One of the challenges of long term relationships is the need to constantly renegotiate things we take for granted like expectations, roles, and values. Making time for fun, a date night, or even just a regular conversation about day to day things like money or household tasks may come easy in the beginning of a relationship when couples prioritize spending time together, bonding with each other, trying to establish life as a dyad. But this can be much harder once there are kids in the mix, or when outside demands begin to take center stage after it feels like the marriage bond is already secure.
Small thing can have a huge impact
As a couples therapist, sometimes it’s easy to see how something small like making time to go out as a couple or to communicate about things like parenting, money, or intimacy can make all the difference to a struggling relationship. But when I try telling this to a couple where both partners are working full-time and parenting young children at the same time, I’m often looked at like I’ve suggested something crazy or impossible!
The problem is that what may have worked at one time may not work at another. We all react differently to different stages and phases in life. Job worries, raising kids, having kids, going back to school for a new career, changing identities or religious values, etc. all come up and get weathered differently for different people through the lifecycle. A healthy marriage provides a solid backdrop of security to navigate transitions, struggles, challenges, and opportunities. But without communicating about changing needs, desires, and conflicts, it can be easy to start to shut the other out or to do the same things you’ve always done even though they’re not working anymore.
Creativity is sometimes the key
At times I suggest to couples that they use a notebook to jot down notes to each other throughout the day (technology allows for other ways of staying in touch as well). Although writing can lead to misunderstandings at times, it’s also a chance to note something without having to carve out time for a drawn-out conversation or extended exchange. It also allows couples to think about how they’re wording something and to have some distance to think about something they’ve read before actually sitting down to talk about it. The notebook is also a great way to create a log of things that need to be talked about, whether it’s a problem or even just a compliment or something fun.
Building in time for communication and to review what’s working and what isn’t is important for any relationship, especially one that involves sharing so much. Sometimes a professional may be needed for a short time just to help a couple get out of rut. Old resentments that feel so charged or that seem to lead to a fight every time they get brought up may really be something simple to air out, in the right setting and with the right perspective. If you need short-term or long-term help, a trained marriage therapist can help.