The newness of a relationship can take you for a nice long ride of discovery, excitement, sexual activity and pure emotional buzz. Down the road, the relationship settles in a little and eventually you live happily ever after, right? Well, not quite.
Maintaining a long-term relationship takes a lot of things – like effort, time, forgiveness, accommodating another person, courtesy, holding your tongue with the in-laws and oh, yeah, love! You don’t need to take the emotional temperature of your union every hour, but you do need to know when your connection is under the weather.
With most things, if you treat it quickly, you can head off a lot of suffering. Ignoring it will only make it worse and the healing process longer. Unfortunately, some unions go past the point of no return and both people have to separate to heal. And you don’t want that, so take this quick test to see how your’re doing before you reach a point of no return.
Examine these three areas:
1) Touch and sex
How’s the physicality of your relationship? Sex and love are not the same thing. But if you love someone in a deep romantic way, you should be pretty excited to have sex with them! One telling sign of your physical connection is that you are having sex often enough for both partners. Withholding sex isn’t fair. Insisting on sex isn’t fair either. You have to talk about each other’s sexual needs and be willing to at least, the very least, meet halfway. You must understand that sexual needs are human and incredibly important. Despite vows and good intentions, if someone is not having these needs met over a period of time, chances are that they will get these needs filled elsewhere.
On a daily basis, are you hugging, kissing, holding hands or even touching each other at all? If your physical connection is totally lacking you must be willing to seek help or you are not valuing your relationship. You are packing up emotionally to leave or to be left. Start with hugging. Start with kissing. Then you’d better start talking.
2) Active listening
How’s the listening (not the talking)? We all want to be heard, but if your main goal in your relationship is to have someone to listen to you, you are not practicing love, you are turning your partner into an audience. Both people have to be more committed to listening than talking to go the distance. Are you both actively listening to each other? This means not watching television, looking at a hand-held device, interrupting or burying yourself in distraction.
Active, empathetic listening is a desire to hear what your partner is saying and engage in an emotional understanding of what is being said. You are affirming your connection by simply making eye contact, nodding and giving attention. Let them know they are being heard. If you are asked for advice, give it. But you’ll find that asking for advice rarely happens. Most of the time, the partner just needs to be heard by the person that matters most in their life – you.
3) Mutual interest
Finally, is the relationship unfolding or imploding? Healthy couples engage in perpetual courtship. That doesn’t mean more coffee dates with a series of questions and answers (but it could!). The bottom line is shared experience and communication. It means experiencing life together and getting excited to see how your partner reacts when you give a present, how they tend to your life, the fun of travel to a new place together. With each experience you are learning more about your partner. The union is still unfolding, both familiar and new all at the same time.
The mistake that people make is putting the responsibility for this on the other person without ever taking it upon themselves to surprise, delight, seduce and deepen the relationship by their own actions. Things grow or atrophy. If you are not still discovering your partner, the relationship will temporarily go into a dormant period.
This is a crucial time to turn things around. Both people must increase their commitment to put the relationship first. Even if there is a general feeling of boredom, beneath the surface a slow anger is building. It can look active or passive, but it’s there. Commitment is a beautiful thing. But if either partner feels they are committed to something that no longer delights them, it will feel like a ball and chain.
Asking these questions can feel painful if you think you are coming out on the less healthy end of things. One way to alleviate this pain is to bring it to your partner. Ask these questions together. Often one partner’s perception of how it’s going can differ greatly from the other.
If you both agree that one area – or all areas – are at a crucial period, stop everything and go back to basics. Why did you come together in the first place? What can you do to put the relationship first again? At times like this, the gift of love calls for practicing more love than ever before. And the practice of love is the most sacred work you can ever do.
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