Feeling a little "off track" with your spouse or partner? It's okay, every couple feels that way sometimes. let's talk about it.
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All couples get a little “off track” and disconnected sometimes. Today’s blog discusses some things to remember about life when you feel a little out of your relationship groove. Additionally, we will explore a neat analogy to help you understand the natural ebb and flow of a relationship. Keep reading to grow your self-awareness and relationship muscles.
Feeling “off” as a couple? Do you relate to any of these?
Hey you there. Yes, I’m talking to you. I see you and your partner struggling after you both spent the last two years caring for an aging parent who just passed away, and you are both physically, mentally, and relationally spent.
I see you as well… The couple who has three small children (all under the age of 5). You both feel your hearts and household are overflowing with love, sticky fingers, and deep belly laughs, but you are both feeling disconnected from each other.
I see you too… The professional couple that had to make years of sacrifices for your careers in order to move to the next level (12 to 16-hour days for many years between college, graduate school, and the years of training after graduating) so that you can finally earn an income and pay those huge student loans. You are now stable financially, but your relationship has taken a big hit.
And I see you over there too… The couple who has been married for three years and all of the newness and sparkle has worn off. All the things that first attracted you to each other are now starting to drive you crazy, and seems to be the cause of most arguments (“why does he have to have an obsession with model building, it’s taking up the entire house!”).
Some life rules to remember when you are feeling stressed out and disconnected from your partner:
Rule 1: Life is really freaking hard sometimes.
Life is beautiful, wonderful, mysterious, amazing, and also really freaking hard sometimes. And sometimes the really freaking hard parts happen for years… Tough sacrifices might have to be made. It can be an honor to take care of a beloved ill parent who was always so good to you, but also extremely taxing (on many levels) and emotionally very difficult.
Another example (maybe a little taboo to discuss), is that it is simply amazing to take care of babies and small children, and to love like you have never known it before, but caring for small children is also extremely stressful for parents on many levels. It’s hard for couples because they haven’t slept in 5 years and most of the love making occurred while creating the babies, but not much has been happening since. The kids might be thriving, but the relationship with your partner has withered and changed a little bit.
Rule 2: Every couple goes through stressful times. Everyone does (no matter what their Facebook page says).
Every couple has stressful times. There is nothing wrong with you or your partner as human beings. You are both beautiful, whole, wonderful, and amazing just as you are. Experiencing stressful events is not in any way a comment on your character or who you are as a person.
Couples face a lot of problems and challenges together (potentially thousands of issues). Usually they face more problems together and have more ups and downs than with any other person in their lives. Don't beat yourself up; spend that energy taking care of yourself (and each other) instead.
Rule 3: View stressful situations as a separate entity.
What’s really important here is that you completely separate the life challenges from your relationship as a whole; you want to look at the tough times as a completely separate entity. Couples often conflate their relationship and their problems. If this goes on too long each individual can believe their partner is the problem instead of feeling like they are a team facing the problem together. Can you sense the difference? Couples who are struggling more tend to see each other as the problem; whereas couples who are more resilient see themselves on a team combating their struggles together.
Rule 4: No one is immune to having to do the bare necessities to survive and get by sometimes.
Everyone has to prioritize the more important things sometimes (as it should be). Sometimes because of things that happen in life you don’t have time to make home cooked meals every night, the house is disorganized, you haven’t had time to connect with your partner, and you have not had the chance to get a good workout in for at least a couple months.
I think having a newborn is a good example of forcing you to let go of things that just aren’t as important as loving the new family member and taking care of the baby’s needs. I think back to my experience of having a newborn. Before having a baby, I took for granted having time to take a shower, prepare a balanced and healthy meal, sleep for 8 hours straight, work out regularly, and clean my house when I wanted to.
Having a newborn baby is a magical and wonderful time, but also tough too. It’s universal that all parents have to let go of some other things in order to make room for a new person in their family. It’s also pretty common for couples to have more arguments after a baby is born. This is common because stress levels have suddenly rocketed up—just remember it doesn’t mean anything is necessarily wrong with your relationship. It’s normal for couples to argue more during times of increased stress (and sleep deprivation), and it does not mean there is something fundamentally wrong with your relationship or that you won’t get through it.
Final thoughts on the life rules:
Can you think of a time you prioritized something important (a newborn, a new job, starting graduate school, taking care of an ill parent, etc.) and you chose to focus on that, and you had to let go of some other things in your life? Did you have to make some sacrifices for that priority which included less time with your partner?
Traveling through the forest on a twisting and paved path analogy.
Your relationship with your partner is like traveling through a forest together on a twisting and paved path. The forest represents life and all the experiences you have together and separately. In this forest there is a twisting and paved path that cuts all the way through it (from the beginning of your relationship to the end). Walking on this path together represents when you and your partner are able to meet your relationship ideals, values, and goals. While on the path you both feel pretty satisfied overall with your relationship together; there may be some bumps but they are handled well.
Can you imagine this with me? Picture a beautiful forest. Is it Spring or Fall? Sunrise, the middle of the day, or sunset? Are you holding hands while you walk on the path with your partner? Do you see any animals on your journey? Maybe it's sunset and you see pretty blinking fireflies...
Going off the paved path represents when you are being pulled to take care of other things in your life away from your partner. Sometimes it’s just a little way off the path. “Hey, I found a cool looking walking stick, but I’m back now!” Other times you might be in survival mode and you have to take care of important priorities. This life event might take you pretty far off of the path. Sometimes you might be so deep in the forest that you cannot even see the path anymore, and you aren’t completely sure of the way back…
Sometimes you and your partner are traveling far off of the path together. A good example is when a couple starts having children. Both people may not be able to do everything they would like together (go on dates, have a lot of free time together, etc.); however, they are both working together out in the forest.
Sometimes one partner feels on the path, and pretty good about the relationship, but the other person is out in the forest somewhere. Maybe one person has a lot of professional requirements for his or her field of work that takes them away from home a lot. Or, maybe one person is feeling satisfied with the relationship, but the other isn’t.
As you can picture, life events (both happy and stressful ones) will continuously tug at the couple walking on the path. This is normal. Sometimes the couple is experiencing a lot of happiness, satisfaction, and connection, but sometimes the couple has to attend to other important priorities. There is always a shifting, moving, and growing sensation. You are walking on a path because things never stay the same in life; you are never still in your relationship with your partner. Life is always changing.
As a couple, the goal isn’t to perfectly stay on the path. That just isn’t realistic. What is realistic and healthy is to notice when things take you off the path. Just observe and be curious. Were you able to feel back on track and get back to a level of connection that you both feel happy with? Or do you still feel like you are deep out in the forest alone? Were you okay being off the path for a little bit, but now it's been too long and you feel you need to do something to reconnect with your partner?
Being off of the path by itself isn't negative or “bad.” In fact, sometimes sacrifices are made that are important—they might even be important for the overall health of your relationship or even your extended family.
Something else to think about is that relationships change over the years. At the beginning of a relationship a couple may feel like most of the time they are on that paved and twisty path together. They may even feel euphoric, and stressful events feel pretty insignificant since they don't have many shared responsibilities together.
As the newness wears off, as their differences are starting to annoy each other, and as they have to face more life challenges, the couple needs to find a way to still feel connected. As the years go by, the couple may find that life takes them off the path for many reasons, but a couple who has a healthier and stronger relationship keeps finding ways to get back on that path and reconnect. It's the habit of getting back on the path and reconnecting that's more important than the number of challenges or problems the couple faces.
We can even use this path analogy for when one or both partners feel they have lost track of the path completely. This can happen to every couple; especially when stressful events hit the couple back to back. It’s again important to observe and be curious, and know that you can get back on track! If you are feeling pretty far off the path (maybe farther than you have ever been and you are worried you just stumbled upon a bear den); it’s good to take note of it and start to try different things to reconnect with your partner.
Couples counseling when couples are lost out in the woods.
Couples counseling may be helpful for couples having trouble getting back on the path who have tried different solutions, but they are finding that nothing is helping significantly. Any couples counselor will tell you that couples usually wait too long before coming in, and run a greater risk for breaking up because they waited until relationship problems consumed their relationship like a cancer that has completely taken over the body.
If you notice that you are out deep in the forest and struggling to find your way back; don't wait too long to try various solutions. These solutions might be reading a relationship book together, taking a couples communication class, talking with trusted friends who have a thriving partnership together, going on dates, taking time alone to recharge, or even going to couples counseling. Couples counseling is a service I offer at my office. Click here for a past blog of mine that shares what to expect in couples counseling at MoxiePsychology Legacy (1).
Questions to think about to increase your self-awareness and grow your relationship muscles ("looking good... have you been working out?"):
In summary, be kind to yourself and your partner as life throws everything it can to try to knock you off track. Get back up, try again, and reconnect each time you get a little off the path. Find little ways and big ways to stay connected with your partner as you adventure through the forest. I'm rooting for you!
Thank you for joining me today. If this post was helpful, please hit the Facebook Like button below or share the blog on Twitter.
Talk to you next week.
All the best,
Holly L. Harrison
PS Can I send you an email about once a month? The email will have links to my latest blog posts in case there is a topic you are interested in. As the business grows and I add more products and services, I will mention in the email what has been added.
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Holly L. Harrison, MA, LMFT