Deborah J Fox, MSW
Hum drum, resigned, frustrating - do any of those adjectives apply to your relationship?
Are there topics you avoid talking about because you know they won’t end well?
Is your sexual connection frayed around the edges?
There are six aspects of your relationship that you can attend to that will definitely help you reignite some energy and passion between the two of you. Great relationships are great because they are well fed. Relationships thrive on partnership, special attention, safe conversations, repairing arguments, appreciation, and physical touch.
Many people don't really know what it means to form a committed partnership. After all, who had any relationship education?? In our culture we prize individuality. This doesn’t seem to shift enough when people couple up. It’s a huge transition from ‘me’ to ‘us’.
Your experience in the early - and infatuated - part of your relationship doesn't offer foreshadowing either. During this period you prioritize your relationship above sleep, laundry, paying your bills, and you easily tolerate the fact there's no food in your refrigerator. Fast forward and the lack of food in the fridge leads to incriminations with at least one partner sensing they've stepped onto a minefield.
Being committedpartners means that your job is to keep the other feeling safe and secure. This means prioritizing your relationship and protecting it from outside forces that pull you away.
Being partners means if one person is distressed, both work together to find a solution. All too often you might think, “he’s going to have to figure that one out” because you see it as his issue. Or ‘she’s in a mood, so I’ll leave just leave her alone (until she perks up).” The brutally honest thought is more likely, “I feel helpless because I don’t know how to help you. So I’m backing away from you so I can get away from my discomfort.”
Partnership is about staying in connection and being part of the solution. It’s about asking, “you seem down, what’s up?” Followed by, “what do you need?” or “how can I help?” Being ‘all in’ is what floats the boat of your relationship.
Two Minutes, Three Times a Day
When you leave in the morning, do you seek her out for a hug, kiss and offer warm wishes for the day?
When you arrive home, do you find him and greet him with a smile, hug and kiss? When you hear hercoming in the door, do you pause what you’re doing, get up from your seat and greet her?
When you turn in for the night, do you embrace him - which might mean finding him elsewhere in the house?
Having had a tough day, not feeling like it, or in a rush are not reasons to stray from this ritual. You don’t really want him to bear the brunt of your bad day. This is what happens when you walk in the door with a heavy ‘hello’ with your tales of woe written all over the tone of your voice. The details of your bad day may be important to share, but not in the tone of your voice when you first greet her. Save that conversation for later - let him know you’re glad to see him first.
These two minutes, three times a day are crucial in protecting your bond with each other and creating a relationship space that feels safe, connected and loving. Isn’t this what it means to come ‘home?’
After the Fight
How do you repair your fights with your partner? Or, DO you repair fights?
Fights often take on a life of their own after the initial sparks fly. This is when a lot of damage is done - hurtful things said in the heat of the moment that wouldn’t be said otherwise. Do you fume in your own corner? Is there a silent, tense truce that establishes itself? Perhaps one of you forges the gap with a peace offering or you just let time pass.
Without a solid attempt at repair, hurt feelings are added to the underground heap, lying in wait for the next match to ignite. It’s never too late to repair long-ago arguments. Whatever happened way back when often keeps showing up in current tensions.
Repair starts with an apology. Even if you think you only contributed two percent to the argument, you have an apology to make. It’s an apology without an explanation. Not explaining yourself can be very hard. “I’m sorry I was so harsh”, followed by “I was just so upset by . . . . . .’, pretty much cancels out any apology.
There may well be a good reason to have a fuller conversation about what happened. It doesn’t belong in the apology. Apologizing opens up the possibility that later you can listen and step into your partner’s shoes to understand. This is when things start to make sense.
Listening . . really listening
Do you listen to your partner . . . . .without interrupting him? Until he’s finished, not just until the end of that sentence?
Do you let her know you heard her, even if you disagree or have a different spin? Or do you launch into your own explanation?
Before you respond, do you ask questions to make sure you fully understand?
Good communication is about listening, not talking. When conflict is afoot, it’s the hardest time to really listen. It’s also the most important time. On a good day, you might hear 80% of what your partner said, on a more typical day, maybe 60%. Many misunderstandings continue because you’re already preparing your response while attempting to listen at the same time.
How often do you express your appreciation? Beyond a simple ‘thank you’?
Undoubtedly, things cross your mind that she has said or done that mean a lot to you. Small and large. It’s likely you don’t always tell her. Sharing what pleases you can perform small miracles in how the atmosphere feels between the two of you.
Sharing what you appreciate can accomplish what a hundred conversations can’t. You might frequently express your dissatisfactions, hoping this will motivate him to improve. This more likely leaves him feeling inadequate and hopeless, not inspired.
One note of caution: It can be tempting to say, “I really appreciate you remembering to pick up the dry cleaning, ‘cause I usually have to remind you several times.” She will only hear your complaint. A simple “thanks for making the coffee this morning - perfect timing - I’m so short on time” will bring warmth and a smile. And probably more coffee.
The Physical Connection
Couples need to be touching each other - affectionately, sensually, sexually. This special bond with each other provides a lot of the glue in your relationship. It’s also a crucial part of creating a vibe and connection in which problems don’t become bigger problems.
Intimate touch doesn’t always mean sexual touch. Couples get hijacked away from pleasure-oriented touch by the idea that all touch should lead to high arousal and orgasms for all, every time. Prolonged hugs, a casual arm slung over her shoulder, an affectionate swipe across his back as you pass by are ways to make your partner feel connected.
You may be one of those people who walks down the street with every sixth thought being sexual. You may be partnered with someone who never has a sexual thought walking down that same street. The world often divides into these two groups. And they usually partner with someone from the other group. For many people, sexual desire shows up once they’re engaged in touching. The biggest mistake people make is to assume that you or your partner have to have sexual desire before touching. This mistake leads to much lost opportunity!
Are you making time to enjoy physical intimacy? Or you just expect it to happen between the sheets? Mix it up, be creative. Invite him to bed before you’re both exhausted. Be each other’s appetizer before going out for drinks and dinner. Find each other for some naked time on a weekend afternoon. Add an element of surprise. Don’t let your stressful lives be an excuse.
Put an element of sexuality in the air. Do you wear your baggy sweats around the house? Do you approach her in the way that is enticing to her? Showing enthusiasm for each other in all ways creates a spark.
“I’m not in the mood”, is such a limiting thought. “What could put me in the mood?” opens up possibilities. Perhaps a conversation, a shared glass of wine or cup of tea, a foot massage, a hot bath. There’s a bridge between where your head is at the moment and where it could be - you just have to build it.
Getting back on that track of enjoying each other isn’t about the stars aligning just right. It’s about attending to your relationship in an active way. It does take making sure your partner feels safe and secure with you. Deliberate daily attention, repairing arguments, expressing appreciation are essential. Physical touch is both pleasurable and bonding. Some of these might be outside your comfort zone. It’s also where you find excitement and fulfillment. And the feeling of being home.