Relationships start wonderfully. Attraction turns to infatuation turns to love. We feel the connection, act on it, and include them in our day-to-day lives. We’ve been looking for a “great relationship”, and have now found one. But as the months and years go by, the infatuation that once attracted us can start to wane. Complacency rears its ugly head, and disconnection starts.
But most of the time, we are unaware of how things are changing until it’s too late.
Disconnection most often starts slowly and unveils itself in small increments; nearly imperceptible when added in to the chaos of life: commutes, housework, careers, kids, and responsibilities ad nauseum. Priorities shift, tension rises, and patience dwindles. The result ranges from mild annoyance to complete contempt, where you look across the breakfast table at your partner and think to yourself, “Wow. Is this it? Is this what ‘marriage’ is supposed to be? How did we get here?”
Disconnection is the same as connection, in that it takes the same amount of effort—you work together to build a life, and it takes focus to disconnect and decouple—even if that effort happens slowly and/or subconsciously.
The recognition that the proverbial honeymoon is over can be both overwhelming and relieving, but scary nonetheless. For many, it serves as a wakeup call. You see that things aren’t right, and you want to change. You want your partner to change. You want your relationship great again. But how? Where do you even start?
Hitting the reset button on your relationship or marriage is fraught with challenges, the most important of which is this: old patterns don’t just die hard, they die kicking and screaming while dragging anything good or healthy into the abyss with them. Perhaps the biggest challenge in resetting your relationship is that you’re in it. The patterns and dynamics are established, and you don’t have any perspective. And of course you don’t; you can’t have perspective on something you’re in.
This is usually the point where people seek out a marriage counselor, and begin the long road back to a place of connection and bliss with their partner. They spend weeks or months addressing not only the symptoms of their day-to-day dissatisfaction, but also getting underneath the symptoms to root out and address the original cause. The process is challenging, as the pattern is well-established. This is a couple who is most often living together, and they reinforce their negative patterns every day while they only see their therapist once-a-week for 60 minutes. Hardly the recipe for shifting things for the better.
Rejuvenating your relationship with your partner can feel daunting, but even if you can’t connect with a therapist or counselor to rebuild your relationship, there are many things you can do to start the process of reconnection.
1. Start over. You can’t “go back” to a relationship that is disconnected. It will only lead you to the same place of disconnection. You have to start over and build something new.
2. Get honest… with them, with yourself, and with the state of your relationship. You can’t change things if you don’t look at them objectively and honestly. You have to get real about what’s happening—for you and for your relationship. You have to accept the truth that the two of you are starting to drift/grow apart so you can being the process of course-correction. And being honest can be scary, as you have to be vulnerable and willing to look at things objectively.
3. Talk about the way you feel, not what they are doing. Too often, couples stuck in a rut look at the other person as the problem. They don’t invest anymore. They don’t do what I want. They aren’t passionate/loving/affectionate. If they conversation starts with “You” statements (i.e. “You don’t pay attention to me.”), it will create an adversarial discussion that is rooted in defensiveness. The result will be two people who are defending themselves instead of listening with empathy. Instead, discuss how you feel with statements that reflect you, not them.
Example: Instead of “You don’t spend any time with me anymore,” say “I feel like I don’t matter to you,” or “I feel ignored by you.” This allows them to hear your view/feelings, and then discuss why you might feel that way—as well as how they are potentially contributing to it.
As the two of you examine the situation, work to accept their point of view as their truth… even if you don’t agree with them.
4. Get tactical. Discussion is great, but it takes action to shift things. One of the biggest issues facing couples is time—or a lack thereof. Commutes, jobs, housework, kids, hobbies, finances… everything plays a part of how couples disconnect. Things are deemed “necessary” or “more important,” so the marriage/relationship is looked at as the thing they “will get to later, when there’s time.” But that time often doesn’t come until it’s too late.
Make your relationship a priority, and the rest of things will fall into place. Planning time together is critical. But more importantly, a disconnected couple looking to reconnect needs to get back to the things that connected them in the first place. Call them in the middle of the day for no reason—just to say hello. Leave them a note in their coat pocket. Show your kids that mom-and-dad time is just as important as family time—and then go on a date without the kids in-tow. Kiss them goodnight instead of just saying it. The little things and behaviors will always go further than big gifts.
5. Get vulnerable. One of the biggest challenges in any relationship is allowing them to see you emotionally stripped down. When fear and disconnection are present, it’s nearly impossible to allow them “in.” You fear being judged. You “know what they are going to say.” You resent them for [insert reason here]. To break this pattern, you have to get to a place where you go all-in. You have to reset things and get to a place where you put your effort in and let the past go.
If you want to stay connected, you have to remember one simple thing: relationships and marriages are made up of two individuals. Those individuals will always be learning, growing, and adding to there experiences—both as individuals and as a couple. Wake up each morning not knowing them and instead discover them each day. If you do, you will stay connected. If you don’t, you're on the way to separation.