Everything in life is more manageable when we feel safe and supported in our relationship. But few couples take time to work on their relationship when dealing with family, careers, finances, etc. However, we can benefit from taking steps at any point in a relationship to create healthy communication, intimacy and emotional connectivity….before a crisis happens in the relationship.
Being a counselor affords me the opportunity to be a casual observer and information gatherer. People will often share things about themselves and their lives they don’t mean to share. Those things are often more wishful with some measure of insightfulness. When the subject turns to their relationship with their significant other, a feeling commonly shared is a sadness or a mild malaise. Rarely do I hear regrets. Nor do I assume them to be candidates for relationship counseling. What I usually share with them are thoughts and ideas for keeping their relationship fresh.
Does this sound like your relationship? Long-term committed, raised kids, empty nesters or soon to be, planning for something in the future with no specifics, managed your life reasonably well, able to solve problems (hopefully) without arguing, still have shared interests and time to pursue them. ….but lacking quiet time and shared interests giving way to differing individual interests, vacations together are great but…apart from you partner sounds good, too.
If that sounds like your relationship, congratulations you have succeeded in life what a lot of relationships accomplish. Your relationship is not dead but it’s lost its luster. Sure there may have been some times when blaming and shaming of each other created some emotional (and sexual) distance between you. Regardless of each other faults, the essence of a quality intimate relationship got lost in the daily routine for survival. You are in need of a relationship makeover.
You need some relationship tweaking to revitalize you partnership for the next leg of our life marathon together. Just thinking about putting some snap back into your relationship puts a smile back on your face. So now you are (hopefully) enthusiastic about re-friending your partner, refreshing and re-friending your partnership.
If you do anything for yourself and your relationship… Let go of the past. Nothing undermines a relationship than holding grudges and resentments. These will always be barriers holding you back from what you truly seek. Hurts and pains are toxic. One of the greatest gifts is the gift of forgiveness both for your partner and for yourself. Yes, there are things that cannot be forgotten but can be forgiven. For those, please seek help to resolving those obstacles.
One of my cardinal rules in relationship counseling is that if it is over 30 days old, you have to let it go. Relationships do not thrive if the past keeps getting brought into the present. You need to be strong enough to deal with issues within 30 days. If you are not able to let go, then counseling, individual or relationship, should be sought to provide a healthy closure.
With the past in check, here are some well-tested ideas for revitalizing your relationship(s):
- Have lunch together. Call your partner and arrange to have lunch together in the middle of the week. Make it a date. Use those words. Call don’t text. Texting is for communicating not connecting. Go somewhere comfortable and eat light. Be time accountable your partner can get back to their day without undue stress. Make it a regular thing. Make a connection.
- Leave a note in your partner’s wallet, purse, workbag, laptop screen. The note should be something person and meaningful about them. Personally, I think some form of “I love you” is a great start.In my relationship, a goofy way of making a connection came from doing laundry and used dryer sheets. (Backstory: my spouse went on laundry strike about 15 years ago so the household had to do their own laundry). So, what do you do with your left over dryer sheets? We find ways to stick them in each other’s pockets and clothes as a joke at first. Then it became an enduring message that our love for each other was still there. I said it was goofy. Whatever you do, make a connection.
- Find out about your partner’s hidden life plan. Few people are actually doing the things they thought they would be doing in life. This is a question and answer approach to making different connection with them. Ask them, “if everything was perfect, no stress, no money restrictions…what would they be doing in life instead?” This may take some encouragement to get them to answer it with meaning. Use clarifying questions as needed without badgering. You should get some insight into your partner.One variation to this is to ask about their dream vacation. Be prepared to answer that question yourself because they will turn it around on you. It may not be something achievable at this point in life but it’s okay to dream. It’s about making the connection. You will need to be creative in the future on engaging you partner in other conversations. So you can keep the connection going.
- Touch your partner. Making a physical connection with your partner through touch is very comforting. Seems nowadays, we worry about people invading our space and invading our thoughts. Humans are social animals. We have to be in relation with other people to be healthy. In a relationship, touch is important. In response, the brain stimulates the body to produce chemicals that make us feel good. It’s good for us and we hope it is good for them. Before we all jump to sex, understand that there are many types of touch: presence, comfort, affectionate, playful, erotic and sexual.There is some risk in rejection. So, you need to be able to read your relationship and your partner’s state of mind to determine if/when/which touch is appropriate. Jumping ahead may cause backlash. Patience is needed if your relationship is emotionally or physically distant.Presence is a light touch with no other meaning than to let your partner know you are in the ‘here and now’ without need for being verbal. This may be a light touch to the hand or across their shoulders. A comforting touch may be rubbing their shoulders or scratching that one place they always need scratched. An affectionate touch may be a face-to-face hug or a hug from behind. Don’t confuse an affectionate touch and assume it’s about sex.Playful versus erotic versus sexual touches are highly individualized so tread carefully on how you approach these. If you do not know what these mean to your partner….then ask them. It might actually be a fun conversation.
- More sex and money. These are two common complaints in relationship counseling. Unfortunately, both seem to be lacking in most relationships. More money is beyond the scope of this blog but more sex is something to talk about. Sex & intimacy are pretty quick casualties in relationships as the years go by. Work, careers and family demand more time and effort. Sadly, the physical desire often remains in both partners but for myriads of reasons nothing happens (literally and physically) to re-prioritize it. Bye, bye sex.It seems the second casualty is the ability to talk about sex in a relationship. Nothing will change until you sit down with your partner and have an open conversation: wants, needs, likes, dislikes, hurts, etc. If time and energy are your only obstacles, you can work these out; otherwise, you need to identify any unspoken obstacle(s). Tread lightly as this cannot be a blaming or shaming conversation. This conversation can make or break the intimacy you are seeking.If you or your partner cannot overcome your obstacles, then it is time to consider some relationship counseling to identify and breakthrough those barriers. Ensure your prospective counselor is comfortable working on sex issues at your first appointment if you feel comfortable with them.Biologically, men and women are different. Sex for men is primarily a physical experience and there is a hormonal “full” signal that generates their desire(s). For women, it tends to be more emotional which needs satisfaction before hormonal desires kick into a physical desire. It is also a cosmic joke that men are at their sexual peak before 25 while women don’t seem to peak until into their 40s….when men’s testosterone levels are on a definite decline.
Remember, the sex cues we are inundated with today are often not realistic. Sex in a long-term relationship does change over time as we change physically and emotionally. It’s not uncommon for intimate desires to continue into your 70s so be prepared to discuss it and adapt as you change and as your partner changes.
Hopefully, you have picked up that the theme of this blog was ‘making a connection’. If you are not willing to try to make a connection with your partner, then figure out why you are not willing. Hurts and resentments are powerful blocks to you having a joyous life. You may even find out your partner feels the same and is saddened, too. I liken this to two people watching the same movie but listening to different soundtracks. It is amazing what happens in a relationship when they (learn to) hear the same thing and listen actively. So go forth and make a connection with your partner. And if you cannot then seek out help from a trusted person. Try out one or all of these suggestions to keep your relationship fresh.
Written by Chip Sutherland, LPC Counselor at Cobalt Counseling, LLC, Frisco Texas. Chip specializes in relationship counseling, men’s mental health, teenage angst, anger, depression, anxiety, feeling stuck in life, substance use, life adjustments, work-life balancing and coaching/mentoring.