By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC
We’ve all seen enough movies to have a glamorous view of the heights of romantic love. And many of us have had that experience of falling into the heady swoon of being caught up in love. But then, you get married. I’m kidding, although there is sort of a ring of truth in that as well, isn’t there?
There are all kinds of reasons for this change, some good and some not so good. Some of the reasons are just due to stages of life, like having children for instance, and some are surely due to outside factors and stress level. Let’s take a look at some of the common causes and then review how you can combat then.
- Life is really busy, and stressed filled and romance falls by the wayside, or I just don’t have the energy to pursue it.
- We have small kids. Duh! We can barely make it through it each day.
- There are resentments or disappointments between us.
- Circumstances that interfere, like losing a job, dealing with an addiction, needing to help an aging or ill relative, or health issues and lots more.
Fairly often more than one of these factors will be combined. Stress will certainly sap your energy. But if you have some unresolved relational resentment hanging around as well, then your motivation for romance will be shrunk to almost nothing. How about if you feel that your spouse is not meeting your needs, or they don’t understand you, or pay enough attention to you? There are things here that go beyond just stifling romance; they may be undermining your relationship and leading you to drift apart. Let me offer three categories that may be undermining romance and what you can do about it.
Some of the causes we’ve looked at involve life change or stages of life. You may need to face that at least temporarily that this is the way life needs to be. If you had to take in a aging family member that prevents the freedom and space you use to have for connection and romance, then accepting this reality will be emotionally healthier for you. If you and your spouse have simply gotten older and your or their libido or physical abilities have changed, then accepting these realities will be emotionally healthier for you. The point is that romance through the life cycle doesn’t look the same as when we were 25 or even 35. And acceptance does not resignation or defeat. Acceptance means to realize our limitations and make adjustments to live within them, rather than fight it and try to hang on. When we make these adjustments in our outlook, we will be able to find and appreciate what is available to us in this new stage of life.
Frankly, I’m trying right now to think of anyone I know who isn’t stressed in their life. Stress seems like the normal American condition these days. And I think that because of that we’ve simply learned to accept it. But that sets us up to not bother reevaluating things or seeking changes – meaning point two is the flip side to point one. If point one is about acceptance, then point two is about non acceptance. Don’t just accept the level of stress that you are under. I realize there can be times when we are under a deadline or in crisis when there are no other options but to plow ahead. But these really should be temporary.
You know this right – stressors build up. And the stuff you thought you could handle (and were handling at the beginning), are now just one of 8 or more bowling balls in your backpack. You betcha lugging that amount of stress around will affect you. That’s about all the stress hormones that your brain is dumping into your body. It will affect your ability to concentrate, to think clearly, your decision making, and your memory. I call it being cognitively compromised. And when you are compromised like this it will affect your energy and motivation for relationships as well as your state of mind and how you come across.
All that means that you need to make yourself take a step back. This is probably the hardest part, right? To get yourself to stop and collect yourself. You need this slow down period to give your brain a chance to get out of this mode so you will have the ability to think more clearly. Then, use it. Start thinking creatively, strategically, about trimming from your to do list, enlisting some help, delegating where possible, or shifting your expectations.
- Resentments, hurts or misunderstandings
The third way we can become bored of romance is due to relational discord between the couple. And it doesn’t have to be over big stuff. We could simply be wounded by the fact that my spouse doesn’t pick up their dirty clothes or forgot to text me when they got held up and were going to home late. The reason for this is because these “little” things are really about how we interpret their meaning. When we perceive them as uncaring or rude or even intentional we are going to feel slighted or mistreated. And we will as a result be less motivated to give – to move towards that person. We may nurture an expectation that they need to shape up before we will feel okay about moving towards them (now we are talking about trust). Or we may end up resigning ourself to a conclusion that they don’t care enough about me or that they won’t change and so I give up.
The other side of all this are the things that either have been bigger offenses, or the situation where your spouse is doing hurtful things with intent. Maybe you’ve gotten into game playing in which you both have stored up resentments and take jabs at each other? Maybe it’s gone on so long that neither of you is aware of this dynamic operating? And so this is going on and yet you don’t get why you guys aren’t more affectionate and romantic towards one another. You see, sometimes we just bury this stuff. Oh, maybe we’re trying to be magnanimous and just move on. When in reality, I haven’t let go of it. Or maybe they keep doing it (whatever it is). And by the way, you are likely doing some “it”s as well.
In this case, what you guys need is some old fashion forgiveness. But that will require you both to dig around inside you first and figure out what you have been bothered about and then to come and express this to one another. But here’s the key. You have to change how you express it. Because you have been expressing, but often not in constructive ways. This time you need to express how you have felt without accusations or requirements for them to change, or threats or whining. Just simply – when this happens I’ve felt this way and thought this way. Here’s how I wish it would go. You get vulnerable. You express your longings. We can’t change other people, but we can invite people to know us and love us.
If you can adjust your expectations, lower your stress build up, and address your resentments, I bet you and your spouse will see an improvement in your connection to one another.
And that may just lead to a non-boring Valentine’s Day next year!
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