You probably already know from direct experience just how hard it can be at times to feel like you’re on the same page as your partner, that the person you’re with today is still that same person you fell in love with. Relationships change and one of the hardest parts is keeping the initial spark alive in the face of the passage of time.
Why do initial passions fade?
Why is this that we feel the person we were once in love with now seems more like a stranger or a roommate?
One of the key challenges is the egocentrism involved. We each get lost in our own worlds and hold things inside when we’re most afraid of being hurt. In the beginning, we can risk being vulnerable because there’s less at stake. But once a relationship has been going on for a long time, it gets scary to rock the boat. We’re more dependent on our partner’s opinion of us and we stand more to lose if we get hurt, because it’s not so easy to just walk away. And so we start to let things slide, play it safe emotionally, and leave to the side the unresolved issues that crop up from time to time.
But taking emotional risks is what brings us closer, and some fear and vulnerability is actually necessary for keeping some excitement alive. Discovering newer and deeper aspects of each other is what gives a long-term relationship its sense of novelty and allure. Connection has to happen anew against a background of safety and familiarity.
Let’s look at a couple together.
Take David and Kathryn. They’re in their mid-fifties, married for around 25 years. Both are busy executives and time has created distance between them. David’s been wanting to reconnect, but Kathryn keeps pushing him away.
Here is David’s side of the story:
I hate to say it, but at this point it feels like Kathryn and I are more like roommates than husband and wife. Even though we’re both so busy with our careers, when I get home from traveling or even from long days at the office, I look forward to seeing her and I long for a connection. I wish we could do something fun together every now and then and I worry that we’ve each gotten so involved in our own separate interests that we’ve really lost track of our relationship and making it a priority. The problem is that Kathryn seems totally disinterested in me. Whenever I approach her or ask her to go out together and do something social or even just fun between the two of us, she brushes me off. It feels like she has this wall up and sometimes I worry that she’s gotten bored with me or that she just doesn’t find me exciting anymore.
David is afraid to tell Kathryn how he feels. He’s afraid of rejection and he believes he already knows the truth about Kathryn’s behavior- that she’s lost interest. He’s afraid that bringing his fears out into the open will confirm his worst fears about himself and his marriage; that he’s no longer the young and exciting guy he used to be and that his wife no longer finds him desirable. It seems easier to keep his private thoughts to himself, or better yet, to just avoid asking Kathryn out anymore.
Kathryn has her own point of view though; one that David doesn’t know about because they two of them don’t talk it through.
David keeps wanting to go out and socialize but he doesn’t realize that I feel so bad about myself, it’s hard to go out like we used to. Honestly, I just don’t feel good about myself. It’s hard enough having to figure out what to wear in the mornings when I go to work and then feeling bad about myself all day…when I come home at night I just want to be home in my comfort zone and not worry about having to get dressed up and see all the clothing in the closet that no longer fit. My mother always said that it’s never good to tell a man that you don’t feel good about how you look; you just put a big smile on your face and pretend you feel beautiful. But I don’t feel beautiful at all. When I look in the mirror these days, all I see are the extra pounds and the wrinkles.
Kathryn is equally afraid that talking about how she feels about herself with David will only draw his attention to her flaws and affirm her negative feelings about her body.
An outsider can easily see how difficult it can be for each of these partners not to take things personally when both are afraid to put their fears on the line and speak about what’s going on inside, but David and Kathryn are each so lost in their own heads that it doesn’t even occur to them that there may be another perspective entirely. This also makes it hard for this couple to reconnect with each other and affirm their desire for another.
Don’t be this couple!
You don’t necessarily need a marriage counselor (although sometimes it can help if you’re stuck!) to resolve this kind of impasse; it’s all about simply taking a risk and saying what you know is true in your own mind. It’s okay to be afraid but the act of speaking is still essential.
It’s natural to take things personally when we’re most vulnerable, and easy to make assumptions and shut down in response. But if you’re not willing to take a chance in your marriage, you may never know what opportunities for closeness you’re missing out on!
Are you ready to start speaking up? You may be glad if you do!