Taking an Honest Look Around
I used to know a guy who decided he really wanted to change things between himself and his wife. They had grown apart over the years and the energy and enthusiasm they shared for each other had all but disappeared, replaced by a predictable and rather mundane daily routine. He couldn’t recall the last time he and his wife had shown any genuine affection for each other. He felt unappreciated and he knew his wife felt the same.
Now this man had gotten to the point in his life where he was in touch with some of the ways he contributed to the growing distance in his relationship. He was very busy, and found it hard to find the time to do the things he knew would nourish his relationship. He decided to write down some things on note cards and keep them in his pocket, reminders to do simple little things that he knew his wife appreciated. I recall some of his cards. They went something like this…
Give a hug
Notice what she is wearing and say something nice about it
Do what you said you would, now
You get the idea. It’s not that these small but significant gestures never entered his mind. He was/is a sensitive, caring person. It’s just he would think about doing things but never get around to doing them. He was always so busy. He was also honest with himself and admitted he could be lazy when it came to relationships, especially the ones that really mattered to him!
I’ve mentioned this man's cards to many women over the years and I can’t think of one woman who hasn’t responded enthusiastically to his plan. My wife sometimes suggests I try it. It’s her way of saying our relationship needs a bit of loving care.
The Honeymoon and After
That’s the thing, after the honeymoon phase has passed, partners in a relationship need to consciously nourish their relationship. After all a relationship is a living thing, it grows and it also can die. It depends on how we care for it.
In the beginning, the falling in love phase, it seems no effort is required. We are tuned in to every detail of our partner’s desires. Giving of ourselves is easy, we want to; we do, no matter how busy we are. That’s a big part of why we fall in love. It seems we’ve finally found that special person who knows what we want and wants to give it to us. Our search is finally over.
But then, inevitably our partner disappoints us. The little gestures, the attention to detail, the giving starts to fade and we start to feel less appreciated, more taken for granted, unheard, not noticed. Reminds me of that old song…
Your eyes don’t shine, like they used to shine,
And the thrill is gone when your lips meet mine,
I’m afraid the masquerade is over,
And so is love, and so is love…
It feels like love is over, for sure. At this stage many couples decide it was all a mistake and separate, looking again for that special someone.
Don’t Throw in the Towel
However, it’s at this stage where the real growing up in a relationship can begin. When things start falling apart the relationship challenges us to take responsibility for the part we play. The challenge is to start doing things that will nourish the relationship, taking control over what we can control, our own behaviour. It’s not easy, it means we have to stop pointing our finger and pick up the mirror and take a good, honest look at how we are in our relationship and ask how we can turn things around and bring back the connection we both desire.
Here are a few suggestions for nourishing your relationship drawn from my own experience and from the experience of couples I’ve worked with.
Be Gentle With Yourself
Start by being gentle with yourself. Don’t focus on the mistakes made and regret over the past. It’s past and the change you want to make will happen in the present.
Slow Things Down and Say What You See
Try to slow down at different times of the day when you are together and just notice each other. Notice small details of your life together and when you see something you like, let your partner know. Share that positive thought or feeling. Believe me these small details communicated can have a very powerful, healing impact on your relationship.
Try adding a small detail to common daily activities. You might try lighting a candle at the table when you share a meal together. Just the effect of taking the time to place the candle and light it can slow things down a bit and make the meal seem more special, bringing you together.
In communities all over the world rituals play a role in connecting people. Are there rituals you both shared at the beginning of your relationship that over time you have abandoned? If so what about reviving a ritual that meant a lot to you both. Give it a try, it may make a big difference.
Talk About Small Changes
Talk to each other about what little changes you each would like to see in your daily routine together. If it helps, make a list and then discuss the changes that are the most important to each of you. Choose one, maybe two changes and make a commitment to trying out some of those changes and feeling what impact they have on your life together. Just talking about this stuff can make big improvements. The message you are giving each other by talking is, ‘our relationship is important to me, I want to know how to nourish it and help it grow’. That goes a long way, believe me.
Change Takes Time
If you fail to do the things you committed to, don’t beat yourself up. Take an honest look at what got in the way. Don’t settle for excuses, or feel sorry for yourself. Ask yourself, what is it about the way you are in relationships that gets in the way. This is about self-growth. It takes courage, commitment and a willingness to be vulnerable, all very sexy stuff! Share your thoughts about this with your partner and ask for help. We all need support breaking old patterns and taking steps towards change. Admitting it can be hard and and asking your partner to help you can be a very powerful means of connecting. Yes, it means showing some vulnerability, but let's face it, vulnerability is at the very core of an intimate relationship. More on that, at length, in another post.
Small Steps Towards Big Changes
Don’t feel you have to confront all the big issues at once. Small steps/changes can make a big difference and pave the way for growing the kind of relationship that will feel nourishing and strong.
Express Your Appreciation
We all know that feeling appreciated for how we give in our relationships is very important. If that’s true for you, there’s a good chance your partner feels the same. A common complaint I hear from couples I work with has to do with not feeling appreciated. So when you become aware of something you appreciate, say it, share it with your partner. It’s a gift, a precious one at that!