Drifting Away From Someone You Love? Walk It Out

Elisette Carlson tests the theory that one-hour strolls once a week can bring energy back to a relationship gone flat.

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About a year ago, I started wondering if my husband and I were becoming one of those couples who just go through the motions. After 15 years of marriage, we were juggling two careers and two young sons, and had let the day-to-day routine mute our connection. In the evenings, we went on autopilot: I'd stay at my computer while he watched political shows in another room. We went to bed staring at our phones. There was less snuggling. Less hugging and kissing. I'd seen these disconnects develop into something destructive in other people's relationships, and I didn't want us to even begin down that route.

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I knew we didn't need couples therapy or pricey date nights — things were great on vacation when we had time to goof around without daily demands. But something was getting in the way at home. So I came up with a basic-as-it-gets plan: weekly walks together. My husband loved the idea, but we both knew carving out time would be hard. So we made some rules: We'd walk for an hour before dinner on Thursdays, when we had childcare. We'd take only one phone, for emergencies. And we'd hold hands.

At first, I was worried it was going to feel like another obligation. But once we got out there, things started to happen: We bumped up against each other the way we did on early dates. We told funny stories. We planned cooking adventures and family vacations up the California coast. I was amazed at how close we felt by the time we got home. On those nights, we worked as a team to get the kids fed and to bed. I didn't feel like I was nagging him for help.

For about a year, we've kept up our routine, though I admit we're each guilty of trying to talk the other out of it sometimes. I'm famous for wanting to send a couple more emails; he'll say, "I'm starving. Can't we just eat?" But then one of us plays the other side. (He's been known to dangle the idea of opening a nice bottle of wine when we get back.) Now, near the end of our walks, we feel so in sync we talk about the hard stuff, like parenting challenges we can't bring up at the dinner table. There's something powerful about moving in the same direction hand in hand. It gives us a chance to remember what's important: We're healthy, and very lucky to get to walk through this life together.

Your Relationship on a Walk

Ask any walking buddies and they'll tell you that stepping out together brings them closer, although science has yet to pin down any data on why. Could be it's such great relationship glue for the simple reason that it makes you feel good. Scientists from Iowa State University found that any walk does that. (In their research, it helped people overcome feelings of boredom and dread.) You don't even need an exercise goal: Other studies show a walk can lift your mood, even if you're depressed. So why not invite your partner, grab hands, and go?

This story originally appeared in the April 2017 issues of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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