Staying happily coupled
Something else that I hear a lot about from people who are seeking therapy is that they don't feel genuinely connected to their partner. They are married or paired in a relationship, but they don't feel close to the other person. There was likely a time that they felt that way, but it feels like ages ago and they now feel untethered and lost. There is a sense of craving for intimacy, and without it there is a sense of loneliness. One of the worst feelings in the world is to be in a marriage or relationship and feel alone. There is a yearning to be understood, to be validated, to be paid attention to and to be heard. There is the desire for physical affection and intimacy which, when absent or infrequent, leaves that person feeling unloved, anxious, insecure, unattractive, or dismissed.
Psychologists who have studied romantic relationships have found that the first two years together are essentially a honeymoon period, where the excitement, passion, and desire to be with the other person is very strong and this makes it easy to be happy in the relationship and to feel close to the other person. After the two year mark, there has to be something else besides passion and sexual attraction to keep the relationship going. Friendship and laughter, enjoying each other's company and companionship are components that can contribute to sustaining the relationship, but it is also a matter of prioritizing the relationship, being able to compromise with the other person and above all, to be able to effectively communicate one's needs as well as to understand those of the partner.
It is probably obvious that there are so many real-life issues that can interfere with a couple being able to prioritize their relationship in order to maintain intimacy. Raising children is a huge factor. The time, energy, and resources that it takes to raise a child can put a strain on most relationships. Careers can also tax intimacy depending upon the amount of time and energy some individuals pour into them. Between work and children, many couples feel like two ships passing in the night. The ships were once moored to the same anchor but now they are slowly drifting apart. Not only that, but each ship is besieged by its own waves. The waves may come in the form of daily stress, mental illness, financial difficulties, burnout, life transitions, physical illness, and who can forget about the myriad worries about day to day minutiae like what's for dinner or who's going to pick up the kids from school. Not exactly conducive to romance!
So how can authentic connection and desire be restored? One strategy that may be helpful (in addition to getting the babysitter, setting up date-night or a weekend getaway, etc.) is to slow down for a minute! Collect yourself, separate yourself in a peaceful place. Walk in nature and breathe in the air, listen to the birds sing and the wind whispering through the leaves. Watch the sunlight reflecting off the water. Put down your cell phone. Be alone. Seek quiet and mental clarity. Then, think about your partner and the qualities that you love about them. Think about the challenges that they have faced and have overcome or the challenges that they currently face in their own life. They have certainly had their own trials
and tribulations, their own traumas, their own triumphs. See them, and I do mean SEE them in your mind's eye, as the special and unique individual that they are in their own right. Laugh to yourself about the silly quirks that they have or even at the things that annoy you about them. But keep your heart open and your compassion high. Remember the love, remember the beauty of the moments that you've shared. Remember the painful experiences that somehow you both have been able to survive. And then, get back in your car and drive home and open the door. SEE.