Ninety-three percent of married respondents and 84 percent of those who were unmarried told Pew Research Center love is the best reason for marriage. It’s the reason my wife Tami and I married. Then, as in many marriages, conflict put a strain on our passion for each other. We discovered how to manage conflict, but the secret to reviving passion in our marriage evaded us for years.
We tried self-help, marriage counseling, and prayed. Prayer held us together until counseling with a clinical psychologist helped us keep conflict from pushing us apart. But after we got conflict under control, the mutual fondness, admiration and passion that characterize a couple “in love” continued to fade.
The Risk of an Affair
We had peace in our marriage. But where there is peace, complacency easily takes root. A false sense of security can develop. Comfort gets mistaken for happiness. This is fertile ground for an extramarital affair. An affair doesn’t have to involve another man, or another woman. To substitute for the lack of happiness in our marriage, we pursued pleasure in other things, like parenting, work, friendships, and hobbies.
Unchecked, complacency causes many marriages to wither and die. Lacking nourishment, the marriage starves. Husband and wife turn away from each other and focus on other pursuits. Some pursuits may be benign, like those chased by my wife and I. Others can be dangerous, like an adulterous affair or pornography. Then, one day it dawns on one or both spouses that their spouse is now a stranger.
The Antidote to Marital Complacency
Curiosity is the antidote for a married couple’s complacency. The last time you and your spouse felt admiration, fondness and passion for each other may have been during your courtship, or in the early days of your marriage. These feelings were cultivated by an insatiable curiosity. You both wanted to know each other’s thoughts, interests, and dreams.
Perhaps this is the reason most romance stories end with a wedding rather than begin with one. Romance is fueled by curiosity, and curiosity is fueled by the tension that exists between the known and unknown. On a couple’s wedding day, the veil between the bride and groom is lifted. The lifted veil might signify that all that a couple didn’t know about each other is suddenly known, but should represent the opening of a new episode in an exciting romance.
We’re born with an insatiable curiosity about the world around us. When we find a potential mate, that same curiosity sends us on a relentless search for everything we can know about that person to determine if they’re a suitable mate. Curiosity drives us to find out if they’re safe, trustworthy, and healthy. As the relationship progresses we discover each other’s interests, hopes, and dreams. We discover what makes each other happy and sad, angry and afraid.
When we conclude that we’ve learned everything we want or need to know about something, our curiosity naturally shifts its focus to opportunities for new discoveries. After the wedding day, many couples gradually shift the focus of their curiosity away from each other, and onto other preoccupations like work and children. If we wrongly assume there’s nothing new to learn about our spouse, we do so at a significant cost to the relationship.
Recently, my wife asked me why we didn’t have as much passion in our marriage when we were younger. We’ve been married for almost 30 years. Early in our marriage we lost our curiosity about each other. We acted as if we knew all there was to know about each other. But, as the world around us changes, it arouses new perspectives and different emotions in us. We develop new interests, hopes, and dreams, and often revise the ones we started with. When Tami and I resumed our search to know each other again, our passion for each other grew.
To revive passion in your marriage, resume the search that stirred those passions in the early days of your relationship. Couples who cultivate curiosity in their marriage report feeling an emotional closeness, more cared for, and more loved.
Curiosity breaks up the monotony that can lead couples to become bored in their marriage. It also relieves stress. Curiosity feeds the craving we have for the next episode or chapter in an exciting story. Perhaps it’s time to open a new and exciting episode in your marriage.
To develop a habit of curiosity in your marriage:
1. Ask open-ended questions and listen intently.
Closed-ended questions call for only a “Yes” or “No” in response. They get us a short answer that allows us to check the box and move on. But this kind of question doesn’t cultivate intimacy or passion. Open-ended questions often begin with “How,” “What,” or “When.” Open-ended questions invite the long answers that call for the questioner to listen intently. This takes work, but it often yields treasure that can draw a couple into a deeper understanding of each other. With deeper understanding, we often develop deeper love.
2. Search for hidden gems.
When your spouse makes a comment you’ve heard them say many times before, or does something that’s routine, search beyond their words or 3. actions for what’s underneath. Don’t assume you know their motives. Ask curious questions about what they said or did. Maybe it’s a comment they make about you or someone else. Say something like, “I’ve just realized you say that often. I’m curious. Can you tell me why you say that?” Maybe it’s what they choose to eat at dinner, or a series they watch on TV. Ask a question like, “I’ve never asked why you do that. Now I’m curious. Can you tell me why you do that?” When we focus our attention on the obvious, we miss the hidden gems.
3. Start a daily-question habit.
Start a routine of asking at least one open-ended question of each other once a day. My wife and I include our kids in this each evening before bedtime. You can come up with your own questions. We use cards from the The Ungame to come up with questions. There are also books like 131 Creative Conversations for Couples, by marriage expert Jed Jurchenko, can help you generate fun, and intimate conversations. Use your smartphone’s reminder app to help you remember to do this at the same time each day.
[Tweet “Revive Passion in Your Marriage with this Habit #marriage”]
A version of this post also appeared on LifeZette.com.