This is week four of our February Relationship Series that is building on our January Start the Year Well Series of the Skill, Practice, Practice, Practice: Keep Doing It.
Sometimes I just think we are relationally lazy. Before you feel offended, I have to ask, “Don’t you think that the things we do to get a relationship energized, we later allow to slip away?” Maybe we are hardwired for complacency or, more positively spun, maybe we seek efficiency—which, of course, is like an “energy saving” switch. Let me give you some examples:
- Couple is dating 3 years; she confides, “We haven’t had sex in 3 months.”
- Couple married 15 years, “I can’t remember the last time just the two of us spent an evening alone.”
- Woman married 25 years, “Why should I care what I wear out, he’s seen me at my worst.”
- Man married 35 years, “I’m tired of talking about things with her—what’s the point? I know what she thinks.”
- Anyone: “Our relationship is set—we don’t have to do all that (fill in the blank) we did when we were (young/not married/first met).”
Read between the lines here:
“I just don’t think I care that much anymore.”
“It’s not worth my energy.”
REALLY? That’s the best we can do?
For better or worse, in our culture, marriage (or similar long-term committed relationships) are at the center of our personal narrative. For most people, these are the relationships to which we are most loyal, in which we invest our futures, and build the rest of our life around (career decisions, where we choose to live, how we recreate, etc.).
Why do we give up so easily?
1. Because we are busy. Ask anyone around you how they’re doing and chances are, they’ll respond with some form of “busy.” It has become so trite, that I am challenging myself to say ANYTHING but that! (yawn) But the fact remains that yes, we are all busy and we make choices about where and in what we will invest our energy.
2. Because we assume what we have will always be there. The divorce rate still hovers in the 50% range although it is slowly declining. Without the legal hassles, other relationship are even easier to dissolve.
3. Because our cultural plot is that we no longer have to try—we get our ‘catch’, end of story, right?
So what are our alternatives?
Practice, practice, practice. The things we did early on are still important in relationship maintenance, not just relationship attainment. Keep doing it.
1. Take a long look in the mirror. (Literally and metaphorically.) Do YOU want to hang out with YOU? Are you living as your best self? Are you putting your best self forward? What makes you interesting? Why have you given up on this that you say is so important to you? Is your money where your mouth is?
2. Remain curious. Learn to ask good questions. You think you know what your partner thinks or feels or believes, but try asking; and then ask the next question. Learn the fine art of probing for more: what do you think drives that? Tell me how you formed that belief. How long have you felt that way?
3. Touch each other. Did you know that kissing for (at least) 6 seconds releases all those bonding hormones? It also decreases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Sex releases even more bonding hormones (oxytocin and vasopressin), decreases cortisol, and bathes our brains in rewarding dopamine. Touch, specifically in the form of hugging, has been shown to boost the immune system.
4. Be intentional. We put everything on our schedules that is important. But we stubbornly refuse to “schedule intimacy.” Why not? If it’s not sanctioned on our schedules, relationship ends up as an after-thought, we run out of steam, our partner ends up in last place, and affection wanes.
5. Create adventures. No, not skydiving…unless that’s your thing. Novelty with your partner jump starts the reward system in your brain and can make your partner look more attractive. Learn something new together. Travel. At the very least, an adventure might be as simple as taking your walks (that you are now scheduling together) in new settings, musing about your environment, discussing recent events, sharing your hopes and dreams. Now you’re connecting!
Like anything we want to be expert at, we need to practice, practice, practice. We’re able to do these 5 things early on in our relationship, so why quit unless you want to fail? Life is messy enough without hard (and even expensive) break-ups to work through. Work at these 5 handy skills to make your life and relationships more marvelous! Keep Doing It if you want to be good at your relationship!
Rhea Ann Merck, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist, persistent woman, mother of 2 amazing young women, writer, teacher, life-long learner, curious & creative human, lover of life, passionate about making life better every day…