Help for Maintaining Connection in Long Term Relationships
Once the butterflies are gone and the sense of “newness” wears off, what can couples in long term relationships do to keep their connection alive? Counselor Alison Pitts offers help for those looking to maintain the spark that was there in the beginning of their relationship.
In this Article:
About the Author
Alison Pitts, MS, LPCC is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, specializing in Marriage Counseling, Premarital Counseling, and Anxiety & Depression in Women. You can schedule an appointment with Alison for online counseling.
Most people would agree that marriage can be a difficult thing. You meet that special someone that gives you butterflies in your stomach and who is being so intentional to learn more about you. You feel seen, loved, and valued in those early stages of a relationship. Everything feels new, every conversation and touch feel like a new adventure.
But eventually that sense of newness wears off. For some people this weaning of butterflies and adventures can signal the end of a relationship. Others choose to settle in to a new normal and assume that the best has come and gone without pursuing more. Then, there is another category of long term relationships where people describe a continued journey in their marriage toward closeness and connection. What are people in this third category doing differently?
Lead with Curiosity
When working with couples, something I hear quite often is, “I wouldn’t ask him that, I know exactly what he’ll say,” or “I would never say that because she’ll react this way.” When people have been in a long term relationship for a significant amount of time, this magical thing happens where people start to believe they can read their partner’s mind. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. More often what I find is this assumption that our partner will react in ways they have before or in ways that have been hurtful. When we lose that sense of curiosity towards our partner we miss all that could be happening within and around them.
My hope is that when we learn to have safe and open conversations with our partner, we learn something new about them. The beautiful thing about people is that we are always growing and changing, in both big and small ways. Let’s not miss it! When we lead with curiosity we also allow space for our parter to feel known and understood. When we take the time and have the intention of not making assumptions our partners can feel cared about in an entirely different way.
Work through hurts (both old and new)
We assume, usually based on past experiences and hurts, that if we try and have that conversation or ask for what we need we will be shut down. Just like when you get the stomach flu after eating broccoli it will take you a long time to want to eat broccoli again, the same dynamic occurs when we have been hurt in significant relationships like a marriage. The only way to heal relational wounds is in relationship. The most effective way to do this is by connecting with your softer emotions (fear, sadness, loneliness) and expressing those instead of pointing a finger at the actions that hurt you. These conversations are difficult and may feel awkward at first, but they are so worth having. If there are some hurts that feel too big, bring someone else into the circle with you to help mediate like a marriage counselor.
Have a healthy sense of togetherness
Sometimes if we have been in a long term relationship for a while we tend to fall into a routine. Get up, go to work, leave work, pick up the kids, make dinner, clean up dinner, put kids to sleep, put self to sleep, repeat. We get stuck in the monotony of the daily tasks and miss the sense of intentionality that we had in the relationship when we were dating. Make time in your marriage to have a date night or just some focused time to stay connected as people, not just as partners in parenting. Relationships need time, just like plants need water. Financially it might be difficult to eat out at restaurants every week but you can find time and get creative on things you can do together!
Sometimes spending time can just mean making sure you spend a few minutes each day just talking or connecting, like sharing about your heart or moments that impacted you (positively or negatively) that day. This intentionality is not necessarily about checking something off of your to do list, or even about success or failure; it’s about staying in step with your spouse as best as circumstances allow. Part of that is accepting what is or is not reasonable in your season of life. What may have been possible before kids will most likely look different after, the key is to make sure you’re both still communicating where you are.
Have a healthy sense of apartness
Humans are relational beings. God created us in His image and as such we are wired to need a community to be a part of. Friendships are an essential part to keeping your marriage healthy! That may sound counter intuitive, but really what you are doing is investing in your own emotional health. The more we take care of ourselves the better we are at being a partner or spouse. If we only expect all of our relational needs to be cared for by our spouse we will never be fulfilled. The other perk of having a healthy community outside of our marriage is that we can benefit from the wisdom of others who may have journeyed through some of the difficult things life may throw at us.
Keep God at the center
God designed marriage because he loves us. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18) and created a partner and helper for him. God knows us well and knows that we operate better when in safe and connected relationships. The Bible also says that God came that we may have life and have it to the fullest (John 10:10), so I believe that God also desires that we have that same abundance in our relationships. By keeping God in the center we remember that our trust and our hope is in Him and not in our partner. Keeping God in the center also allows more opportunities to learn about our partner by understanding and hearing how they see and connect with God.
Maintaining a healthy and connected marriage for the long term can feel daunting, but remembering God’s heart for relationships and our own ability to learn and grow can help create both a sense of safety and adventure. Every season brings a new opportunity to learn about our spouse and ourselves!
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