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Marital Flu Shots

The flu is on its way.

I don’t just mean the seasonal flu virus, the one that billboards and news reports are encouraging you to inoculate your kids against. I’m talking about the flu that many marriages and partnerships come down with at this time of year. The one where all your energy gets tied up in helping the kids back to school, leaving nothing left for the person who balances the other side of the family seesaw.

In my counseling office, where I work with both individual parents and couples, the stress of this annual transition is on full display right now. Symptoms of this partnership flu may be irritability, isolation, or full blown lack of intimacy. But there is something simple you can do to vaccinate your marriage against coming down with this illness. It’s also quick, free, and even fun to do.

Inoculate your partnership with 30 seconds a day of simple, spoken gratitude. Here's the protocol:

  • Take 30 seconds to look into your partner’s eyes
  • Touch in some way
  • Say, "Something I love about you is…” 
  • Make sure to say "Thank you” and “You’re welcome.” 
  • Then switch

That’s it. That’s all it takes to remind the other person that you are still in connection, and that you value the shared life you are building – even if you don’t have time/energy for some grand dramatic gesture. This exchange builds positive energy between you both, and that positive energy has a direct impact on your ability to get through the interminable fundraiser meetings, sports practices, and other back-to-school events currently dominating your free time.

We therapists assign “Date Nights” and “Appointment Sex” because these exercises can guarantee that a couple reconnects in between counseling appointments. But the main aim of that effort is to get the couple to the point of recognizing their partnership and expressing gratitude for it. With little effort on your part, you can get to this point with just 30 seconds a day of appreciations – before your marriage comes down with any sort of virus.

This is not to say that offering thanksgivings is a cure-all if your relationship is already suffering due to something like long-term resentment or infidelity. While intentional gratitude can help rebuild the connection even in those circumstances, making a practice of offering them during times of wellness is more of a prophylactic measure.

In Imago Relationship therapy we call this process “giving appreciations.” I start and end every couples session this way because if we don’t magnify the positive thoughts between two people, it’s nearly impossible to find the energy to work through the negative stuff that is an unavoidable part of living with another person.

For those doing it at home, those honest, loving, gentle 30 seconds are the 30 seconds that the whole date night is scheming for in the first place. If you can get those 30 seconds out of the way while boiling the spaghetti, or just after closing the door after one sleepy kid’s last book, then you have made it to the same finish line your counselor was thinking of as she assigned 100 Date Nights, weekend retreats, and therapy sessions.

One last tip is to make sure that both people are aware that you are giving/receiving appreciations as part of a marriage inoculation initiative. This makes it official and ensures that you are not disappointed when the other person fails to read your mind about wanting to boost the health of your partnership.

This piece originally ran on the DCUrbanMoms(andDads) weblog.

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