Like any couple, my husband and I have had plenty of ups and downs. A long distance relationship, demanding careers, parental needs, and then becoming parents ourselves ... But in retrospect, I can't blame our "downs" completely on circumstance. The times we struggled were the times we were forgetting a key component of falling in love: really relating to each other.
When we stopped being curious about the other's perspectives, motivations, and experience of life in the way people falling in love are, things were likely to get shaky.
The trouble is, a lack of relating produces a relationship that feels static. It becomes a fixed entity in our mind, with set characteristics, more or less unchanging. Our relationship. A noun.
But imagine if a relationship was defined by actions instead. Constantly new, and ever changing in its very nature. Two people relating to each other, day to day and moment to moment. Relating. A verb.
Are our actions in line with falling in love again and again, or are we separating and dividing?
These days, when things start to feel off in my relationship, I ask myself these questions to help bring me back to the way of relating that supports a successful marriage and keeps me falling in love:
1. Are we living like we're on the same team?
Adversarial relationships are no fun, no matter who is involved. But a combative dynamic is especially painful when it comes to a relationship, when it feels like you and your partner are working against each other. If you feel yourselves slipping into this pattern, try reconnecting over a shared vision or goal. Working toward it together can help turn things around.
2. Are we making time for each other?
I'm talking quality time, time that fosters real connection. Maybe it's over dinner. Maybe it's in bed when you first wake up. Maybe it's doing an activity you both enjoy. Whatever works for you, just find opportunities to really connect and make it a priority as often as possible.
3. Do we need help (from a professional) to get us back to relating well?
Relationship triggers run deep, so moving past old stories and patterns can be really tricky. A neutral third party who can help you get to the bottom of what's really going on, and offer alternative ways of relating in the heat of the moment is priceless.
4. Am I being curious about what my partner really needs/wants/means?
When you've been close to someone for a long time, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know what they think or how they feel about something without asking them. This is sort of like thinking of your relationship as a noun. People are not fixed, we are constantly evolving. Being curious about your partner is a great way to show them you care and deepen your connection.
5. Am I complaining about my relationship too much?
Maybe you've heard the expression, Energy goes where attention flows.
This holds true for both positive and negative things we give our attention to. For that reason, occasional venting (about relationship woes in particular) one thing; but when you spend time telling and retelling your stories about all the wrongs your partner has committed, those stories become what define them in your mind. Imagine if you spent the same amount of time talking about what you love about them instead ...
Bonus: Own your own turn-on.
In those moments when you find the sizzle from your relationship ebbing, don't make it your partner's responsibility to bring it back. Take charge, and tap into your own passion and invite them into that space with you. Share something sexy you would like to experience, and you'll likely find yourselves in a high tide of passion again.
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