Re-ignite That Spark!

The longer you're married, the easier it is to stop making an effort, trading comfort and complacency for effort and excitement. It seems a natural progression, to stop standing on ceremony and ease up, when next to each other. And then you have children, and "naturally" go from being lovers and partners to parents and roommates.

Responsibility becomes your mantra, and thinking wistfully about yourselves as a couple, the intimacy you shared, seems like self-indulgence. Isn't it natural for relationships to change over time? Isn't it selfish to crave what you had years ago instead of being satisfied with what you have now? The answer is no.

Make That Effort
A strong, bonded family cannot come from a distant, distracted marriage. If your husband and you don't value each other as partners, you're not going to make great parents. Putting the sizzle back into your lives as a couple - in the bedroom and outside it - isn't selfish. It's central to your happiness, as individuals and as a family. It may seem odd that what used to come so naturally to you as a couple when you first got together, seems to require thinking and planning now, and that's one reason most of us shy away from it.

After all, isn't intimacy meant to be spontaneous? Doesn't contrivance take the charm away to an extent? Again, the answer is no. Think back to when you last hosted a formal dinner party. You planned a menu, probably made a shopping list, spent time on styling the table and creating an atmosphere, maybe selected music and put thoughtful little touches into making it special.

Did the effort not build anticipation? Did compliments not spur you on to try new things? Did planning take away the charm of your occasion or heighten it? When a simple dinner party can demand so much from you to be successful, what makes you think your marriage - a dynamic, powerful, fundamental entity - deserves any less? This February, work on bringing the zing back into your lives as a couple, starting with our time-and-experttested tips right here.

Next page >> Acknowledge the Role of Sex

Acknowledge the Role of Sex
At its most basic, it's a fundamental human need. But sex is so much more. It's bonding and intimacy, familiarity and excitement - all at once. Yet, over time, most marriages see sex succumb to the most mundane of pressures; too much exhaustion and stress, too little time and privacy. Finding solutions to these is challenging, no doubt, but it's not impossible; what it requires is for you to acknowledge that it needs to be done.

Says Michele Weiner Davis, author of The Sex-Starved Marriage, sex is more than a physical need. 'It's about feeling wanted, it's about feeling connected and feeling loved,' she says. And almost unfailingly, waning intimacy in the bedroom is accompanied by other, more fundamental shifts in the relationship outside it. 'What tends to happen is that intimacy on all levels drops out. Couples stop laughing at each other's jokes; they don't sit next to each other on the couch. They stop being friends and it puts marriages at risk for infidelity and divorce,' she adds.

It doesn't happen overnight - and it doesn't always have to lead to disaster - but there's no doubt that at the core of a strong relationship is a secure, mutually satisfying sex life.

BONUS: Teaching Your Children To Love
If, like most Indian households, you tend to be awkward about displaying your emotions for your partner around your children, you may be doing them an active dis-service. Nothing gives children a greater sense of security than seeing loving parents who demonstrate their affection for each other, whether it is through touch, or more verbal; it's a healthy and easy way to introduce them to the world of sexuality and physical expression.

Don't Underestimate Visual Cues
Again, think back to the dinner party analogy, where you make an effort to set seductive visual cues for your guests. Music, candles, flowers, stylish dinnerware, creative menus - you tap into all the senses, from scent to sight, to create a memorable evening. Why should things be any different in your personal space? Is your bedroom a fussy, functional space?

Do you wear shapeless, unflattering nightwear to bed? Add a few special touches to your routine - flowers, a scented candle lit in your bath, a diffuser with essential oils in your bedroom, bed linen that's soft and sensual to the touch, a throw whose texture invites touch.

Update your sleep wardrobe the way you would your work or occasion-wear - start by buying a night-dress in a different material; a simple switch from cotton to satin can work wonders. Once you're comfortable with the change, try a bolder colour than your usual.

Go with deep, solid colours instead of more pretty prints; try red if you dare, or even plain black if you want. Don't announce the changes - let your husband subtly and softly notice the difference, both in setting and in your style. Even the most notoriously vague partner is bound to notice a succession of small but effective changes.

Next page >> "Date" Your Husband

Establish a Routine
Is everything you do as a couple together purely functional or involving other couples? It's time to set aside some "we" time that doesn't involve parents, children or friends. (No, none at all!) It could be as simple as sitting down for breakfast or even a cup of tea together each morning before work (resist the urge to multitask by using this time to pack lunch or issue instructions to the maid); it could be an evening ritual of a glass of wine before dinner (ask your children to give the two of you 20 minutes alone before they join you; or get the help to keep them engaged in studies or play); it could be the hug you give him each time either of you head out of the house or the afterdinner walk you take nightly.

Develop your own rituals, basis the constraints and circumstances of your home, but make half an hour of undivided couple time non-negotiable in planning your day. Your relationship will reap rich benefits from it.

"Date" Your Husband
You manage your children's homework schedule, keep track of a hundred logistics that go into the smooth running of a home - no matter what your privacy or time constraints. So, it can't be impossible for you to make time for your husband and you to be together, once in a while. You'll need to talk to him about this one if it is to be effective.

Don't hesitate, because if you're feeling the lack of intimacy, chances are so is he. Set aside one afternoon or night every fortnight (Saturday afternoons are a good bet if both of you have the day off) for the two of you to do something together without including friends or family. It could be a movie, a meal or even taking a book each to a cafe and reading over coffee. You don't even need to go out all the time - a weekly Scrabble date while your children are out will do just fine too! The only rule is that no-one else be involved.

Ask a friend to baby-sit if you have childcare issues (you can do the same for her); or plan a fun activity for your children and drop them off before both of you head out for your "date". Make some ground rules - no talking shop, or about home and family issues. You'll find it surprisingly hard at first but over time, you'll be rewarded as you dig deeper beneath the mundane issues of everyday existence to talk about interests that possibly drew you to each other in the first place.

Loosen Up
What triggers passion? Intimacy, playfulness, joy. Get a little bit of all three into your relationship by bringing some banter into your equation. Tease your husband in a playful way, have fun together doing lighthearted things instead of constantly trying to be responsible, focused adults. Consciously aim to show him a lighter, more fun side of you rather than only the conscientious mother, daughter-in-law, or wife that you are; encourage him to loosen up too.

Unless you both ease up on yourself and stop trying to live up to impossible standards of perfection in every role, you will never be able to truly relax. Would you rather have a sparkling home and a bland relationship than the other way around? Keeping dozens of balls up in the air is impossible over a period of time - let a few drop, as long as it's not your relationship that's falling to the floor!

Take Help
If things are not getting "sparky" even with all your effort, consider talking to an expert - you make the first move if you can't persuade your partner. But talk to him about it, try and draw him into going with you the next time you visit the therapist. Explains Dr Vandana Tara*, 'Emotionally most couples tend to go through this dry phase where they feel disinterested.

Couple therapy has worked wonders in the past and you shouldn't shy away from it.' Make sure you follow through with medication if required. It's not addictive and will not mess with your head or insides. The danger is that most couples tend to give up after a few sessions and almost all do not follow through with the advice that's given. So take care to sustain the treatment. It's a small price to pay for a happy lifetime of togetherness.

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