“To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” ~Mother Theresa
There comes a point when every couple arrives at the same crossroads. They ask: Is this relationship still the most important thing? Are we doing this well? Do we still love and support one another? Are we still open, honest, and giving?
Often these questions come after years of marriage and a slow realization that mediocrity has set into the relationship.
For those who’ve had a bumpy road and have developed a keen awareness that relationships take work, the questions come earlier and a little more regularly. Those couples know how important it is to stay on top of the answers.
But sometimes the questions come when it may be too late, and the path on the crossroads is all too clear.
For me, those questions came on the heels of an affair. And that affair was a result of years of turning the other way—on both our parts. Years of focusing in on the kids, forgetting to ask about one another’s day, forgetting that to keep the flame of a relationship burning we must continue to stoke the fire.
As one year tumbled into the next, we stopped seeing each other. Did we even want to look anymore?
Can a marriage be saved after an affair? I believe it can, but it takes a willingness to forgive and move on. And it takes an admission of the role both parties have played in reaching that point.
I have watched the long slow breakdown of my own relationship and know that if somewhere along the way we had stopped to ask these all-important questions and to hit the reset button on our relationship, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
If you are in that place of mediocrity in your own relationship, here’s how to know if it’s time to hit “reset” and start doing some hard work.
1. Your lives revolve around work and/or the kids.
I hear you; work and children can dominate our lives. I’m right in the trenches with all of that and it’s hard to focus on anything else. But if we don’t take time away for ourselves we’ll eventually see the effects on our relationships.
Regular dates are so important for quality alone time. Just remember this rule: no conversations about kids or work. And if you’re not used to date nights, it’s never too late to start adding them to your calendar.
2. You don’t have any quality alone time together.
Date nights are important, but not always affordable. It’s equally important to have a time when the two of you can connect and catch up at home. That might be for twenty minutes at bedtime, or when you sit down for a family dinner. It may be during a regular walk, or a lunchtime coffee meeting.
Making time for each other outside of date nights is key. Date nights may only come once a month; do you really want to connect so infrequently?
3. You don’t enjoy any fun activities together.
Remember when you first got together and spent lazy days in the park, biked around the city, cooked delicious meals together, and maybe even did a little dancing? Whatever those activities were in your relationship, do you still engage in any of them?
Yes, I know, you might have kids, and your work is more demanding now. But be honest, is part of it complacency? Have you just become so comfortable doing life together that you’ve forgotten what it’s like to laugh together and really enjoy each other’s company?
Scheduling a regular fun activity that you enjoy doing together can go a long way in easing any distance between you.
4. You don’t check in with each other.
Do you know what’s going on in your partner’s world? Sure, you may know his latest sales deal, or all about the new kid at work, but do you know what’s really going on in his life? Would you know if he’s under stress? Does he ever open up and talk about it?
Checking in with one another is like taking your relationship’s temperature. It’s all about finding out how your partner is doing and becoming that listening, supportive ear they can depend on.
Take some time to check in with your partner and ask them how they’re doing. If they’re surprised by your question you know you have work to do in this area.
5. You are a rarely intimate.
Forget what the glossy magazines say about how often you and your partner should be intimate. Talk instead about how often feels good for you. If you are used to intimacy twice a week, but for the last year or so it has been more like once a month, something is wrong. What is your norm? And what would fulfill your needs?
When intimacy is lacking in a relationship, it becomes much more difficult to connect and talk. Likewise, if connection is missing, it’s far more difficult to be intimate—the two often go hand-in-hand.
6. You don’t feel seen or heard.
Do you see the pattern with many of these warning triggers? If connection and intimacy are missing, it’s likely you also don’t feel seen or heard.
Many a time in my relationship, I have had the thought, I feel like a piece of furniture. It’s not accurate of course—our partners don’t mean to stop noticing a new hairstyle, appreciating a meal on the table, or taking an interest in our passions. They’re just busy.
When you get to the place where you’re too busy or comfortable to notice, you need to hit that reset button, and fast.
7. You think a lot about what you’re not getting out of the relationship.
We all know that relationships are give and take, so why do we we spend so much time complaining about what our partner isn’t giving us, rather than focusing on what we are giving to them?
I once heard it said that healthy relationships aren’t based on finding the right partner, but on being the right partner. I think there’s some truth to that statement.
If we can focus on what we’re giving more than on what we’re taking, change for the better is inevitable, and sometimes enough. However, that doesn’t mean we should disregard our needs. If a partner is unwilling or unable to meet our needs, and that need is critical to our happiness, it may be time for some honest conversations about change.
If some of these scenarios sound familiar, the most important thing is to talk about them. Having an open conversation is the first step toward change and re-connection. Often it takes courage and a willingness to listen, but ultimately that bravery could save your relationship.
Bored couple image via Shutterstock