From the Toronto Sun, March 25, 2008


Relationship renos 101
Tinkering is the key to maintaining marriages, experts agree

By JOANNE RICHARD, Special to Sun Media
Last Updated: 25th March,

A bit rusty? Sputtering, stalling and totally unresponsive?

Well, time for a tuneup -- not for your car, for your marriage!

Tinkering is the key to a smooth running relationship, say prominent relationship experts. Neglecting communication and togetherness is the road to divorce court.

"Letting things go is not something we can afford to do, even though we imagine we'll get back to our marriage when the kids are older or the job is less strenuous -- it's like letting termites go or letting a leaky roof go. One day it caves in," says Manhattan couple therapist Sharyn Wolf.

Distractions, disconnect and daily stresses take its toll: "Marriage is simply harder than most people know and asks more of us than almost anything else," says Wolf, adding that many resort to cutting bait and hoping for better luck next time.

According to Newmarket, Ont., therapist Heather McKechnie, people are consumed with their lives and "they assume their partners will always be there and they're wrong."

Every relationship needs regular maintenance, chorus the experts, so with spring around the corner, put relationship renos on your to-do list -- even if you're not experiencing marital woes. Relationship guru Dr. Pepper Schwartz says preventative maintenance will not only improve the relationship, but strengthen and protect it. "You could be doing relatively well but there's no sizzle or you're worried about losing the sizzle. It's well worth the effort -- don't wait 'til it breaks down."

For example, take the heating system: "If the 'boiler' in your marriage isn't heating up right, think of it the same as the boiler in your house. Don't live in a cold room -- make time for warmth, affection and sex because you won't find time for them," says Wolf, author of This Old Spouse -- A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Restoring, Renovating and Rebuilding Your Relationship.

Prevention can be as simple as random acts of kindness, says McKechnie, such as saying hello and goodbye with a kiss, phone calls during the day to see how your partner's day is going, listening to your partner speak with your heart as well as your ears.

"Try surprising your partner with their favourite snack, watching a movie that your partner wants to see when you don't, saying thank you when they make a meal for you, giving hugs, initiating sex, offering compliments, being supportive when your partner has been hurt by others, offering encouragement when they tackle a project or problem, having a regular date night, having a weekend without the kids."

According to McKechnie, a registered marriage and family therapist, "Most people think about problems in their relationship for a long time before speaking up or seeking professional help. It could be months or oftentimes, it is years." But by then, the hurt is so deep that they have no desire to work on their relationship.

"Tinker, tinker, tinker," says Wolf. "Couples need to talk and to listen -- more importantly, they need to learn how to talk about difficult things that affect marriage without fighting. Talking about happy things and day-to-day things is easy but a couple who can talk about what upsets and angers them without yelling, screaming or blaming, that couple stands a chance.

"If you have problems, join the club. It's not a sign to give up but a sign that the long hard work of marriage needs to start."


Tune-up your relationship with these tips from New York couple therapist Sharyn Wolf.

- Be at least as kind and forgiving with your partner as you'd be with a houseguest.

- Work at it every day whether you feel like it or not.

- Fight with yourself before you fight with your partner -- don't make an underhanded comment or hurtful remark.

- Make time for warmth, affection and sex because you won't find time for them. Meanwhile, Dr. Pepper Schwartz, relationship expert for and sociology professor at the University of Washington, adds her tune-up tips:

- Have regular discussions, at least monthly, to reconnect and see how things are going.

- Make time for "us" time -- family time is not couple time.

- Change things up. Even if movie night is working, find something new and fun to do. And, occasionally, go all out with an adventure; do something out of the ordinary.

- Include expressions of admiration and reinforcement daily, just like when you were dating.

- Give yourself a time out when angry; address issues when calmer so you don't say something you'll regret.

- Don't be afraid to go to a marriage professional.


Meanwhile, take Heather McKechnie's mini marriage checkup, below, with your mate and check the health of your relationship.

Review the following statements to see if you and your partner agree or disagree with them:

- We are often playful together. We have fun, just the two of us.

- I feel comfortable telling most of my feelings to my husband/wife/partner.

- I feel understood when my husband/wife/partner listens to me.

- How we manage money as a couple is a strength in our relationship.

- Sex is a strength in our relationship.

- We understand and respect each other's basic values.

If you found yourself disagreeing with one or more of these statements, then it's time to investigate potential trouble spots, including employing professional help, to avoid a major breakdown.