Recapturing the Spark in Your Relationship, prt. 2
In my last post I observed the hidden-in-plain sight fact that the spark in your relationship will disappear if you do not spend regular time having fun together. Today I want to discuss the far-less-obvious issue that sparks often go out when couples begin resenting each other for being the people they have always been.
I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but it happens a lot. You find that special someone and think they are the greatest thing that ever happened to the planet. Years later, his spontaneity looks irresponsible, and her organization looks controlling.
The person your partner is on the day you get married is the person they will almost surely be 20 years later. If you marry a person who is spontaneous, they will still be spontaneous. That organized person will still be organized. If you find yourself resenting your partner, chances are pretty good it’s not them who’s changed but your perspective on their personality.
Here’s a non-technical way of saying it: you might just be too darn critical. Now that’s not as simple as it sounds. There are reasons you got that way, but one of those reasons is probably not that your partner has changed so drastically. Perhaps being with you is now making it impossible for your partner to be that person you so loved and enjoyed. Ironically, that’s likely true for both of you.
If you find that lately almost all that comes out of your mouth about your partner is critical, picking at their faults, telling friends (or, God-forbid, family) how much you dislike them or how frustrated with them you are, always berating them, chances are good you are part of the problem.
That’s not to say your partner has no responsibility. I’m just saying that if you’re the kind of person who, when you get frustrated and irritated, becomes mean and critical and demanding, your response to your partner is part of the problem — the toxic cycle — you are both stuck in.
So what do you do if you’re in a relationship with a partner who chronically neglects or hurts you, won’t seek help with you, won’t even read a book or listen to a podcast about the issue, and maybe won’t even acknowledge there’s a problem? You ask that person — ONCE — if they will seek counseling with you again and tell them you’re never going to ask again. And then don’t. They will hear you when you ask and, once you’ve put that out there, they have every right to go or not go.
Of course you have a right to respond to that however you wish. But nagging, becoming critical, making jokes to friends at your partner’s expense, or other negativity isn’t going to help. Just make sure that if you’re at the point in your relationship that you’re thinking about leaving the relationship if your partner won’t get help with you, to tell them that clearly at that moment. Be careful with this because you should never tell your partner you’re leaving the relationship unless you’re actually going to do it. But if you’re sure that this is the last straw, tell your partner this. Make sure they know the stakes of refusing to get help.
None of this is meant to imply that people don’t change over time. People change in many ways, both for better and for worse. But it’s hard to overstate how often a person gets completely fed up with their partner for simply being the person they were when they met, and who they have always been.
Ladies — if you want a man who is caring and sensitive and loves to sit and have long chats with you while looking deeply into your eyes (these guys exist, I promise), make sure that happens pretty regularly in the first few months after meeting each other. If it doesn’t, it’s probably never going to. Despite popular misconception, it’s not a woman’s job to “housebreak” a man, teach him rules for living, or turn him into a prince.
Fellas — if you want a woman who will watch the game with you (or at least not care when you watch it alone), is game for sex almost anytime, and who doesn’t need a high degree of conversation/emotion from you (these women exist), iron these things out before you’re too invested. If that’s not who she is to begin with, it’s probably not fair to expect her to be that person down the road.
Are you hypercritical, or is there a real problem in your relationship? (Both? I see that hand!) Do you fully accept your partner the way they are, or do you feel they absolutely must change in order for you to stay with them? See if you can remember the way you thought of them when you first met, back when you appreciated them for just who they were. And see if that brings back just a little of the spark.
In my next post, I’ll cover yet another reason why couples lose that spark: In the stress of daily life, they sometimes lose each other.
AFTERTHOUGHT: I believe most serious problems between partners can be resolved with good premarital counseling. A relationship counselor who takes this seriously will see it as their job to either assure couples they are right for each other, or warn them if they’re not and give them some idea what might be required to set things straight. For these couples, the choice to stay together or to break up is always completely up to them.