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Ladies, do you know anyone (maybe yourself) who is in a loveless marriage or relationship?

A comment on a message board by a man whose first marriage failed but his second marriage is thriving because he “games” his wife got me thinking, maybe a lot of relationships flop because people (both men and women) make the mistake of thinking once a commitment is made, wooing, or even just downright good behavior, is no longer necessary?

As I think about the couples I know who are struggling, as well as reflecting back on my own marriage and another serious LTR that eventually failed, in many cases it’s because of that fatal flaw — one or both partners think they now have a “get out of effort free” card. All that effort they spent wooing their mate gets redirected toward other areas in life, instead.

It is a lot of work to attract a partner, as anyone in the dating market can surely attest. I can see why it might be tempting to think all that effort isn’t needed once a relationship is solidified. But I think the opposite is true — couples should never stop dating, never stop wooing his or her mate.

That said, it doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. It really doesn’t take much effort at all to show someone (not just tell them) that they are special, and in fact your very most special someone. An unexpected note in their vehicle wishing them a great day, their very favorite meal made on a non-special occasion, surprising him in lingerie, sending him a racy text while he is on lunch break from work, none of these things require huge financial investment or an extraordinary amount of time, and yet these small gestures can pay off big time.

One SAHM (stay at home mom) I know, who is unhappily married, has admittedly gotten lost in her four children. She puts them and their needs on a pedestal yet doesn’t see the need to do so for her spouse. They have not once gone on a date or weekend away without the kids, much less an extended vacation. She dotes on her children and yet voices outrage that her husband dares voice he’d at least like to be on par with the kids (and really, imho he should come FIRST, not last.) She admits to rarely having sex, and even then in this begrudging “just get it over with” way. Blech.

And while I don’t know both sides of the story, the behavior she moans about, him not being happy, his snippy attitude, his not putting in effort in the bedroom, his not caring about her happiness, I wonder how much of that is a result of her lack of investment? How much is really tit for tat?

But instead of seeing that, she continues to blame HIM rather than to take a proactive approach. He should be prince charming to her princess. When I gently urge her to try making a fuss over him, telling him how much she appreciates his sacrifices (like working a job that requires hard physical labor in extreme heat and cold and miserable conditions, daily, for the past 10+ years so she could be at home with the kids), making the moves on him, or scheduling a date or weekend away, she looks at me like I have gone mad! What? I am supposed to be sympathizing with her, not the enemy!

But I refuse to do it. Because I made the same mistakes in my marriage, and I am now a single mom, and while she thinks I have all this freedom and a glamorous lifestyle of excitement and fun, in reality I know firsthand the grass isn’t greener. It’s not easier to be a single mom than a married one, by a long shot. Trust me on this.

She seems to on one hand be quite distressed that her marriage is so unhappy yet stubbornly wants her husband to take the first steps to make things right. But in the end, in all areas of life, relationships included, you get out what you put in.

And in the end, what is she risking? A little effort needed to stoke the fires of romance and breathe new life into her marriage? The risk that it might not work? Yes, that risk is there. But there’s also the very real possibility that instead of being in an unhappy marriage, she could find herself (and her children) in a happy one. That opportunity is within her grasp. But not if she doesn’t change her attitude.

Love is a verb. Never stop loving your mate. Like a lifetime of slow, small, steady investments, it will likely pay off big time in the end over a lifetime of haphazard big investments of love on the expected anniversaries and holidays and then long stretches without in between.

Let those who have ears hear.

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