Folks often come to couples therapy because they're feeling disconnected. They've tried hard. They're exhausted and hopelessness is starting to seep inside. The spark and intimacy in their relationship are fading and they're unsure if it can be restored.
What happened to our Relationship?
A tale of two boats. A common story.
When relationships first start, it's like two separate boats coming side by side, admiring the other, feeling excited to be around the other and dreaming of the adventures ahead of them as they cruise around this life together. The opportunities usually feel endless, and the pull towards the other's boat can feel magnetic. There's even plenty of leaping into one another's boats and allowing the rest of the world to fade away. Who wouldn't want this to last forever? So often we try. However, before we realize it, we are cruising around our lives in one boat. It starts out feeling nice and cozy. However, as time marches on, this boat you're sharing can begin to feel crowded and stifling, with occasional fantasies about jumping ship. And soon enough you're waist deep in fights about who is driving the boat, where the boat gets to go, what's allowed on the boat, etc.
There is more conflict than desire for one another, as there isn't much "other" left. When faced with this experience, the most common tactic folks use to try to remedy this is to spend more time together. However, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, rebuilding connection looks like re-establishing individual boats to allow for increased space between one another.
Intentionally creating this increased space between one another, as scary as it may feel, gives you a chance to see the other and be drawn back towards one another.
And yes, this can equate to less time together but also a decrease in conflict and opportunity for deeper connection.
5 ways to rebuild your relationship by rebuilding your own boat.
- Get to know yourself again. Do you want to resume an old hobby? Pick up a new one? Engage in a creative venture that you've felt you just couldn't fit into your life? If there is something you've been forgoing because your partner doesn't want to participate, revisit this topic with them and discuss how you can create space in your relationship for you to enjoy this activity.
- Develop some independent friendships. Mutual friends are great but work towards investing a little more time into relationships that don't revolve around your relationship with your partner.
- Be honest about your preferences. If you don't like certain activities, certain movies, speak up about them and allow your partner the opportunity to engage in these activities independently or with others that enjoy these more.
- Give yourself license to fall on your face. Balancing your own boat while staying connected to your partner is a relationship long balancing act. At times, you'll feel like you're in a groove and other times you'll realize your boat sank or you aren't even quite sure where your partner's boat is. The important thing is that you realize where you're at, and work towards correcting course.
- Communicate with your partner what you're up to. It can be very alarming for your partner if you suddenly jump out of the boat you've been cruising in together. "You're abandoning me!" they'll exclaim. It's completely logical and your partner is not crazy for worrying about this. That is exactly what it might feel like to them. Communicate calmly and provide reassurance to them. Change is uncomfortable, even if it's good for relationships. So just talk to them about how you're working on strengthening the relationship by rediscovering parts of yourself you let fall to the wayside during the course of the relationship.
How to avoid screwing this up.
Whatever you do, do not send this article to your partner and declare that you are no longer required to do anything with them that doesn't appeal to you. That's not what this is saying. All relationships require flexibility with one another and participating in activities that you don't prefer. This is about looking at your relationship and figuring out where you fall on the "separateness and togetherness" spectrum. Each of you was drawn to who one another was, so provide one another the opportunity to be fully yourselves in this relationship. And as you rediscover your individual sense of self apart from your relationships, you'll be on your way to reconnecting with those you love in deeper and more sustaining ways.