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A marriage counselor's 6-week plan to finding your spark again

Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, is a clinical therapist, and the author of three books, among them, Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and The Complete Marriage Counsler. She gives love advice on programs including Today and HuffPost Live, conduct...

A six-week attack plan to infuse romance back into your relationship

New Year’s is resolution-making time, and what better pledge to make than to revive your moribund relationship?

The love, respect and honor parts of the relationship are intact; you even still like one another. But the spark, the feeling of union, is sputtering. The national Hallmark Holiday (aka Valentine's Day) may feel like just another day.

But this six-week plan is designed to help the two of you reconnect in a more vibrant way. It is not a substitute for therapy nor is it meant for couples with a dysfunctional dynamic.

Guidelines to follow during these six weeks include having daily 10-minute check-ins on the given topic for each week. The purpose is having together time. You might share a joke, kiss, look at pictures of your wedding, gaze at the sunset… It doesn’t matter what you do but that your focus is on one another.

Week one: Time travel

Devote this week to reminiscing about the circumstances that brought you together, the qualities you glimpsed in one another that persuaded you this was something special. Share favorite memories from your courtship. Look through photo albums, revisit places that represented key moments in your love story, recreate a particularly special memory.

Week two: Walk a mile in one another’s shoes

Perhaps the most important task of this six-week experience is to develop true empathy for one another’s feelings. Both of you write a letter imagining you are your spouse and what it feels like to be married to you. For example, Jane writes as Lenny: “I have to listen to Jane constantly criticize me for not doing my share of the chores. She calls me ‘lazy’ and ‘selfish’ which makes me feel like a terrible partner.” Sharing your letters will be revelatory. Once you realize how your partner feels, it becomes easier to be more sensitive.

Week three: Talk softly and carry a big stick

Instead of assuming you know what your partner is saying about a divisive issue, really listen. The person who holds the stick (or whatever object the two of you designate for this purpose) is the one who has the floor to talk. The listener cannot interrupt! When the speaker finishes the listener mirrors back what was heard: “So when such and such happens you feel A, B and C.” The speaker corrects, “I said A, but not B or C. It was this.” The couple goes back and forth until the speaker feels understood. Important point: The listener needn’t agree with the speaker’s feelings, but needs to accept them. The stick then changes hands and you reverse speaker and listener roles.

This exercise should be incorporated as an ongoing technique. Once a couple truly hears one another, areas of deadlock can move to problem solving.

Week four: Go on an adventure

In week one we delved into memories of relationship past. This week we look toward the present and future. The assignment is to embark on an activity together — be it ballroom dance classes, cooking a meal, climbing a mountain or attending a reading by a favorite author. This is another exercise to keep repeating as studies prove that couples that do things together are happier.

Week five: Sex it up

The challenge this week is for each of you to plan a sexual surprise for the other. It can be a fantasy you’ve always wanted to share but not quite had the nerve to voice, bringing a sex toy into the mix…

Obviously those are just suggestions. This week’s focus on the boudoir (not that love making needs to be limited to the boudoir!) is to remind you to keep sex a major focus of your lives together.

Week six: Considerately ever after

We make the effort to do kind things for our spouse on special occasions: his or her birthday, your wedding anniversary and of course the holiday this six-week plan is geared toward.

However, the purpose of this last exercise is to remind each of you to continually do sweet things for your spouse — be it delivering a bedside cup of coffee, sucking it up and going to the movie your partner wants to see and/or giving a ‘you’ll do great, rah rah’ speech before your other half’s important meeting. Kindness is a vital quality for married couples to share this week and every other.

And finally...

Lastly, make a fabulous plan for Valentine’s Day and celebrate your revitalized love!

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