Falling in love with someone is effortless: that's why it is called falling. It is based on feelings that seem to "just happen." We are programed for the process of "falling." Though the hormones, which are a part of the "love potion," have a short shelf life.
What does this mean? When we move from the phase of budding romance to being in a long-term relationship, we have a new set of (unromantic) chemicals — commonly thought of as stress and anxiety — that change the way we see our partner. This is a normal cycle in a relationship. It's important to remember that it doesn't mean something is wrong. But how we handle our relationship stress and anxiety in the long-term is what determines where our relationship goes next.
Here are four practices, which can help you "reboot" your relationship to the budding romance phase, even when you are feeling disenchanted ...
1. Find a photograph of your partner as a child.
Carry it in your wallet or iPhone where you can see it often. Look at that special, brave and adorable little face when you are feeling closed off or critical and feel your heart touched whenever you see it. Think of that child's personality: how adventuresome they were, or how lonely and curious. What is it you love about their eyes looking out at you in the photo?
Then remember that same quality is still there. Ask your partner to tell you stories about what they did as a kid, a friend, a special place, an animal they loved. The vulnerability and the playful spirit of the child within each and every one of us are some of the key elements of what makes us fall in love with someone in the first place. Simply looking at a photograph can help you stay in touch with that!
2. Take the time to go over the "creation story" of your relationship.
How did you meet and fall in love? Savor the memories of those early days you shared, and linger over the details you love best. Tell yourself that what you saw in one another then, is just as real as what may be irritating you right now. Remember a hard time you struggled through together, when you came through with determination, forgiveness and support. Talk about how you did it, and remind yourselves you have the same qualities in you today that you did then.
When we are going through a hard time we tend to see a small amount of the truth and its often negative. Bring in the big picture and watch yourself open more to your partner and they to you. You are each the same person you fell in love with, those strength are still there.
3. Think of what might make you hard to live with.
Then list the ways your partner has shown patience, forgiveness, and acceptance of you over time.
This may be counterintuitive: when there is trouble in our relationship, we look outward to see negativity: our partner's face is unfriendly, their mouth, which looks disapproving, the unwelcoming body posture. If you could see a video of yourself when you are defensive, I promise you, none of you would want it on your social media page. We would be humbled at what our partner looks at when we are righteously indignant, stonewalling the other or blaming them.
When we are under stress, none of us are fun to live with and this is not intended to make you feel badly about yourself but to see the biggest picture and remember that your partner also has to manage loving and living with an imperfect person.
4. List the top three qualities of your partner ... and then use them to play a game.
The name of the game is "catch your partner." The rules? Identify moments when your partner is in the act of displaying their admirable qualities. Then be sure to tell them. List the top three most clever, courageous, or caring things your partner has ever said or done for someone else. Bear them in mind as you go through your daily life, even (and especially) when you are annoyed.
Remember how we were able to overlook our partner's more challenging qualities in the beginning? We even sometimes rationalized their difficult qualities into good ones to strengthen our position that the relationship was "perfect." We'd say things like, "He didn't talk to my friends at the party because he is just such a great listener," or "She didn't ask about my day because she just has so much on her mind."
But as we become more disenchanted, we start to collect evidence of difficult qualities, and start cycles of blame, guilt, and other negative emotions. We then start to think this is the whole truth.
Wholehearted loving is about looking at the big picture, the whole relationship — honoring strength and weakness, accepting where its easy and where its not.
These four practices can help us rebalance and teach us the essential skills of loving wholeheartedly. Unlike "falling in love", we are learning the practices of "staying in love." These practices are what makes relationships thrive long term.