So you’ve been in this relationship for a while. And nothing is inherently wrong with it. But you occasionally look at your partner and wonder if it could be more.
Maybe you compare your relationship to your best friend’s—after all, they are so disgustingly happy.
Or maybe, sometimes, it feels more like a business partnership than an intimate relationship.
Do you have the kids? Yeah.
What’s for dinner? Leftovers.
Do we have the money for this? Nope.
Can you get milk? Sure.
Somehow, when you look at your relationship now and compare it to what you expected it to look like when you and your partner got together, it doesn’t stack up the way it was supposed to.
Is it too late?
I often get asked this question in couples counseling. When you get to a point where it almost feels as if the love is gone—when there are no more butterflies in your stomach and the honeymoon phase has long passed—it can be natural to wonder if something is wrong.
But the truth is every relationship goes through periods when partners don’t feel as close as they used to, or they just don’t feel like they are on the same page anymore. If both partners are committed to the relationship, then once these patterns are recognized, you can intentionally guide yourselves back on track. Here are some ways to make it happen:
1. Regular Date Nights
This is conventional wisdom: If you have regular date nights, you are more likely to feel more connected, more often, to your partner.
But there’s a little more to it than that.
Date nights don’t do much good if you have your faces in your phones, only talk about your kids, or do the same things every time. Set your rules up front: no phones out, answer only for the babysitter, no kid talk, etc.
Look at date nights as time for you to dream together. Ask questions you don’t know the answers to. Reminisce. Set goals, get accountable to each other, and encourage one another to expand your scope beyond everyday realities.
Remember, you set your own rules here. Date nights can actually be date days—while the kids are at school, a birthday party, or hanging out at a friend’s house. It can be as simple as a walk in the neighborhood. It can be a fancy home-cooked meal or dessert after the kids have gone to bed.
Take the pressure off of trying to re-create the last romantic comedy you watched. Set your goal on connection and keep it simple.
2. Change Your Routine
Nothing fosters connection more reliably than changing things up. Our brains naturally reengage when we are outside of our routine and doing something different. It takes us out of autopilot mode and allows us to think creatively.
What does this mean for your relationship? Small changes can make a big difference.
For example, getting a weeknight babysitter instead of on the weekend can change the entire structure of your week. Joining an active group together can both give you a physical challenge and help stoke new interests.
Encourage each other’s self-care. Do you need to turn off the TV at night and engage in games, books, exercise, or strengthening friendships a couple times a week? Do you need to go to bed early? Does your partner?
Again, shifting your routines in service of alleviating your everyday stresses can help you both feel reengaged, understood, heard, and connected in ways that may be unexpected.
3. Water the Grass
Figuratively, of course. If you find yourself wondering if the grass is greener elsewhere, look hard at how you are engaging within your relationship.
If you need to put additional time and energy into yourself to feel more fulfilled within your relationship and let go of some unhealthy habits, give yourself permission to invest it.
Are you holding on to resentments from the past? Are you stressed out in other ways and projecting that onto your partner? Are you communicating your wants and needs appropriately? Does your partner get to see who you really are?
Often, those uneasy feelings come in when we are looking at others’ relationships and comparing what we see to ours. We can be especially vulnerable to this on social media. But it’s easy to forget that even the healthiest relationships take time, energy, and work—and don’t always look pretty behind closed doors.
So rather than focusing that energy on what other people have or do not have, pay attention to what is within your control to change. If you need to put additional time and energy into yourself to feel more fulfilled within your relationship and let go of some unhealthy habits, give yourself permission to invest it.
Otherwise, look around and ask yourself what you can do to reconnect with your partner. What can you do to nourish your relationship and help it grow?
4. Tune Up with Counseling
Many couples benefit from intensive counseling during highly stressful times, and then less frequent sessions over time, to keep them on track and accountable. Counseling can be as brief as one session or can last for many years as a form of “maintenance” for the relationship.
In the long run, marriage counseling is cheaper than a messy divorce. Sure, it can wade into tricky waters, but isn’t that when you want a professional guiding you through?
Your relationship doesn’t have to be seemingly beyond repair before you ask for help. Counseling can be beneficial for any couple, whether you have been together for only a short time or for many years.
Relationships can encounter difficulty at any stage, but counseling can help you and your partner to build skills rather than resentment.
© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, therapist in Summerville, South Carolina
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