The demands of daily life can hijack your relationship if you take your eye off the prize — love.
The couples we work with in our private intensive retreats want to get their relationships back on track. By the time they come to us, they feel disconnected. They’ve grown distant. They find themselves mired in routine and living parallel lives. Lost is the simple joy of being together or even the thought that spending time together might be fun. The person who was once their best friend is a stranger — or worse — an enemy. Many people numb themselves with alcohol or screen time to avoid dealing with the painful reality of their relationship. Often they unite against a common enemy (i.e. a friend or neighbor with whom they have a conflict). Usually, this haphazardly constructed house of cards topples.
There are many reasons that partners become distant over time. The thrill of infatuation inevitably gives way to the regularity of daily routine. That is normal. The combination of work, family obligations, children, finances and friends all conspire to drain a relationship’s vitality. So are all long-term relationships doomed? Do we submit and suffer in silence and let the demands of life hijack the relationship?
There’s a dangerous myth in the ether that will bring down a relationship before we know it’s happening. I’ve heard this myth expressed repeatedly in couples counseling. It goes something like this; people assume that because they were really close to their partner at some point in time that intimacy will last forever like words engraved in concrete. This is romantic hogwash. When relationships no longer soothe, stimulate and reward, partners attempt to get their needs met elsewhere. It is human nature. And yes, that was intended as a wake-up call.
Why is it that what began as effortless pleasure turns out to be so much work? Realizing your relationship is off track can be like waking up on Christmas Eve and seeing your father putting your new train together. No one ever told you that your relationship would take this much effort. Like a garden, it is not enough just to plant. If you don’t water regularly, the plants will die. Without daily attention and conscious awareness of the proper nutrients, partners will drift apart and their connection will weaken.
Is it hopeless? Absolutely not. At the risk of extreme corniness, the situation reminds me of the old Ben Franklin proverb which says, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Each person is unique, and relationships are all different. We’ve compiled a list of ways to connect and avoid disconnection with your partner. Don’t let their simplicity fool you.
- Be a best friend.
- Try to connect with your partner every day. Reach out in teeny, tiny ways — a text, a touch, a gigantic hug and a kiss just because.
- Be curious about your partner’s daily experience. Ask questions about their day, drive, run, party, dinner, time with friend, meeting with staff or even their night’s sleep.
- Make time for each other.
- Go out on a date.
- Let your partner know how special and important they are in your life. Start with words of gratitude like, “No big deal; Thanks for making dinner; Thanks for listening; Thanks for mowing; I love how funny you can be.”
- Be kind and compassionate, and expect the same in return.
- Recall the qualities you saw in your partner when you met. Focus on them until you see them again. They’re probably still there, hidden behind the barriers intimates build over time, if they stop being conscious about their relationship.
- Stop criticizing your partner. Even for small things. Criticism is poison to your relationship.
- Don’t go to sleep angry.
- Try to resolve problems as they arise.
- Be positive.
- Be persistent.
- Do these things consistently.
Don’t wait until it’s too late or too hard. The earlier you make daily connection and use these strategies, the better. The wider the chasm of disconnection, the harder it is to build a bridge. Make your relationship a priority in your life. Start today with tiny shifts, and before you know it, you’ll be reconnected in a way that makes your heart feel glad.