Where's the Love Gone?
You don't know when it dawned on you that you and your partner were at odds with each other, avoiding the cues and rationalizing the disagreements, but at some point you realized, "Life is not so peachy any more." The peach days were vibrant- full of sweet exchanges, soft touches and loving gestures. You swore to yourself that there would never come a day when her touch wouldn't be electric, his quirky sense of humor adorable, and yet here you are. Wondering when the resentments started, where the affection went and when all those delightful habits suddenly became dull and bothersome.
If your relationship sounds anything like the above, you're not alone. When couples are in gridlock, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay invested in the relationship and work through tough problems. At an impasse, couples are usually hurt, bitter, angry and resentful. It's important to remember that relationships naturally ebb and flow, struggling with various obstacles through all different stages of the relationship. According to the Seattle-based Gottman Institute,the average couple waits six years before seeking help for ongoing marital problems. Additionally, half of all marriages that end do so in the first seven years. This means the average couple lives with unhappiness for far too long. Learning to identify when discord arises in your relationship will allow you to nip those disagreements in the bud early on, without the endless emotional baggage.
So how can you rekindle the love in your relationship and learn to appreciate your partner's idiosyncrasies?
The Gottman Institute suggests that by getting to know each other again, as if for the first time, allows for a fresh perspective to unfold. By making a routine of asking about your significant other's inner worldview- their dreams, hopes, aspirations and fears- will allow for space to emerge to reconnect with one another and allow your partner in on your ever-changing life story, so that the experience is shared for the both of you. In a committed relationship, the more you choose to weather the storm together instead of doing it alone, the closer and more connected you can become.
Another way to strengthen your relationship is to turn towards your partner with affection. Couples often do what are called "bids for affection" (Gottman, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, 1999). These bids happen instinctively; a natural process in order to receive satisfaction, love and support from one another. In newer relationships, these bids are exchanged frequently and freely- without thinking. Couples heightened awareness of each other at this stage makes it easy to spot those subtle cues and respond accordingly. If you learn to pinpoint when your partner is making a bid and can respond immediately to it, you create a space for trust, affirmation and deeper meaning of the relationship.
Redefining your common interests, traditions and shared meanings about life add to the value and success of your relationship. Families have unique customs, traditions and rituals they innately create for themselves. A family's story is constantly being strengthened or re-storied to fit the needs and desires of their unique lifestyle. By recreating a shared meaning system, couples are less likely to have perpetual problems with potential gridlock and more likely to continue the building blocks for a more long-term, happy and connected family unit. This also happens inadvertently when you explore your partner's inner worldview and get familiar with their desires again.
Relationships take time, investment and energy to stay strong. They are not static, but instead are constantly evolving. The key to keeping the love alive is to think of your relationship as a continuous narrative, with a surplus of endings. You and your significant partner are the authors- together developing, creating and changing the story to your liking along the way. Throwing assumptions out the door and recognizing that your ideas about life purpose, meaning and direction will shift and change, along with your spouse's, allows for more commitment to falling in love, over and over again.
If you feel as though your relationship has been unusually tense lately with no resolve, remember to detect the warning signs of relationship crisis early on so you and your partner can make quick and effective changes to rebuild and strengthen your relationship for continued success.