When you walk down the aisle or move in with your partner, you may feel like you have finally found your “happily ever after.” In the earlier stages of love, surges of brain chemicals and hormones make you feel euphoric and increase your feelings of attachment and need for your loved one. You are likely to idealize and see the best in your partner, perhaps minimizing their faults and ways in which you are incompatible. Then, a few years later, reality sets in.
How Marriages Lose Their Spark
Over time, you negotiate the tasks of running the household, paying bills, seeing friends and family, working, and raising kids. One day you wake up and realize that you and your partner haven’t had a conversation in months that wasn’t about finances, work, picking up kids, or household maintenance. You can’t believe this grumpy or distant person was the loving guy (or woman) that you once knew. What happened to your “happily ever after?”
If this cycle sounds depressingly familiar, it’s because it’s not uncommon, even in the most high-functioning couples. Research shows clearly that marital satisfaction goes down with the birth of the first child and takes another dip with the birth of the second or third. Luckily, it bumps way back up again when kids leave for college, if you can make it that long! While life with kids is meaningful and filled with happy moments, raising kids is a lot of work. If both partners work or one works long hours and travels or if family live far away, parents may not get a break. If you don’t have kids, you’re likely to take on demanding work roles that create stress and time scarcity.
Although this cycle is common, it is also destructive to your relationship and could lead to further deterioration if not addressed. It’s important to take stock of your relationship and start working on maintenance and repair. Houses are not the only things that require maintenance. People do too. If you ignore your partner’s needs for long periods, you’ll end up with a debit balance in the emotional bank account, which means that your partner’s goodwill and patience could dry up.
What You Can Do About It
Below are five small things you can do right away to begin restoring connection and positive feeling. Of course, these are not substitutes for therapy and if problems continue despite these efforts, you may want to seek help.
(1) Acknowledge The Problems & Own Your Share
If you have been blaming your partner for all of the problems, it may be time to take a good hard look at yourself. How are you knowingly or unknowingly making things worse? Has anger caused you to withdraw and ignore your partner’s attempts to connect with you physically or emotionally? Do you go straight to anger when you discuss conflictual topics? Is there an imbalance of duties such that your partner has to do way more than their fair share? Are you spending too much money on things your partner doesn’t consider important. Now’s the time to fess up, acknowledge how this contributed to the problems and make a commitment to change. Once you’ve done this, your partner is more likely to do the same.
(2) Make Shared Positive Experiences a Priority
If your interactions with your partner have been biased toward the mundane or negative, it may be time to inject some positivity and excitement back into your relationship. This may help you reconnect with the aspects of your partner that initially attracted you. Research shows that long-term happy couples engage in new experiences together that are novel, challenging or lead to new learning. So sign up for a ballroom dancing class or a meditation course, climb a rock wall together or go try out the Indian restaurant that opened down the street. If money is tight, take a camping trip, go on a hike, or cook a special meal together. Shared new activities can help stir things up so your brain can get out of its jaded mindset towards your partner.
(3) Notice and Acknowledge What is Most Important to Your Partner
Many of my couples therapy clients claim that their partners never listen to them and don’t show interest when they talk about the events of the day. While it’s important to listen to your partner’s concerns and worries, research suggests it may be even more important to show interest in the things that make them happy and to celebrate their victories, large and small. When a partner doesn’t show interest in the special day you had with your kid or the great speech you gave at work, you begin to feel unimportant to them and that they don’t really know and appreciate you. This sows seeds of resentment and misunderstanding. Luckily, the cycle can be reversed if you begin to stay mindfully present and listen. if you have errands or work that can’t wait, schedule a time that day that you can be available.
(4) Communicate Openly About Sex
Bad sex or lack of it can become the elephant in the room that doesn’t get mentioned until one Most people find it difficult to talk about their sexual needs or to admit openly that they don’t desire sex as frequently as their partner. Physical intimacy can be the glue that keeps couples together when they face problems in other areas. On the other hand, problems in sex may really be problems in intimacy with one or both partners withdrawing because they feel emotionally neglected or disrespected. Whatever the issues, it’s important to discuss and negotiate differences in frequency, anxieties, barriers, and desires. Keep the conversation positive and focused on what you want, not on what you don’t want. Sex is an area of sensitivity and vulnerability for most of us, so tread carefully.