There is a point in a relationship when people feel they have lost connection with their partner. What used to be a magical love in the beginning, now it barely feels like a functioning relationship.
People come to me with the insecurity of not knowing if there are enough reasons to stay in the relationship or not, if having children together is a good enough reason to stay when they feel, they have estranged themselves from the partner. "We stay together because of the children", or "we share a house together", "I don't want to lose my financial security" are common reasons for people to stay in a relationship, but obviously, not enough to experience the relationship as nurturing, healthy and fulfilling.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING AND WHAT CAN WE DO AGAINST IT?
There was never more truth in the affirmation that "times are changing" than today. Roles of women and men have changed over time. Women have more power than ever, more independence, more choices. Men are more emotional aware, the "boys don't cry" statement has transformed into "be an emotional intelligent leader". Very often both partners are now busy building a career. But this comes with side effects, one being that in the rush of the day people are losing connection to themselves and to their partners.
Also, the decision of having children and starting a family is no more dictated by religion or society, it is something that each couple can decide to. If before people would live together to cover their basic needs, today they rely on their partner to help them fulfill their psychological needs. So, it looks like people are experiencing more freedom to choose the person to love, but in the same time the hectic of the day is preventing them from maintaining the connection for a longer period of time.
Is there something that we can do to better handle these changing times? I believe there is and, as long as people want to improve their relationships, there is always a starting point.
For those of you who are feeling you are losing the connection to your partner, I share with you some ideas:
START BY UNDERSTANDING WHAT A QUALITY RELATIONSHIP MEANS FOR BOTH OF YOU AND WHAT ROLE DOES FEELING CONNECTED PLAYING
In my work as couple therapist I start looking at the pictures, ideas, representations both partners have about relationships and about roles in life. Usually these are pictures created in childhood when they observed their parents or important others interacting. Understanding and reflecting on your mind representations brings at the surface a lot of differences and similarities and helps create a common meaning and understanding of what a happy relationship should be and what is the contribution of feeling connected to your relationship.
LOOK AT THE WAY YOU COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR PARTNER, BOTH VERBAL AND NON-VERBAL. LISTEN TO YOUR TONE OF VOICE, WATCH FOR THE WORDS YOU ARE USING
Next, I start looking at the interactions between the two partners. How you communicate with your partner, the way wishes, desires are expressed or not, small gestures that betray your thoughts. John Gottman, a famous couple therapist and researcher, said once that for a relationship to function well, the ratio positivity to negativity should be 5 to 1. That means, for 1 negative interaction, there should be 5 positives to neutralize it. Ask yourself next time when you have positive interactions with you partner how connected you feel as opposed to when you have negative interactions?
SOLVING CONFLICTS CONSTRUCTIVELY MAKES YOU STRONGER AS PARTNERS. AVOIDING CONFLICTS IS NOT A GOOD SOLUTION BECAUSE THE REPRESSED NEGATIVE FEELINGS WILL SHOW UP ELSEWHERE
The way partners approach conflicts it’s the next station. It is not that conflicts are to be avoided, on the contrary: conflicts are to be openly discussed, but it is the tone and timing that we ought to be aware of. In other words, chances are that you will not solve a conflict in high pitch and during strong emotions, but rather in a more affectionate matter, with empathy and if possible, with a portion of humor. As you learn to solve conflicts constructively, a sense of connectedness "we are in this together" appears.
BE PRESENT! THIS DOESN'T MEAN TO JUST SHOW UP AT HOME, IT MEANS BEING MINDFUL WHEN YOU SPEND TIME WITH YOUR PARTNER
Being present in your interactions can make a big difference for you and your partner. This translates into paying attention to what your partner wants to share with you, showing interest, listening actively before speaking instead of doing many things at once. I found this to be particularly important because, as time goes by and as we feel more secure in our relationships, we tend to "guess" what the other would say or do and often we project our own thoughts on them. This may leave less space to observing clues of positive change in our partner
SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT ROLES YOU FULFILL
Coming back to the different roles we have now, setting clear boundaries between being a mother and a wife or father and husband helps a lot in keeping things clear. For example, if you create a weekly ritual of having a coffee with your partner, show up at the meeting as a wife/husband and talk couple issues, don't mix it with children issues. Such talks are often opportunities for checking the status of your relationship and increase connection. In the same way, once you are at home from your office, leave your computer and telephone aside, at least as long as you want to dedicate your time to your partner. Clarifying your roles and setting boundaries as good as possible helps keeping the focus on the matters you want to.
LAST, BUT DEFINITELY NOT LEAST, LEARN TO LOVE, NOT TO BE LOVABLE
Eric Fromm pointed in his book "The art of loving" that love is like an art, requiring knowledge and practice and that there is a difference between loving and making oneself being loved. As he explains, we learn too easy how to make ourselves to be loved, instead of loving. In the pursuit of making oneself lovable, men want to be successful, powerful and rich whereas women make themselves attractive, helpful or even inoffensive. Since love is the reason why we are connected to our partners in the first place, it makes sense to dedicate more time to understand it and practicing like we would practice any other art. One can find a lot of knowledge about love and relationships in books. It is practicing that is the hardest part as there are no "how to do it" books, for rather love is a personal experience which everyone can only have it by and for himself.
These are some thoughts to give you the impulse to take time aside and think about keeping your relationship connectedness alive. I am convinced that each of you have enough ideas and resources to use, that you just need to put your focus and use them. With this in mind, I am provoking you to share these ideas with me and other readers.
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