It’s Springtime, so for many lucky folks that means love is in the air. We can each remember the fresh, new start of a budding romance: Everything is so lovely…so easy. But what about the couples who’ve passed the Honeymoon period? Those folks who’ve been in a committed, monogamous relationship for over two years. Research shows that after two and a half years with the same partner, both partners start making less of an effort. And less. And less. But why?
If we spring into romance, how do we slide out of it? Do we get to know the “real” person, find their faults, and ignore their strengths? Do we take them for granted and focus our energies on other endeavors that we dare not assume will remain if neglected? Does our partner change and not – in our eyes — for the better? Do we change?
The answer may be “all of the above.” Perhaps more important than why this slippery slope occurs is whether you’d like to live in an improved relationship. I’m not talking about The Perfect Relationship, although it exists and you can achieve it. But striving for perfection can be overwhelming whereas gradual movement toward a better life is attainable. If you’d like a sharper point on Cupid’s [rusty?] arrow, keep reading this Real Optimal Living Blog 6 for some suggested steps:
Step One: Take inventory of the good, the bad, and the ugly. What do you like about your partner? What’s good about your relationship? If you have a hard time coming up with positive qualities, you may need to think in smaller and smaller units until you have at least a couple of things you currently like about them. No kidding. Keep looking until you can find something redeeming about him or her.
Conversely, what’s not working in your relationship? What don’t you like about your partner? Is there anything really intolerable about your relationship? If it’s really “ugly” (i.e., unsatisfactory), consider couples counseling. If your partner won’t join you, then go to a counselor on your own. A healthier you will help forge a healthier relationship…even if its a better relationship with yourself.
Step Two: Reflect on what it’s like for your partner to have a relationship with you. Ha! Did you think this was going to be a “Bash Your Partner Blog?” Tsk-tsk. You should know me by now (this is our Sixth ROL Blog). As wonderful as I’m sure you are, take some time to look at yourself through your partner’s eyes. Become an objective observer and gain an appreciation for what Life is like living with you. You might find a thing or two that you’d be willing to change. You don’t even have to say a word to your partner about it. Just make the change(s) and see what happens (and yes, that even includes swapping out your ratty t-shirts for some nice pajamas or lingerie).
Step Three: Be grateful. Express your gratitude for what you appreciate in and from your partner. Let them know what you do like about them. Be explicit, not necessarily with words but through your actions. Your partner will feel the authenticity of what you are communicating. Feeling appreciated motivates a person to make more of an effort. But don’t just evaluate the success of your attempt to improve your relationship based on your partner’s reactions. Judge for yourself whether you feel an improved quality of relationship.
(Optional) Step Four: Fake it until you make it. Woa! No, I am not talking about faking your “physiological” responses! Let’s save that topic for another ROL Blog (perhaps a Blog that we also discuss “spousal roommate relationships,” i.e., those in which married couples aren’t intimate for months or even years). This fourth step is about modeling some of your actions after someone’s behavior whom you admire. For example, I grew up in a very loving home with the security of parents who were college sweethearts and remained happily in love until death-they-did-part. Throughout my life, I’ve relied on my mother as my role model and hero (although her beautiful Ferragamo shoes remain too big to fill).
Whose relationship do you see as healthy and happy? What elements about their relationship are wonderful that you could try to replicate in your own partnership? You may even try some role-playing. Here’s a humorous personal example:
As a wife, I’ve felt one of my biggest weaknesses is my terrible housekeeping skills (well, cleaning anyway; I’ve always been a great cook). A while ago I decided that — for a couple of days — I was going to try to act like June Cleaver from the old Leave It To Beaver show. Yes, I know this is a fictional television program from the 1950’s, but I’d seen the show in syndication and “admired” the way the mother character, June, had her home ship-shape, great kids, meals prepared, and she was even well dressed with a huge ever-present smile (and pearl necklace, no less!). Well, I skipped the pearls; I also learned I was no June Cleaver. But my husband and I made changes in our household that have had me smiling ever since.
In summary, if you’ve slid into a less rewarding relationship, you have to climb out of it a step or two at a time. Maybe you’ll make it to the top step (whatever that is for you). Even if you only get halfway, that’s a 50% improvement over what’s become the status quo. Now put that spring in your step and start your own ascent.