for "giving up". And before you start with the excuses about time, kids, money -- I have THREE children. I do not have a maid or nanny, I am not filthy rich. I do not belong to a health club. BUT, I also know it is not impossible to stay in shape. It is not impossible to care about what you look like. It is not impossible to Chew LESS and Move MORE. Men, the same goes for you. There are way too many husbands who think they are entitled to a wife who looks like a centerfold, but they fail to notice the "folds" around their own "center". What was she first attracted to? Your eyes? Your hair? Your physique? Your manners? I guarantee it was not your beer belly or talent for belching the theme song to Jeopardy! Bottom line? Yes, what is on your inside is terribly important, but you were attracted to each other in the beginning by what you saw. Make an effort for yourself and each other.

Touch Each Other: Somehow it is the tiny things like this that make a measurable difference in how you feel toward each other. Time after time, studies have shown that newborns who are touched and loved, thrive. That doesnít change when you stop wearing diapers and start changing them. So, hold hands in the mall. Kiss each other in the grocery store. Reach out and touch the other one just because. It helps you stay connected, brings back the element of romance, and sets a great example for your kids.

Banish The Children: Speaking of the little ones, this is perhaps the most important change that you must make. Children as young as two and three can be taught that Mommy/Daddy time is just as important as Mommy/Daddy/Child time. This is not cruel, this is essential. They will grow up respecting your needs and nurtured by the fact that their parents are obviously in love.

The Wow Factor: Stop taking your partner for granted. Remind yourself everyday that this person is unique, and that despite his underwear on the doorknob or the mascara goop in the corner of her eye, you are damned lucky to be with him/her. And maintain your personal "Wow" factor. Nothing is more attractive than someone who is interesting, involved and engaged in life.

Intimacy 101: Such a contradiction. You can make a baby, share in the visual drama that is childbirth, but you cannot talk in the bedroom. Men: Forget any menís magazine stories youíve ever read and any "movie" you may have seen at a bachelor party. Females are far more complex than that. Face it, you had to learn to walk, read, drive a car. You have to learn about your partner too. Women: At no point in his life is a male handed an instruction manual on how the female body "works." Therefore, it is entirely possible that a man can die completely ignorant in that respect. You have to communicate. To both: You want to share. You want to make each other happy, and this is the one person you vowed to trust more than anyone in the world. Ask and ye shall receive.

Say I Love You: Say it out loud, say it often, write it down, scribble it in lipstick, smear it in shaving cream, stick a post-it on the windshield, sneak a lovenote into a briefcase, send an email. A person cannot be reminded too often that they are loved. And the same applies to your children.

So, youíve read everything to this point and you are now wondering if it could be possible. Can you rediscover your marriage, fall back in love? In a single word: YES. In many words: It wonít be easy, but the best things in life never are. It will be scary, but the upside is worth the risk. It will require commitment, but you made that promise the day you got married - just dust it off. Give it your all, give it all a try, and by your next anniversary dinner, those "newlyweds" just may be you.

Hmmmm, I wonder if we could register for gifts again?