No one ever sat down with me and told me that in order to have a successful, long-term relationship that I would need to be ten times more empathetic than I thought necessary. No matter how long it's been, I still need to work at it.
Look at those last seven words: I still need to work at it. Too many of us have subscribed to the idea that after a certain amount of time, relationships should be a breeze.
You may feel like you "shouldn't" have to fight anymore...because you know each other so well. Or that you "shouldn't" have to deal with big challenges...because you're settled now. Or worse, you may even feel like you "shouldn't" ever feel bad about having issues...because you're "lucky to have found someone."
As far as I'm concerned, thinking in these ways is recipe for failure.
So today, I'm sharing three tips that you can use as soon as you're done reading this to reignite that spark that initially attracted you to your partner.
1. Pretend to be strangers
This may seem weird, especially because I'm not telling you to role-play. In fact, I'm telling you to see your partner through the eyes of a child — with wonder, with the potential for surprise. Cultivate intense curiosity about who they are, why they do the things they do, and how they approach the world.
If this seems difficult, think for a second about how complex you are — so much so that you sometimes feel like it's difficult to know every layer of yourself. Well, your partner is just as complex and layered as you are; you can use that to "get to know" them again!
When your partner tells you about his or her day, instead of nodding and saying "Great," ask deeper questions. For instance, "What's your boss like? I never thought to ask." This may sound mundane, but you'll be amazed at these other idiosyncrasies and interesting tid-bits you'll find out...
2. Schedule play
I was talking to a friend the other day who's also in a committed, long-term relationship and he told me and him and his wife schedule "playtime" together. They literally do things children would do: color, play in the park, and wrestle.
It's one of those things you think you may think you shouldn't have to schedule, but it's a guarantee that it'll happen when you do. Plus, when the two of you can laugh and play together, it increases your affection, attraction, and even interest in each other.
Especially if work or your children are a big part of your life as a couple, independent "playtime" together is a wonderful way to reconnect and rediscover things about one another.
3. Give feedback, not criticism
It's an art to know how to give constructive criticism to your partner, especially if they do something that annoys or frustrates you. The easy way is yelling or criticizing. The more difficult — but better — way is to go about it like this:
You: "Hey [your partner's name]...Can I give you some feedback on something? It's okay if you give me some push back."
You: "Whenever you leave the dishes on the counter after I cook dinner, I feel frustrated because I think that you don't care about what I did for you, or keeping our kitchen clean. I know you're not doing this to hurt me or frustrate me, but I wanted to bring it up so we can figure out a solution together."
You can tailor this dialogue to your specific situation, but the idea is to create a safe space to talk through a problem together instead of attacking each other for doing something "wrong."
I've found this to be one of the best ways to solve the most difficult of arguments, especially when a conflict of values is involved. You'll almost always be able to find a common ground with a method like this.
What you can do today:
I know what it feels like to think, "Wow...I can't believe I haven't been paying attention to my partner for so long." At least for me, I felt guilty and like I was a bad girlfriend.
But the truth is, this is normal for relationships and the best thing you can do is get started today. I like to remember that my relationship is a garden and must be constantly nourished: without water, light, or food, it will wither. All good things take work in order to thrive.
For now, choose just one of these tips to try with your partner. The change may be small at first, but you'll see that with a little bit of practice, you'll feel a deeper, more fulfilling connection in your relationship.