How To Protect Your Relationship When You're Drifting Apart
Sometimes we feel like we're rushing through life so fast that we're missing out. You try to prioritize exercise and meditation, but self-care is often the first thing to go when the chaos rises.
Trying to keep all the balls in the air can mean you aren't seeing what's right in front of your face. You and your partner might be drifting apart. Here's what you need to know to bridge the distance:
1. Chances are, this is just a phase.
You won't always be so busy. Someday, if all goes according to plan, you'll be sitting next to your partner, smiling about the life you have built together.
2. Long-term love is an extraordinary gift.
This security is tremendous, and not to be taken for granted. A person who celebrates how awesome you are and doesn't leave you when you mess up is something to be treasured.
3. A relationship can die without a single slammed door or raised voice.
Even when there is no cheating, no screaming, no irreconcilable differences, relationships can end. It happens slowly, subtly, and silently. Distance left unaddressed is a leading cause of separation.
Relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman's research identified eight predictors of divorce. Many of these predictors are symptoms you would expect, like poor conflict management and a high degree of negativity. Of the eight predictors, emotional distancing is the hardest to recognize.
4. There are warning signs. You just have to know what they are.
These include the absence of affection, humor, curiosity, excitement, and empathy in daily interactions.
If you have a huge fight with your partner, it'd be strange for both of you not to notice. Those conflicts are usually addressed. It is much more difficult, however, to recognize that the two of you have been holding hands less frequently or having fewer interesting conversations.
Example: Your partner asks you a question when you're in the middle of something. You let him know now isn't a good time, and you both move on with the day, leaving no one hurt or offended. But when attempts at connection are pushed away over and over again, people naturally reach out less and less, and eventually stop altogether.
5. The solution is simple and can be carried out in as few as six seconds each day.
In couples therapy I often tell my patients that I cannot teach them to love one another. But I can teach them how to nourish the love that they already have. You don’t have to hire a babysitter or plan a vacation. As few as six seconds at a time can make an immense difference over the long term.
To stay emotionally close, intersperse tiny moments of connection into your lives every single day. Simply put: Reach out warmly to your partner on a regular basis and respond with warmth when your partner reaches out to you.
Here are a few ways you might do this:
- You kiss your partner goodbye every day on the way to work. It becomes a habit, and you stop paying attention. Instead, slow down, enjoy the kiss, and recognize that you are kissing someone you're in love with—not your Great-Aunt Lulu. Gottman recommends kissing hello and goodbye for six solid seconds.
- You're rushing out to meet friends for dinner, giving instructions to the babysitter, and your partner tells you how nice you look. Switch gears for a second or two. Make eye contact, and say, “Thank you." If you want appreciation, appreciate it when you get it.
- You’re finally in bed with your favorite book, enjoying the peace and quiet. Your partner climbs into bed next to you. Be willing to put your book down for a moment and say, “Hey, I'm totally wiped but so glad you're home!” Acknowledge that you're pleased to see your partner before you return to reading.
These tiny energy expenditures will invigorate your relationship exponentially. When running a long-distance race, it's essential to drink water before you get thirsty. Similarly, you need to nourish your relationship before you feel that it's been drained. This will make you feel better, giving you that additional boost you got when your relationship first started, and a reminder that you are loved.
You have shared your heart with an amazing person. Stay close to him or her even when life is turbulent, so you're still together when it isn't.
Laura Silverstein, LCSW is an author and certified couples therapist with over 30 years of experience helping couples find happiness. Click here for her free book.