Does it seem like the love in your relationship is dwindling? Do you have the desire to maintain the love in your relationship? As long as you have the desire you will be able to maintain the love. To help understand why the love in many relationships seem to decrease over time and what someone can do to maintain the love in their relationship, I have interviewed therapist Betsy Sansby LMFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist, and have been for almost 30 years. These days, most of what I do is work with couples who are struggling to maintain a connection while juggling too many activities for too many people, at too great a cost to their relationship. I see clients in my office in Minnetonka, MN, and I also do On-line and Phone Sessions.”
Why does it seem that after a period of time, the love in many relationships seems to decrease?
“We’re afraid to talk about our needs. Feelings of love tend to decrease whenever we don’t speak openly and honestly to our partners about our hurts, needs and desires. I see this all the time in my work with couples.”
Why don’t we ask for what we need from each other?
“Roots go back to childhood. Most of us are taught that having needs is selfish, and that speaking our truth'”if it isn’t in line with what our parents want us to think, feel, or want'”is immature, hurtful, or wrong. In order to receive love and avoid being shamed, blamed, or ignored, we quickly learn to deny our own needs and feel embarrassed or ashamed for even having them.”
“During courtship, getting needs met isn’t a problem. That’s because during this phase, we’re drunk on sex hormones produced by our own bodies. These amazing bonding agents allow us to forget our own needs and pay exquisite attention to the needs of our lover. Anyone who has ever watched a TV special on animals’ mating rituals can see that this dance of attunement is built into our DNA as surely as it is for any other animal. It helps explain the transformations we all experience when we fall in love: Who needs food? Who needs sleep? Who needs that ridiculous job anyway? We’re in love. All we need is each other.”
“One explanation for this strange and wonderful phenomenon is that during the first eighteen months of a relationship, sex hormones spike. This gives couples a chance to meet, date, and if things work out, procreate. Then, gradually, our hormones return to their pre-courtship levels'”which is one reason why couples are so interested in sex at the start of a relationship, and less interested later. This is the biochemistry of that thing we humans call ‘Love.'”
And then what happens? Why do we stop trying to please each other just when the stakes go up?
“Problems occur when courtship ends and the chaos of normal life begins. In my practice, I don’t usually see couples during the courtship phase of their relationship. I see them after the birth of their first or second child. That’s when the moms–who spend most of their time nursing, holding, wiping, feeding, bathing and struggling with children start to feel overwhelmed and “touched-out.” And it’s when their partners'”who spend most of their time working outside the home'”start feeling unappreciated, touch-deprived, and rejected.”
What about problems in the bedroom?
“Problems in the bedroom are often a symptom. Most couples I work with admit that their sexual relationship could be improved. But that’s not why they come to therapy. They come to therapy because they no longer feel good in each other’s company. That’s the main reason they’re not having sex very often. A lot of them aren’t even kissing, holding hands, or having dates anymore.”
“As time speeds up, couples lose their connection. If you work all day in an environment where you seldom get a moment’s peace, you might be in the habit of hopping on the computer, or jumping on the treadmill as soon as you get home. It’s a way to unwind for a few minutes before starting the evening’s activities: snacks, homework, dinner, soccer, baths, chores, and clean-up.”
“Or maybe you spend your days running a household: taking care of kids, paying bills, preparing meals, dealing with the garbage that just blew onto your neighbor’s lawn, and making sure that everybody’s got everything they need at approximately the right moment. If this is anything like your life, chances are that the second you hear that garage door go up at the end of the day, you’re ready to tag off, drop the mop, and hit the shower — for about an hour. And while you’re in there, chances are you’re not dreaming of sex. You’re dreaming of sleep.”
“The result of all this buzzing around is that couples get disconnected from themselves and each other. They don’t ask for what they need, because they’re not supposed to have needs. But of course they do. We all do.”
“We just have trouble admitting it. So, instead of asking our partners in advance for some time off to maintain our sanity, we steal it from the relationship by running off to the gym, escaping to the basement, hiding out in the bedroom, burying ourselves in projects, or taking hunting trips we’re sure we talked about but our partners can’t remember.”
“So what really causes couples to drift apart in all areas of their relationship is the gradual loss of quantity and quality time together and apart, and the hurts that result from these losses.”
What type of impact can a lack of love have on the overall relationship?
“In my experience, people stop liking themselves long before they stop loving their partners. This is because, in their efforts to be good, to be everything to everyone, they ignore their own needs for rest, relaxation, comfort, and affection. And then, when they finally notice that they’re feeling depleted and unappreciated, they get mad. Then they either grab what they’ve been missing (and feel terrible) or blame everyone around them for their unhappiness (and feel even worse).”
What can someone do to help maintain the love in a relationship?
“Create daily Friendliness Rituals that bring the two of you together. Examples: Daily check-ins over morning coffee. Lunch dates. Calls on the ride home. Scheduled “Mom and Dad Time” when kids know they have to occupy themselves. Nightly foot or neck rubs while you read before bed.”
“Develop good self-care rituals. Carve out time each day to check in with yourself and respond to your own needs. Ask yourself at regular intervals: Have I eaten, taken a break, or had meaningful contact with another human being in the last few hours?”
“Take turns initiating. Everyone likes to know their partner wants to be with them. Don’t make your partner do all the social planning, or making arrangements for your dates or vacations.”
“Grow together. Find activities you both love to do, and do them together on a regular basis. These activities will enliven your relationship, and may expand your relationships with other couples. Examples: Take dance classes, volunteer together, join a choir, walk, hike, and bike, join a volleyball league, learn a language or start a book club.”
“Build lifelong relationships with people who love and support you as a couple and as a family. Start early and invest heavily in each other’s lives. Get to know and love each other’s kids. Over time, investing in these relationships will rank among the best decisions you’ve ever made.”
“Do unto your partner, as they would like you to do unto them. Give your partner the kind of attention, affection, interest you know he/she likes.”
“Take care of your health. Nothing else feels good if you feel lousy.”
“Ask directly for what you want or need. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Anytime you’re feeling hurt or resentful, ask yourself: “What needs of mine have I been neglecting?” or ‘What haven’t I asked for in the right way?'”
“Don’t waste time fighting. As soon as you recognize you’re heading for a fight, call a time out. Then use the Stop Strategy to calm yourselves down and reconnect from a better place.”
“Send love notes and apologies to your partner by email, text, or phone. Make each of these as specific as you can. A sheepish, “Sorry — ” isn’t the same as filling out a Sorry Card that really lets your partner know you understand how your actions have affected them.”
“Assume the best about your partner. We all want to be our partner’s hero but we don’t always know how. If your partner does something you think is stupid or hurtful, ask yourself if you really believe she meant to hurt or embarrass you, or if maybe she thought she was doing the right thing.”
“Don’t wait for your partner to fail so you can say: “I knew you were going to do this! Instead. Set your partner up for success by giving him enough information to be successful.”
“Tell the truth. Don’t hold back your true feelings out of fear.
If you can’t tell the truth out loud, write it down and give it to your partner. Edit out anything that’s hurtful and just speak from the heart.”
“Use The Stop Strategy, The Ouch Kit, and Love Bites to defuse conflicts, express and meet each other’s needs, and repair your relationship. I’ve developed these tools for couples in my therapy practice. If you make a point to use them to express needs, wants, appreciation and difficult feelings, your relationship will improve.”
What type of professional help is available for someone who is struggling to maintain the love in his or her relationship?
“In most cities, you can find a good couples therapist by searching the national registry of licensed marriage and family therapists: The American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy. Unlike other mental health professionals, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapists specialize in working with individuals, couples, and kids in the context of their families, siblings, friends and co-workers. So although we may or may not see your children, we are always considering how your interactions are affecting them.”
Betsy Sansby has almost 30 years experience counseling individuals, couples, and families. She is the creator of The OuchKit, LoveBites, and other communication tools for couples. She is also the author of Ask Betsy, an online relationship advice column. Betsy has appeared in Redbook Magazine, and is a regularly featured therapist in the popular Ladies’ Home Journal series “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” She may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.talkaboutrelationships.net.
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