Reignite the Spark in Your RelationshipFebruary 3, 2009 • By Mona Barbera, PhD
You may have a quality relationship – but miss the spark you remember from earlier times. Maybe stresses associated with work, children, or financial concerns have come between you and your partner. Maybe you’ve settled into a routine. Taking account of issues in the relationship is integral to removing barriers that have grown up between partners over time.
First of all, resolve to look at your part of it. Try an experiment, and own 100% of the problem. A 50/50 split does not work in every case. Someone has to take the lead on being accountable for the way things are.
Built-up resentment is the first main cause of distance in romantic relationships. Ask yourself the following questions if you sense trouble in your relationship.
- Do you have old resentments piled up inside?
- Are you resentful of things that keep happening?
- Do you think your mate is to blame for what happened?
- Do you hear yourself thinking critical thoughts about him or her?
- Are you convinced that your mate is at fault?
- Have you decided that you need to be distant to protect yourself?
If you answered yes to any of the above, respect your feelings. Don’t try to fight them. Just listen in, like you were attending to a friend in need of a receptive ear. See if you can understand how some of your criticism and blame could be related to your own past. Does your partner’s behavior remind you of how other people have failed you? Consider if you are projecting your own issues onto current situations.
Now you can do something about this. Be honest with your partner about your resentments–with no blame or shame. Share your feelings without being adamant that it is his or her fault. Instead of being convinced, be curious about yourself and your partner.
You may have the best conversation you ever had. Avoiding difficult conversations out of fear is the second main cause of distance in romantic relationships. Listen to your fears. If you brought up important issues, are you afraid your mate would get angry? Depressed? Leave you?
Listen to your fears with kindness and love. They are there for a reason. See if you start to make connections about how your fears have to do with your own life. Once you can own your fears as your own, you won’t have to be afraid of what your partner does when you bring up difficult issues. You’ll feel freer and more honest. You’ll be better equipped to stay calm and connected even if he or she gets upset at first.
The third main cause of distance in relationships is that the spark was never there to begin with. But you may be able to find it for the first time. Be honest with yourself: did you choose your mate because he or she was safe? Because you thought you would find security with them? Ask yourself these questions:
- Is this really about me?
- Am I doing anything that is keeping us in a safe, secure rut?
- What am I afraid would happen if I had more excitement in my relationship?
See if you can face your own fears. Maybe there is some experiment you can make to see if you can do something different–like instigating positive change in your routines. You may be surprised at how your mate responds. Unexpected excitement can come from changing the conditions of your expectations.
© Copyright 2009 by Mona R. Barbera, PhD, therapist in Providence, RI. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org. The preceding article was solely written by the author name above. The view and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.
LizaFebruary 4th, 2009 at 6:13 AM
My husband and I used to have a great relationship before the kids came along and ever since then things seem to have gotten a little out of control. Don’t get me wrong we still love one another and I know the spark is still there because the once in a blue moon chance that we have to be alone it feels so nice! But we have been like so many other parents out there and have allowed our kids to take top billing which has basically shoved our marriage if not into the backseat, maybe into the trunk! I mean our kids take up all of our time, and it is more than just our own. There are always neighborhood kids coming over to hang out with ours too- which is fine we always wanted to be the house where all of the kids can feel safe and comfy but we never have any time to ourselves! What’s worse is that when we do take the time to even try to make that time then I feel guilty like we are depriving the kids with time that they need for their parents. We need a date night in the worst way but never have the money to pay a babysitter and go out to dinner too so usually the kids all come along. How do I stop this and reclaim the marriage that once was ours?
JackFebruary 5th, 2009 at 2:03 PM
My wife and I are currently under a lot of pressure because I have lost my job and she is a stay at home mom who will not even consider the idea of going back to work to help make ends meet. I have so much anger in me that is building. I already do not feel good about the situation and her refusal to help out is making it even worse. I do not even know how to express to her just how disappointed I am in her right now. Needless to say there is little spark in my house right now.
NancyFebruary 7th, 2009 at 8:39 AM
Do you ever wonder if something like an inexpensive little weekend getaway could be what you need to bring back some of the romance? Or how about sitting down with a counselor or friend to talk some of it through?
AllisonFebruary 11th, 2009 at 4:25 PM
This may be a little off track here but I was unsure where to post. I just found out today that my husband has been downloading porn onto his computer at work and as a result he has now lost his job. I had been thinking of all kinds of creative ways to put some spark back into our marriage but now I guess I see the reasons why I even thought this was necessary. Why do men do this? Is it to add spark to something that is missing for them? I am devastated that this has happened to me and my daughter and really do not know where else to turn to even find the answers. I need someone to talk to about it but I feel ashamed and embarassed and because our insurance is so tied into his job I cannot even seek professional help with the questions that I have. Does anyone have any resources here that you know about which could help me to understand? I just found out today and already I am going out of my mind.
JuliaFebruary 13th, 2009 at 11:34 AM
Allison I am so sorry to hear about your story and I do hope there is someone out there who can find help for you. Just know that this is so much not about you and that he has to find a way to change and heal, not you.
mona barberaFebruary 16th, 2009 at 12:21 PM
Dear Allison, so sorry! I have seen couples successfully get through this kind of situation. You may not have to worry about confidentiality re: using your husband’s insurance – there are laws protecting your privacy. If he has an EAP you could find out the confidentiality rules, or see if you could bypass it and go right to your insurance. If you tell me where you are i can try to recommend a good therapist.
February 19th, 2009 at
To all who have written about loss of spark, from either kids or resentments:
Thanks for your thoughts and sharings.
I have been thrilled to see so many couples get the spark back and i hope you can too. If kids are getting in way perhaps it would help to ask yourself if there are any reasons you are letting this happen. Are there any parts of you that are secretly relieved that kids are in the way? Parts that go along with other’s needs instead of making clear choices? Parts that feel guilty if you don’t give, give, give?
I have found through Internal Family Systems that once you look inside with curiosity and openness, you may find surprising things. And sometimes all it takes is just noticing.
FOr those of you that are distancing because of resentment, you must find a way to talk about it. but don’t start until you are calm and connected, and even curious about your spouse. Even if you are sure you are right, that little edge of curiosity can be so helpful. And also don’t start the conversation until you are prepared to maintain your calm and connection even if your mate gives your their WORST response. You’ll feel better inside yourself and you’re more likely to have a good result.
May love flower within you and between you,
Mona Barbera, Ph.D.
AmyFebruary 25th, 2009 at 7:08 PM
I do think that the spark in a relationship is directly proportionate to the love in a relationship. The person we married, had kids with, fought dirty with and hate the most is still the person we blindly fell in love with. It takes going back a little and stepping out of those serious adult shoes to just look at him or her without prejudice and with pure love. Love that didnt care whether he doesnt help around the house or clean the dishes. However, its important to have an unbiased conversation about the things we resent the most. Reasoning out is more important that arguing and justifying. Sometimes having small children and endless chores to do doesnt even give space for conversation. Finding time and making it a priority is important in developing a strong, wholesome family. No spark No fire and definitely no warmth.
KateFebruary 28th, 2009 at 7:11 AM
I think we get disappointed when our spouse doesnt accomadate our mind in his body. We carry that on to anger and finally resentment. Letting him/her be themselves is very important to having lasting joy and meaning in a relationship.
andreaMarch 22nd, 2009 at 4:59 PM
I am having issues with the spark being lost in my relationship. i used to be crazy about him and he was crazy about me… in the past couple years we have lost that and we dont really even have sex hardly. i have lost my sex drive and i resent him for a bunch of things. I have tried to talk to him but he says we are fine and he doesnt see a huge problem. i’m miserable and want some spark back, i dont know how to do this because he is the only person i’ve been with for years. I want to work through things but its hard because i dont know what to do.
graeme whiteMarch 29th, 2010 at 9:48 AM
hi there iam trying to get the spark back in my life with my wife but what ever i do seems to never work i work long hours and when i get back iam allways doing the cooking as soon as i get in she sits on the computer all the time when she is back from work and if i do something wrong all i do is get shouted at but when it comes to sex well i have to keep asking to get it but when i do all we seem to do is the same thing i would like to be like we used to be doing everything everywhere allways happy with each other now that we are married things have gone down hill please is there anyone who can help me decided what to do thanks
AndreaMarch 29th, 2010 at 3:23 PM
Graeme, I wish you the best. I was the one that posted before you, and mine ended up not working out. I lost the love of my life and its been almost 8 months now. I wish i had the answers, but maybe you guys can figure out something you can both relate to and enjoy doing together, or bring up teh good times and when she smiles tell her now much you miss that. Maybe she wants to talk? I know its hard sometimes to listen because there are so many things going on with work and tasks at home but if you bring up good times and get that smile back it can open up her heart to communication and maybe that will give you the window of opportunity to reignite that spark.
HeatherApril 13th, 2010 at 10:26 PM
I understand what everyone is feeling. My husband and I have been married two years, and been together for seven. Between that time we had a six month break where we both saw other people. The guy I dated ended up drifting apart but it was surreal. My husband and I now have two beautiful children! I love him and I know he loves me, but something is missing. We never communicate anymore and if so were nit-picking at each other. He’s my life and I wish I could find that old spark before it goes out. It kills me to think about not having him around!! Any ideas??
April 21st, 2010 at
Dear Heather, Here’s an idea to start some change – why not set a goal for yourself for a month. How about eliminating mean criticism entirely for a month? That doesn’t mean avoiding complaining or speaking your mind.
It means staying connected, clear, and moderate when you complain. It means getting your point across without demeaning the other person. It means no facial expressions that indicate disgust.
If you start this, you might see it coming back to you. If you don’t you could be curious about what is keeping your mate distant.
Let us know how it goes!
April 21st, 2010 at
Just to clarify – I’m not assuming that you are criticizing your husband — it’s just an example of a goal that you could set for yourself, something that is within your power to do and doesn’t involve changing the other person.
kenJune 26th, 2010 at 8:57 PM
My wife and I have been married for 12 years and she is my whole world. I love her more than I can express. She has always been an outstanding wife, supporting me in every decision I have ever made. Here is the problem, about six years ago I went into buisness for myself and not realizing it I put my wife second and sometimes even last. I thought that if I was succesfull that I was fullfilling my husband duties but what I was really doing was neglecting my wife. In this bad economy my buisness failed and I realized that I was happier and a better husband and friend to my wife before. Problem is now that I’m my old self again she has a lot of resentment towards me for letting her down. She says she loves me, she’s just not in love with me and it breaks my heart. Do you have any ideas and do you think we might still have a chance?
June 27th, 2010 at
I think you will probably need the help of a very skilled couples therapist on this one. She may or may not want to let go of her resentment – if she does want to, a skilled couples therapist can help. If she doesn’t want to, you can’t force her. You could wait patiently a bit longer, listen ever so carefully to her resentment without saying: but, you made me, it was because, etc. Think about what you have control over – your own actions, and how you respond to her. I recommend careful listening, curiosity, and keeping your defensiveness in check. Also, paradoxically, it could be that the more you are ready to accept that she doesn’t love you, the more chance you have that she will love you again. That’s because your desperation or forcing or having an agenda for her, will make it harder for you to hear her.
hol smitJanuary 14th, 2011 at 1:48 PM
I need help! My fiance whom Ive been with for 6 years and have helped raise his 6 year old daughter had fallen into a rut of taking eachother for granted. I admitadly took this distance not within stride and began questioning him ALOT on his interest in other girls which he always denied. In our distance he began talking excessively to a female coworker (almost daily before and after work) and we decided to take a break. We got back together and he said that he felt that I smother him and question him too much. After finding out about how much he and his coworker talk we broke back up. He and she both maintain that they are only friends yet they can not wake up or go to bed without having a conversation. Their closeness continues to distance us. I want to be together. I have raised his daughter and her mother left her in March. I just dont know how to change this downard spiral around so that our relationship once again based on ‘we’ primarily-before others. How do I get him to change focus from needing her for emotional support back to me?
Ann BrinkMarch 7th, 2011 at 1:10 PM
Hi, I could really use some advice…. My fiancée and I have been together for 4 years and are planning on getting married later this year. Recently he opened up to me and expressed some regret for not dating anyone else before me, in more of a sexual way. I’m absolutely terrified that this is the beginning to the end, because that’s how things have worked in the past for me. I realize that I shouldn’t be letting things from the past interfere with now, but it’s just hard to let that hurt go. I’m happy that he’s at least talking to me about it and he’s trusting me enough to open up, but I will say that I was pretty hurt when he said that. I think that’s just because to me he is my everything and I feel like by him saying that it means that I’m not that to him. I’ve started working on me, even before this came up, I’ve been able to drop 80+ pounds and I thought that would bring back some of the spark because I’m happier now. I’m just not sure if that’s helping or hurting the situation. Is there something that I can do to make this change or to help him??
QueenethSeptember 28th, 2011 at 7:13 AM
Hi, Icould really use some advice… My Husband and I have been together for 5 years we have two beautiful two daughters and it hurts me that he can’t open up with me everything we fight a lot and that hurts me. he once told me that even his exes are 100% better than me.that hurts cause i’m nothing without him at times i feel like committing suicide just to hurt him and feel what i feel inside for not sharing things with me i don’t even know when was the last we’re just happy. i don’t want my kids to grow up without their father.
rita loyalOctober 20th, 2011 at 11:30 AM
hi, i dont know where to begin but my husband and i have been married for a year and a half, we have a 11 month daughter. the problem is that we hardly talk. he works 2pm-12am and i am a stay at home mom. we talked a little the other night and he said he wants to try and make this work, but its like we have nothing to talk about. but when he is with his family or friends he always has a smile on his face. i feel like he just doesnt like me at times, i need my husband back and i dont know where to begin!!
ClaytonOctober 24th, 2011 at 7:58 AM
Hi, I have also recently been having the same problem with losing the spark in my relationship.. I havnt lost the spark but she has. We started dating a little over a year ago and she was 2 months pregnant. AND 5 hours away. So we dated for seven months with the plan of when she has the baby she would transfer her job to this area and thats all we wanted was for all of us to be together. I took the baby girl in as my own and love her with all of my heart and I feel the same way about my girlfriend. I don’t want anything else but those 2 girls. But while she was living with me we experienced a huge problem with not having any help with the baby and not being able to have a real “relationship.” I realize that having a newborn is a huge change in anyones life and these things are going to happen. But another thing is we decided together that we wanted the baby to be raised around family and we also wanted my girlfriend to finish the school she was in the middle of before she became pregnant. So…. We decided they needed to move back. Well that made it even worse, I have been sick to my stomach missing both of them like crazy and pestering her with numerous text messages and phone calls and truly turned into a big sissy! She loves me for who I am to her and the baby ultimately the baby. She never expected a man to take her child in as their own the way I did! But our problem now is that since she’s moved and has all the help in the world with the baby living with her grandmother she doesn’t feel that spark anymore when I come to visit and she sees me. She very honest with me and said that when I’m there she doesn’t feel like she wants to hug or kiss on me or have sex the way she used to.. Maybe I just need to let her see how it is without me completely even as hard as that will be? I just don’t know what to do. But she is putting forth alot of effort talking to people and trying to figure out why she feels that way, buying book on how to control her thoughts and talking to her counselor at work. I can honestly say that there is no other man in her life n she’s not giving up. She’s said multiple times that she doesn’t want to be without me but she wants to be with me and have that spark again. Someone please help I don’t know what I’ll do without my girls!! Sorry such a novel!! Lol
KristinNovember 12th, 2011 at 8:18 AM
I am just gonna lay it all out there andh hoefully get some advice.my boyfriend and I r in a serious relationship and I know thAt we love eachother but he has
Has done some hurtful things that im having ahard time letting go of and I have forgave him or so I thought but my actions when im under the influence say different the firs inncodent was due to his dumb behavior and being drunk and I called him and no answer on the phone and I seehime with another girl just talking tho.then on my sons bday he dissapeared and got high.we have been on abetter track as long as he is not doing dumbstuff.but I still am not that”in” to him like I was before.i want to be with him and we hav talked but im pushing him away.whY do I,do this.any advice wld be great.thank you
mikeDecember 4th, 2011 at 6:13 PM
Hello,my wife and i have been married for 10 years.We have been somewhat happy til about a month ago,I got blindsided with i love you but not in love with you.We have 2 young children and I think i am in trouble,she says we need space but I don’t think so the kids take up almost all of our spare time and i have been a little selfish with my hunting trips.I thunk the monotony has caught up with us and the spark is almost non exsistant,but i still love her whole hearted and not ready to give up.I think to reunit the spark is going to be a uphill battle but do able..Any suggestions???
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