To revive a troubled marriage, try more fun `date’ nights and some more counselling

Question: My wife wants me to be more fun, less grumpy. After 16 years, five children, finishing graduate degrees, and running a small business, our search for a balanced lifestyle has exhausted us both.

Things have been improving, but it’s perhaps too late for her. I’ve cut back on work, I do dishes, cook dinner, mop floors. I call home midday and walk with her daily after dinner. We have weekly dates.

However, she still doubts the relationship will become what she’d envisioned. We’re seeing a marriage counsellor, but she threatens she’ll divorce me if I don’t relax.

I’ve taken a good stress management course recently and come home more relaxed and love playing with the children. But apparently I still worry too much about the paycheck and kids’ bedtimes.

How can I put “having fun” as a higher permanent priority? I’ve tried having more fun with my wife (rather than the children), but she’s cold.

Trying Hard

Answer: There’s something in the dynamic between you two that speaks of her being Mrs. Ongoing Grudge to your Mr. Grumpy. Clearly, the early years were hard work, and you grew apart — you became a workaholic worrier, and she felt left behind with raising kids and doing chores. That’s past, and the counselling should be driving home that you’re changing … but what about her?

Use those date nights for the unexpected. Example: See a comedy stage show, go bowling or roller-skating with people with whom you can be silly, try a karaoke bar and sing your heart out, even if “pitchy.”

Try spontaneity with the kids: Make a “tent” in the house where you all “camp out” one night. Periodically trade great memories for precise bedtimes. This can come from simple storytelling, puppet shows, whatever.

Most important, probe what’s really going on in your wife’s mind. She has you dancing on a string to prove yourself, yet seems disbelieving from the start. That’s plain unfair and should be explored with professional help.

Question: My boyfriend of one year has a few female friends who I like. But I believe it’s inappropriate for him to engage in datelike activities with them. He believes he should be free to go to dinners, movies, and on shopping trips with them.

I’m not concerned that he’ll cheat. It’s about the optics and appropriateness with the opposite sex. I don’t mind his drinking with his buddies, playing sports or going to a strip club occasionally. I accept his hanging out with female friends. I don’t even mind his going for drinks or lunch during the week with them.

I’m against “girlfriend activities” with others, now that he’s in a committed relationship. How do we resolve this standoff?


Answer: Compromise. It’s the one-size-fits-all answer to a “standoff” of view, if you want to stay together rather than win or somehow “prove” your position through an advice columnist’s backup, or other means.

You trust him, that’s crucial. He tells you what his plans are. So go along on the shopping trip, ask him to change the Saturday plan to a weekday (the female friends will understand) except for a rare occasion when it’s impossible.

And please, stop giving him lists of what you accept and what you don’t. If it’s a good relationship in other important ways, and there’s give and take in other areas, be less dogmatic and more flexible in this one.

As for “the optics,” what audience are you more concerned with — how you two decide to live, or some gossips?


Improving a relationship requires changed expectations from both partners.

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