The restaurant is filled with people. A jumble of incoherent sounds is all that you can make of a lot of the conversations. People sharing a special evening, others just relaxing together. A group of co-workers are laughing in the corner. Further towards the middle of the restaurant, young parents try to get their toddler to stop throwing his food. Sitting down at a table beside you, a couple share a dessert together. They gaze into each other's eyes. You try not to look and feel a little shy as you intrude on an intimate moment. They are completely lost in their own world, mesmerized by each other's presence.
You turn your head to look at your spouse sitting in front of you and notice that they are staring into oblivion. And, by the looks of it, oblivion is a pretty boring place. Then again, so is your marriage.
"What happened?," you silently protest as you consider that you are the sales rep for oblivion. "Ah, we used to be like that, " you continue thinking, glancing again at the couple beside you. You wait for the waitress to come by so there will be someone to talk to.
How did this distance grow? Well, consider the following:
- Learned helplessness
- Having forgotten how to connect
- Feeling there is nothing left to explore
- Total boredom
If you have ever studied psychology, then you must have come across a theory by Martin Seligman to describe the behavior of animals who are subjected to negative stimuli and learn that they can't escape from the stimuli. What happens is that the animal stops trying to escape the averse situation and demonstrates behavior reminiscent of depression.
Unfortunately, we don't always address the concerns of our partner. We may hope that their displeasure of something we do will simply go away with time. Perhaps we don't see anything so bad in the first place. Or, perhaps, we don't want to admit anything negative about ourselves . Change takes courage and energy. It is much easier to lay blame on the person reacting.
Your partner may have initially thought that you would take care of their needs. But if you demonstrate over and over again that you won't, then they will give up trying to reach you. As time goes on and resentment builds up, it is very natural for partners to lose interest in each other. Why invest in someone who shows that they don't care about you?
A fatigue sets in and it may be reciprocated as hurt topples on top of hurt. A vast heap of decay may not smell so sweet. Needs keep going unmet. Dreams die. Depression sets in. Conversation peters out. You may start to look elsewhere for validation.
As frustrations continue to mount, other pastures may seem far fresher. The two people who were in love and may still be in love have no idea how to come closer together again.
Another factor contributes to the loss of mutual interest: as you tend to take care of tasks by yourselves, you have less shared experiences to relate to and bring you together. When a relationship is fresh, there is a WE versus the World attitude. As people settle into their respective tasks, they forget to keep up to date with each other. They start to take their relationship for granted. The marriage may feel very comfortable. But, little by little, there is less energy being exchanged between you. If you add in all of the other responsibilities that suck energy from you, then what energy remains to share and connect with your partner?
As time passes and you feel secure in your marriage, you neglect each other. Frustrations mount over needs that go unmet or communication styles that hurt feelings. Fatigue, anger, disillusionment and frustration lead to an apathy of emotion best described by the word 'boredom.' Who cares? Who wants to care? Nothing reaches your partner. So, why bother? And there you sit in the restaurant or cafe and act like yet another couple out together but with no energy or excitement.
So, what are you to do? If you are already in this situation, then it is time to start reconnecting. If you're blessed to be in a happy relationship, the following actionable steps will further build your connection and keep the love growing:
- Find out what your partner needs and commit to fulfilling as many as you can;
- Express what you need and how you feel those needs can best be met. Clear and direct information will help your partner increase the effectiveness of their efforts;
- Figure out a win-win situation. You may both be discouraged but if you both focus on the importance of connecting with and pleasing the other partner, your love and connection WILL grow again. The feelings are there - you must expose them consistently to the light of day, every day;
- Spend time together every week on sharing a pleasurable experience: exercising, developing hobbies, etc.;
- Schedule some quiet alone time every day to rest physically and emotionally so you will have the energy to actively engage when you are together with your partner;
- Share what happened today with each other and take a real interest in your partner's daily world: ask questions, find the good in their actions and comment positively;
and always, always, always,
- Be nice to each other. Find something to compliment, share a smile, kiss goodbye and hello.
With these efforts, lovingly and consistently applied, you will start to feel an increase in your energy and connection together. Learn to laugh again and appreciate all that you have with each other. The blessing of a loving spouse is a treasure worth your greatest effort.