Let’s face it: “For richer or for poorer, in sickness and in heath, as long as we both shall live,” is much easier said than done. Just ask the 40 to 50 percent of married couples that end up getting divorced in the United States. So we’re seeking the advice of our favorite Belgian psychotherapist, Esther Perel, the host of the seriously addictive Where Should We Begin? podcast and author of the books Mating in Captivity and The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity. Presenting five Esther-approved ways to strengthen your marriage.
1. Don’t Rely on Your Partner for Everything
Your husband is your favorite person in the world to hang out with, period. Plus, he’s reliable (who else would rub your feet for an hour while you eat your favorite ice cream—which he picked up at the store?). But Esther Perel suggests you tread this path carefully. In fact, relying on your one-and-only too much can set your relationship up for unnecessary pressure it may not be able to withstand. “Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning and continuity,” Perel says in her book, Mating in Captivity. “At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?” Continue to maintain an identity outside of your partner, spending time with your friends and family separately. If you want to see Booksmart and your husband is iffy, go with your friends from work. “Allow yourself to feel more deeply the otherness of your partner,” Perel writes. “You never really possess each other. You just think you do.” Whoa, deep.
2. Shake Things Up Whenever You Can (Especially in Bed)
Anyone who’s been married for more than a few years can tell you: It’s extremely tough to maintain that exciting initial spark once you start to get comfortable in a relationship. And Perel theorizes that it’s all about the conflict between love and desire. “Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery,” she writes in Mating in Captivity. “If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, eroticism is numbed by repetition. It thrives on the mysterious, the novel and the unexpected. Love is about having; desire is about wanting. An expression of longing, desire requires ongoing elusiveness. It is less concerned with where it has already been than passionate about where it can still go. But too often, as couples settle into the comforts of love, they cease to fan the flame of desire. They forget that fire needs air.” So do something completely spontaneous. Surprise your wife by recreating the sexual fantasy she mentioned when you first started dating. Buy a sexy new pair of underwear. Try a new sex position. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s brand new.
3. Apologize First
When you’re in it for the long haul, even the best relationship will have its fair share of up-all-night fights, screaming matches and disagreements. The most important thing, according to Perel? That you don’t wait for the other person to say “I’m sorry,” no matter whose fault it was. “To apologize—there is nothing weak about it,” Perel writes. “Whoever apologizes first is always the stronger one.”
4. If Your Definition of ‘Love’ Evolves, Don’t Panic
When you love someone, you always agree with them and adore everything about them, right? Nope. Perel maintains that love is much more complicated than that. "It's a verb,” Perel tells The New Yorker. “That's the first thing. It's an active engagement with all kinds of feelings—positive ones and primitive ones and loathsome ones. But it's a very active verb. And it's often surprising how it can kind of ebb and flow. It's like the moon. We think it's disappeared, and suddenly it shows up again. It's not a permanent state of enthusiasm.” Your love for your partner will probably feel completely different after month four of marriage than it does after year 12. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
5. Stop Comparing Your Relationship to Everyone Else’s
Your old friend from college just got married and her wedding looked perfect (on Instagram) and she seems so happy (on Facebook). Meanwhile, you’re behind on bills and your toddler won’t stop screaming and your husband has been playing Fortnite for the last three hours. Ugh. The best way to reboot your relationship? Get off your phone. “If all else fails, get off social media for a few days...or weeks,” Esther tells Cosmopolitan. “The time away will help you realize that striving to be someone else is a frustrating experience. Instead, focus on being the very best version of you and staying grounded in the here and now of your own life." Easier said than done, Esther, but challenge accepted.