You have enjoyed a relatively calm and loving relationship for a few years. But lately, something has been feeling different. You and your spouse don’t seem to connect as much these days, either because of work, outside interests, or both of you spending way too much time on the internet. Your conversations are limited to managing household logistics and the children, and you can’t even recall the last time you had sex. Your relationship is in trouble. What can you do to bring things back on track?
Start with Identifying trouble spots. Pinpoint specific areas that have broken down
1. Things that drew you to your partner are the things that annoy you now
This is not an uncommon phenomenon in couples. You loved that your partner was a real “meat and potatoes” kind of guy when you first met. Cooking for him was simple: as long as it was red meat, he was happy. But now you are looking to try a different way of cooking; dishes that include more vegetables and healthier choices. Your partner doesn’t understand this new change, nor your insistence that he be open to eating vegetarian options. Every time you go out and he orders the burger, you feel your anger increase. This is affecting your relationship.
A workable solution to this type of situation—where one partner changes radically from the person they were at the beginning of the relationship—is to embrace the new difference. Instead of fighting against the inflexibility of the person who wants to keep doing what he has always done, why not take another approach to this changeup? Celebrate that you have different tastes and leave it at that. You cannot make the other person change, nor should you want to. (That’s being a control freak.) But you can enjoy your new way of eating for yourself, with no lectures or moral commentary which will inevitably lead to unpleasant feelings between you. And who knows? Once your partner has a good look at what’s on your plate and how great you feel with your new food plan, he may be tempted to put down the steak and join you. But it has to be his decision. (You can gloat secretly, however.)
2. You harbor resentment towards your partner but won’t speak up
This can turn into a toxic situation if you don’t take action. Bottling up feelings—often so you can avoid a fight—can only lead to a relationship breakdown if done habitually. You both need to learn how to communicate respectfully, without fear of criticism or provoking anger. If you find you have reached a point in your relationship where you tell yourself “It’s just not worth talking about, nothing ever changes,” nothing will ever change. While it is true that most couples return to the same argument, again and again, there is hope for couples that truly want to break past these “getting stuck” places. Keeping things inside to keep the peace is not worth it. Start by opening up to your partner. If need be, do this with the help of a relationship expert who can guide the conversation in constructive ways. But don’t stay silent or your relationship will stay troubled.
3. Check in with your spouse to see if he is feeling the same thing
This conversation should take place when both of you can sit down and share your feelings without the distraction of children, television, or phone calls that may interrupt the moment. Set up a time to do this important check-in on the health of your relationship when you know that you can devote a couple of hours to it. You might open up the conversation with a good “I” message, such as “I’m feeling like we aren’t paying enough attention to each other lately. I miss you. Do you think we could block out some date nights so we can just chill together and get back in touch?” This is an effective, non-accusatory way to prompt your spouse into sharing what he has been experiencing, too. Be sure to listen attentively to his part of the conversation so he knows you value his observations of what trouble might be brewing in your relationship.
4. Be honest, but not threatening
If you can pinpoint some specific troublesome areas, it can be a good way to identify what needs to be given attention. But this must be done with sensitivity and an eye towards finding a solution; you don’t want this to turn into a blame game. “It’s been years since we’ve played tennis together. Why don’t we look into taking some couples’ lessons?” sounds better than “You never play tennis with me anymore. I think I’ll set up some private lessons with that young coach at the club.” Remember, you don’t want to just announce the issue and then leave it in your spouse’s lap to fix. The key to recovering your relationship is working towards a solution in ways that both of you support and want to commit to.
It is vital that you don’t just sweep the relationship troubles under the rug, hoping that they will disappear by themselves. This is rarely how things work. Quiet resentment will build, like pressure in a covered pot, until one day it all comes up in a huge explosion of anger. The danger in letting things build up like that is that when we act out in anger, we may say or do things that are difficult to undo. Whereas if relationship trouble is tended to early on before issues escalate, it is much easier to find ways to rectify and rebuild whatever needs fixing. This is the mark of a good relationship: the ability to communicate issues in a respectful way so that little troubles can be fixed before they become relationship-destroying problems.