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30 Days Back to Love

Week One: Take the scenic route

You can be married a lifetime and not let parts of yourself be known. During this first week, the goal will be to move out of the familiar emotional landscape and gain some new perspective on each other — and the relationship you share.

Step 1. Name one thing that you would never change about each other — and one thing that bugs you

Why identify something positive and something negative? Because finding your way back to love begins with reassuring each other about what's good in the marriage, while getting to work on just one roadblock that's creating distance between you.

If you find it hard to be completely honest about what isn't working perfectly between the two of you, feel free to blame me directly for the "complaint" part of the discussion. Tell your husband, "The article says this is all about figuring out what really makes us tick as a couple. We're supposed to just think about what we tell each other, not respond to it. And no grudges later."

Flip a coin to choose who goes first, and keep the tone light, even playful, if you can — supportive, not accusing. Remind your husband he'll get his chance, too, and that you're planning to listen and not to get defensive.

Start by paying a sincere compliment: "I love how you make me laugh at least once every day and that you are a ringer for George Clooney, at least to me," you might say. "During the weekend, though, you tend to zone out in front of the computer while I'm stuck doing the chores and carpooling. Not fun. OK, your turn." Remember, you don't need to identify the core conflict in your relationship. The behavior that bugs you might be utterly mundane — mixing darks and lights in the laundry; forgetting to fill up the car with gas.

A key lesson I've learned from counseling couples is that focusing on just one unresolved issue has a way of opening up others, each closer and closer to the hearts of the partners involved. For example, one wife I counseled told her husband, "I think it's amazing how you've been able to change jobs when you aren't feeling like your company values you. I just wish you'd tell me when you start feeling that way, so I could know you weren't happy and might make a change."

Another told her spouse during this exercise, "I like that we both make it our business to get home early enough to sit down together as a family for dinner most nights." Then, after a pause, she smiled and added, "I like it a lot less that on the nights we plan dinners out together, you're late a lot of the time."

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