In our younger days, I’d watch the older couples next to us in restaurants – and I’d vow we’d never be like them. Those folks who sat across from each other and ate their meals in silence.

I’d nudge my husband. “We won’t be like them. That won’t happen to us.”

Never say never.

As we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, with white tablecloths, soft music, and a menu loaded with French dishes, we floundered. Once again.

Perfunctory conversation lasted through cocktails. We rattled off updates on obligatory topics – our sons and their girlfriends, necessary repairs to our 50-year-old home, work calendars, and elderly parent care. But then – after we gave our orders to the attentive waiter – we struggled.

How Had We Run Out of Things to Talk About? 

Before kids and mortgages, our younger selves had a steady stream of thoughts we couldn’t wait to tell the other. Peppered with “Can you imagines?” and “What do you thinks?” our conversations lingered long past dessert.

With our boys grown and gone, I suppose we both exhaled and took a rest from always being on – racing around at full speed between jobs and soccer games and grocery stores and parent meetings. We finally allowed ourselves to relax – too much so. 

According to my confidantes – the girlfriends I meet for coffee and wine and long walks – our quiet existence was not unusual. 

“Marriage is hard, and the excitement doesn’t last forever,” I heard over and over again. 

Their assurances made me feel better. But I wanted more.

The therapist we visited did not think we were falling apart. Still, I winced when she used words like complacent and stale and stagnant to describe our relationship. It seems we expected our marriage to hum along in a happy rhythm without a lot of effort or energy on our parts.

I flinched when she compared our marriage to a withering plant. According to this wise woman seated across the desk from us, our relationship craved a good shot of nourishment and sunlight and fertilizer – tender loving care in the form of novelty. 

Like humans are wired to do, we gravitated toward activities requiring us to stretch ourselves the least. We chose restaurants where reservations and parking spaces were easy to come by. We hung out with those friends we knew the best – the comfortable ones – and were the most like us.

Novel Experiences Reboot a Tired Relationship 

Newness injects excitement and passion and brings couples back to life. 

My husband suggested our next date night activity. As I stepped through the door of the rock climbing gym, the smells of perspiration and wet sneakers greeted me.

“You can do this. It’s a good workout. I bet you’ll want to do it again,” he said. 

I wasn’t so sure. 

As I wiggled into the special harness and climbing shoes, butterflies fluttered in my stomach. I fumbled with the carabiners and belay equipment and rubbed chalk between my sweaty palms.

I was first-date nervous – the sort of emotion between excited and anxious. The same feeling I had when our relationship was fresh and emerging. Back when all we experienced was new and different.

Inching my way up the beginner wall – a vertical twister game, of sorts – I strained to reach the zigzag assortment of foot ledges and handholds. Time and time again, I slipped and lost my grip. Or my strength gave out. I pushed off from the wall with my feet, whooshed down to the base, and creeped back up again.

Beside me, my husband wrestled his way up a more difficult wall. Together we grunted and struggled and smiled. We were having fun.

Still in workout clothes and baseball caps, we rehashed our evening’s adventure over burgers and beers. We were proud of ourselves as a couple. We’d needed a kickstart, a homework assignment, to rediscover the joy of exploration and experimentation.

Newness Brought in Our Spark – and Conversation 

Novelty, we discovered, didn’t have to be on a grand scale.

Cooking new recipes or sipping coffee in a trendy neighborhood or watching a wildlife documentary all contributed to our relationship’s reboot.

Nowadays, we are the older couple in restaurants. We’re the ones the younger diners may notice. But we are talking. We converse about the long list of things we want to do and learn. And how we can continue to grow together.

When was the last time you and your spouse tried something completely out of your comfort zone? Can you remember an occasion when you dined with new friends? Have you made a list of activities you’d like to do together? Please share your stories with the community!

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