By Tara Weng, GalTime.com
This scenario may seem all too familiar to some of you. You've booked the babysitter, gotten the dinner reservations, dolled yourself up and sit down for a rare date night with your significant other. The nagging voice inside your head says, "Don't talk about the kids." When you rack your brain for other forms of stimulating conversation to engage your partner, you draw a blank. Oh no, now what? What does it mean when you have nothing to say the person seated across the table? Is your relationship in trouble? Clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Mantell says the communication quandary is an all too common problem. "Many couples go through this. It's not the end of the relationship. It means that he/she is no longer filling the dream you thought they'd fill and your partner is doing the same thing. The image of what each wanted from each other, to heal some childhood wound or perpetuate the marriage you saw in your parents, is not working. This leads to retreating for fear of being hurt more or out of anger. After all, when you dated, you talked plenty," he explains.
Related: Caught in the Act By Your Kids-- Now What?
Sure dating was a different beast all together; you had your game face on and were filled with wonder about the other person. Now that you're "the couple", has the bloom really fallen off the rose? The lack of conversation is only one piece of the puzzle according to Mantell. "What to talk about is not as difficult as why the couple has stopped creating interest in each other. Hobbies, plans for the future, movies/TV shows/books/magazine articles, trips you'd like to take, politics, work, "if you could...." questions, sex, and the list goes on and on," he says.
In fact in order to tackle the communication and the disillusionment issue(s) Mantell recommends some good, old-fashioned homework. It really is work to maintain a healthy relationship with your partner and there are ways to figure out how to make it happen (again) without abandoning ship. He offers the following tips (and dos and don'ts) to couples:
1. Each person write down 8 things they'd like from the other that would show CARING...only caring...not love, lust, etc. These can be things already being done, once done but no longer being done, never been done, things you want from any man/woman to show care...they have to be able to be done once daily..."Take me to Hawaii" is not on this list.
2. These are out of areas of sharp conflict. Small, tiny, behaviorally based acts of caring. Positive specific. Not negative and vague. Don't ignore me when you come home is wrong. Ask me how my day was when you come home is positive and specific.
3. Post the list of 16 total items and each day begin the day by going to the list and selecting 5 you will do. Then do them sometime during the day. When an item is done for you, check it off by noting that your spouse did it for you. At the end of the day, be sure your spouse noted what you did and if not, gently remind him/her of what you did that was not noted.
4. It's not a competition. It's designed to create a caring, more communicative atmosphere in the home. It's designed to create fun again.
Dr. Mantell also points out that talking about the kids should not be taken off the table literally or figuratively. He explains that this doesn't say anything negative about your relationship with your partner. That's a big swipe of the forehead and "phew" for me personally. So fear not when you sit down to that nice meal in your fabulous outfit and have a mental block. It may take a little work but you'll be jabbering like the dating "two" you once were in no time.
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