8 tips on how to breathe life back into your relationship
When we were dating, we felt alive, and we took every opportunity to be together. We showed up on time, and we wore our best clothes. We asked questions of each other, we listened. We were open and vulnerable; we ignored the flaws and focused on the positives. We laughed at the same things, embraced each other’s bodies and promised to be with each other always, forsaking all others.
But then we stopped. It was as if in making that vow of ever after, you decided that you didn’t need to date anymore. Your love had been validated, you didn’t have to worry about it; you were solid in your feelings for each other. It was placed upon the shelf, alongside the photo frames full of memories, and you could concentrate on other things. Pouring all of your energy into your children/pets, ageing parents, your careers, your homes, making ends meet.
Except love isn’t a keepsake, it is a feeling. If taken for granted, it will diminish in intensity until eventually, you begin to wonder what you ever saw in your beloved. The little annoyances become reasons for full-blown arguments. You start doing stuff on your own, spending more and more time apart. Conversations get shorter, and the silence in between grows longer. Time passes, being together becomes a chore, hard work, dull, routine.
Sadly, saying “I love you, but I am no longer in love with you” is now said just as many times as “I do” as increasing rates of divorce and conscious uncoupling testify.
Separation can be messy, especially if one of you is still in love with the other. So before you start severing ties, here are some tips on how to breathe life back into your relationship and rekindle the love you once had.
1. Pay attention to the good
Remember what attracted you to them in the first place? Perhaps it was their laugh or the way they paid attention to detail or were active members of the community. Whatever it was, it is most likely still there. Stay focused on the things you like about them and tell them so. If you have fallen into the trap of criticising them for their shortcomings all the time, chances are they have forgotten what is good about themselves too.
2. Repair the foundations
Go on dates, spend time in each other’s company, do something you both enjoy, gaze into each other’s eyes, be interested in what the other person is saying. The time and effort you put into building the foundations of your relationship are just as important five, ten, thirty years down the track. Careful, you might not be flexible enough to do the funky chicken dance anymore, but you can find something new to do that is just as enjoyable.
3. Be the change
If only they wouldn’t, insert annoying habit of choice, is a phrase that we hear all the time in relationship therapy. News flash, you can’t force someone to change, but you can understand why they do what they do and modify your behaviour, so the other person feels supported rather criticised. In actively listening, you might discover that the other person doesn’t like their annoying habit either but doesn’t feel able to change or feel supported to change. Consider that they may be reacting to something you do that annoys them. If the behaviour isn’t a destructive, addictive or an abusive one, then perhaps you need to accept that it is part of what makes them unique and focus on what you like about them instead.
4. Take responsibility
If you have done something that has upset your partner or you said something hurtful. Take responsibility for your actions and apologise. If it was a reaction to something they said or did, question if your response was helpful or did it just make the situation worse? As the saying goes, two wrongs, don’t make a right. How you react is just as important as them taking responsibility for their actions.
5. Stick together
What is the point of a relationship if you continue to act as a singleton? Having your own interests is important but not if the only time you spend in each other’s company is in bed at night. Partners who stay together, play together and have each other’s backs when the chips are down.
6. Know the difference between complaining and criticising
Complain about the action but do not criticise the person if you have a problem to solve. For example:
- “You always leave the towel on the floor, that is so disgusting.”-is criticism of the other’s behaviour.
- “Have you noticed the bathroom smells musty and the floor is always damp? I think it is because of the wet towels left on the floor. We could solve the problem by hanging them up or putting them in the laundry to be washed. Don’t you agree?” – is a complaint about the bathroom odour with a recommended solution.
7. Forgive, repair, let it go
Nobody is perfect, and at some point, you will argue. You might be soulmates, but even soulmates are allowed to disagree. There is a right and a wrong way to argue and is summed up best with the sporting analogy of ‘play the ball, not the person’. Emotional or physical violence is never ok. Take time out to calm down, speak constructively, listen actively, find a solution. Letting problems fester or bringing them up again in future arguments is not helpful. Apologise and forgive each other for words said in the heat of the moment. Find a resolution to the problem and let it go (Elsa may be annoying, but she does sing it best).
8. What is love?
Finally, remember that love is a feeling and an action. You feel love when the other person does something for you, says something nice about you, spends time with you, is intimate with you, listens to you. These are all actions of love that create a feeling of love. Giving and receiving love is not just reserved for the beginning of a relationship; it is a daily practice that lasts a lifetime.