Often, we praise couples for being in relationships for so long, and one of the main reasons for this is because we know that they are bound to have gone through some tough times together. These highs and lows can test your loyalty and commitment to one another, it can cause you to fall more in love or drift apart. We need to also understand that relationships go through stages.
When people seek online couples counseling I often ask them what their relationship was like at the beginning. Typically I will hear them describe how wonderful it was – the falling in love, infatuation also known as the ‘honeymoon phase’. It’s where a couple is super happy, both doing many romantic gestures for one another and it’s often a very exciting and fun –part of a relationship.
Following on from the ‘honeymoon phase’ there is the ‘transition stage’. This is where a couple start to let their perfect standards slip a little – individuals start to get a little more comfortable with one another and little things like not dressing up all the time for their partner, or not messaging back straight away or not helping out with the house chores, may become a little more common than it was in the ‘honeymoon phase’.
Although the ‘transition stage’ can be difficult following such a blissful ‘honeymoon phase’, it is a great way for couples to find out more about one another; including likes and dislikes, goals and expectations as well as striking a healthy balance between their wants in the relationship and personal goals outside of the relationship.
If you listened to my earlier podcast I talk about how researchers have found evidence that there is a 3,4 7 and 12 year Itch.
Fast forward to any length of time between 3 to 12 years according to studies that relationship issues are brought to the surface.
It’s a point where couples begin to re-evaluate their relationship – including what they are not happy with, what they wish would be better and what desires they have that haven’t been met. If they don’t take any action – like you know I advocate they can sink into the
most difficult part. This is where people question the future of their relationship and wonder if they would be happier apart than together or fantasize about being with someone new. I say difficult as in my experience it is where people spend a great deal of time in their head. Analysing everything again and again, listing pros and cons and they get stuck.
When the doubts sink in people evaluate and take stock of what they want and whether that can be met in their current relationship. Sadly, though they don’t often reach out for help to assess or tell their partner they are not happy and what they need. Instead they wait, wait for the feelings to change by themselves, wait for some big shift, wait for someone to come along and rescue them. In that time they stack up a whole bunch of negative things they see in their relationship and partner.
After many years of being together, it is only natural for a couple to start questioning things. In fact it’s healthy to assess your relationship and how you can make it better. But if you are caught in a cycle of seeing only negative then this will limit you.
The most common complaint I hear when couples go through the early years of raising children, work demands, financial strain, health issues and other losses is that they feel alone and taken for granted…
How do you take someone for granted? You expect their love and commitment, you take it and don’t give much back. And when someone feels taken for granted, what do they do in response?
Yes you know it, stop giving. Then both do less, give less and less and then other issues arise as a result of putting the relationship on the back burner. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Some couples get closer through hard times and many find they drift further and further apart.
So I am now going to share how to use the relationship doubts to become closer, happier and more in love with one another. Here are some actions you can take:
So the first thing…
- Document your thoughts and feelings
In order for you to have a healthy discussion about your thoughts and feelings, you need to have acknowledge exactly what you are feeling and understand it by asking yourself questions like.
Why am I feeling this way? What triggered it and how long have I felt like this?
A great way to do this is to take yourself out for coffee or lunch and get everything out on to paper. Writing things down helps you to organise your thoughts and this is so important for when you sit down with your partner to discuss your relationship.
1, List how your partner’s behaviour, words or inactions influence your feelings.
2, Then list what perhaps you are doing or not doing to make the situation worse.
3, Then next make a list of suggestions you believe will help to make the situation better.
4, Finally write down things you admire, appreciate and are grateful for.
If you only document the negative your mind will look for more negatives and this will bring you and the relationship down.
You can use this to have a productive conversation highlighting what you need, what you will change to make things better and suggestions for the relationship.
- Accept that people often change
If you look at your life over the years, you will notice how much you have changed so it is only natural to see the same in your partner.
It can be difficult to accept change – we get comfortable with things and then when people change, at first we may struggle to deal with it. However, the sooner we accept that change is evitable to some degree we can have more peace. In this instance, when I mention change, I am referring to things like a partner wishing to become vegan, or maybe someone wanting to change their career to something totally different. Or someone who used to like partying; now prefers nights in or yoga. Or someone who did little exercise and ate unhealthily loses the weight and has to work out every day.
Whilst these changes may affect our lives, we have to learn to grow together and support one another. As long as the person who is changing doesn’t enforce their choices on their partner and the couple remain respectful to one another these changes can add new energy and interest in the relationship.
I understand there may be some changes that deeply impact your relationship and is something that may create a divide in opinions, for example, if a partner decides to start smoking or drinking more, which makes you less attracted to them.
Or one wants to spend money when the other wants to save for the future. These are things that need to be discussed deeper and the next point is going to help couples who find themselves in this position.
- Speak to a Professional Couple Counselor
When you have been with someone for so long it can get difficult to start changing the way you both communicate to one another – it is hard to change a habit of shutting off, being too busy to work on your relationship also. This is where professional support can be super helpful.
Speaking to a relationship coach who is neutral in the discussion and is able to guide the conversation to a healthy place can be exactly what your relationship needs if you are both struggling to come to an agreement in your differences.
A relationship coach is able to listen to both sides, help you overcome your individual worries as well as bring you both together to create a plan to move your relationship forward in a healthy and happy way with actions.
Getting help if you are stuck in Limbo is also critical. If you have spent days, weeks, months pondering whether you should stay or leave the relationship you are probably exhausted by your own thoughts.
Over thinking, over analysing can suck the life right out of you, so it is important to get the thoughts out of your head and do a relationship review and assessment. I do these all the time and help people understand what they need to be happy, can there partner give them that, is there confusion clouded by resentment, guilt or fear. Once you work through the guilt, fears and resentments; things often become much clearer.
Another major reason people come to me for help when there relationship hits a low point is because they no longer find their partner sexually or physically attractive. Or are fed up with the same old, same old in the bedroom. There is no right way to approach this, I often give multiple options and assess with them what will work best in their relationship. Rest assured whatever issue you may be facing there are solutions.
- Take up joint activities
Get involved in each other’s passions, and if that is not possible or either of you lack hobbies, then never a better time to explore some new ones together. For example, if your partner loves to cook you could dedicate one night to a music and cooking night or if your partner loves being active, find a sport that you both can enjoy together.
This takes away the stress of a relationship and allows you to build a bond together over something fun and exciting. Doing activities together encourage you to be yourselves with one another, rather than being the mum/dad/wife/husband etc.
Maybe you already do this but you’re doing the same thing again and again or with children and friends present all the time. Aim to do a new activity together once a month until you find a host of new things that excite you.
Joint activities give you a chance to see each other in a new light and make life less boring. You will also have more to talk about, increasing your connection. Many couples I’ve worked with have found this results in an improvement in the bedroom too.
- Do relationship check in’s every one to three months
It’s good to talk about the relationship but not helpful to constantly be doing that. When you do make time to talk, ensure no distractions and a relaxed atmosphere and mood. Best on the weekends and always ask if it is a good time with each other, do not force a talk if the other person cannot handle it at that moment.
Start with things that have been good, appreciate one another and then share things you would like changed.
Those are just some tips. If you are currently struggling with this and would like to learn more, please reach how to me or join one of my two face book groups. One has a live dancing event weekly and meditations to relax and let go and the other is focused on relationship support, where I post videos and have a monthly affair recovery q and a session.
Mustafa and Sarah had been together for just over 8 years and were beginning to feel like they were walking on different paths.
Over the years Sarah had worked her way up to a director position in an international company that required her to travel a lot and often at short notice. Mustafa was settled in a role that had set hours and limited to no chance for progression. Mustafa was satisfied with his job as he believed having security and stability at work over taking risks in his career life.
What wasn’t an issue for Sarah at the beginning of the relationship, soon began to irritate her as she progressed through the company, she felt Mustafa lacked drive and focus.
Although they both loved each other distance was coming between them. Sarah began to respect him less and was fed up of him complaining when she was late home or away on trips. He felt neglected and hurt that work with her consistently came first.
Mustafa couldn’t understand why Sarah put her work over starting a family. He was ready to have children and had been for some time. Sarah wanted to focus on her professional growth and as they had not been getting on so well, she was becoming more and more unsure if she ever would want children. She wished Mustafa would be more supportive of her career.
When I sat down with both Mustafa and Sarah I quickly saw that there was not just expectation pressure coming from each other but family expectations of how there marriage should be.
Sarah had grown up with a Mother who was miserable for putting her career on hold to have children. Both Sarah and her mother did not want her to repeat the same mistake.
Mustafa’s family were focused on family life and were pressurising him into having a family and questioned why they didn’t have kids after 8 years of being together.
They realised that this outside pressure was causing stress and misalignment and they had to rebuild the connection through positive steps first to have a chance at finding a middle way forward.
I managed to help them both devise a plan which met Sarah’s ability to continue working but also encouraged her to think about Mustafa’s needs in the relationship. They successfully found agreement on when they would like to start trying for kids. In preparation for starting a family, Sarah would reduce some of her professional commitments and Mustafa would take some time to look into what he would like to do as a step up from his current position.
A few months into our work together, Mustafa had found a new love for learning – he started doing more training courses which widened his career opportunities. Sarah had reduced her hours at work and retained her position as a managing director, so that when the children came they could parent together more equally. They were both happy to give one another a 1-year window before trying for a family.
To their delight their levels of intimacy increased because they were both on the same page and were now able to really enjoy their sex life!
This case study brings me on to the final point I want to share today…
Don’t whatever you do expect that with time sex and the relationship will get better with time all by itself. Time does nothing, all it does it pass. Focus, effort, thought and energy are needed to make things more passionate, fun and exciting.