We spoke to Janet McCredie, an Ottawa-based relationship and divorce recovery coach, who has some sage advice on the small things you can do to make instant positive impacts on your own -- and your partner's -- happiness.
1. Shake up monotonous mealtimes
Are you able to tell what day of the week it is by the meal that you're eating? Get inspired with a foodie challenge. The Internet has a vast array of websites with simple delicious recipes, so take advantage by staging a competition with your spouse.
Choose alternating nights when you and your spouse will each plan and execute a new meal, while the other gets to play "Top Chef" judge. Focus on the positives of your spouse's cooking efforts -- less chef Ramsay and more Jamie Oliver. "The first thing is to appreciate," advises McCredie. "When a partner's efforts are not appreciated, they start thinking ‘Why should I even bother?'"
Alternatively, if you prefer co-operation instead of competition, dedicate a weekend day together to researching, shopping and whipping up a few new main dish recipes to make and freeze for the coming weeks. Then you'll get to decide on a whim which delicious made-ahead meal to defrost. This will lend an enjoyable shake-up to the usual routine and leave you more free time in the weeknight evenings to pursue more relaxing activities.
2. Don't be bored in bed
The demands of a 40-(plus!)-hour workweek on top of family obligations can be exhausting. Just as we choose the express lanes to get to and from the office, and implement time-saving strategies for ploughing through our work inboxes, it's only human nature that we also fall back on the most familiar routes to the finish line in the boudoir.
Page 1 of 3 -- Find continued advice on how to shake things up in the bedroom, plus other relationship upgrade tips, on page 2
To improve your sex life, there has to be a balance between the old familiar positions-by-numbers and a bedroom performance that rivals the Cirque de Soleil.
One easy fix is a weekly "show and tell" session. Choose one night a week that suits both of your schedules. On alternating weeks, each person introduces a new position that they would like to try. If the new move is a hit with both parties, it gets added to the repertoire and incorporated into the routine for the following week.
"It's not so much the boredom of the routine that is detrimental to the relationship," says McCredie. "It's the failure to notice the efforts being made." This easy fix ensures that the effort is equally balanced and that both partners benefit mutually from the endeavour.
3. Avoid the "yap and yawn"
Too often the questions we ask when we reconvene in the evening are so repetitive they become almost rhetorical. He asks, "How was your day?" and is immediately distracted by an incoming BlackBerry message. You respond with a stilted "Fine" while stewing internally over your awful commute home battling stop-and-go traffic.
"Technology makes it so easy to tune out. But everyone needs some form of positive, exciting attention," explains McCredie. "So as soon as one partner ups the positive attention, they instantly get a positive reaction."
Try these small, easy adjustments: Put away your phone before you cross the threshold of your home, and attempt to go "screen-free" for the first 10 minutes after you enter. No BlackBerry, no TVs, no laptops. Ask your partner how his day was, and make eye contact the whole time he's speaking. This encouragement will prompt him to respond in a more meaningful way, and the connection in your relationship will be immediately strengthened.
Practise this consistently and you will find that the little nit-picky arguments will dissolve because they often spring from someone feeling ignored. Confirms McCredie: "If the friendship breaks down, the relationship breaks down."
Page 2 of 3 -- Put a little excitement back into your shared vacation time with advice on choosing a trip to remember on page 3
4. Skip the routine vacation
If you're experiencing trip tedium with that yearly visit you and your partner make to the same all-inclusive resort, the same campground or the same time-share, first ask yourself why. Is it the people you travel with? Is it the location? Is it the time of year?
Be specific about your issues and bring it up to your partner in a non-confrontational way. Rather than "I hate Florida!" try asking your spouse: "What is it about Florida that is important to you?" Perhaps your partner thought that you really enjoyed the ritual, but would be open to a new adventure.
"One of the things I advise is to play ‘Remember when?'" says McCredie. "Share a laugh over things you've done that you both enjoyed. This lightens the mood and keeps the discussion positive." The Internet makes finding travel inspiration simple: Subscribe to a website like tripadvisor.ca to receive periodic email lists of "Top 10s" and highly rated destinations.
To add an interesting tourist twist, check out "voluntourism" opportunities, which are organized trips that include an element of volunteering for a charitable cause along with the experience of a new country or region.
So the next time you find yourself bored by the same old, same old in any of these aspects of your own relationship, don't be afraid to suggest something different. There is always room in any healthy relationship for positive change.
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