Recapturing the Spark in Your Relationship, prt. 1
A few months ago a couple came to see me because things in their relationship were changing. The fire was dying out. They could both see it happening and they were both afraid. I liked that. More couples should be that concerned when they first sense the spark disappearing.
After a few questions, I realized how simple the problem was. They weren't spending time together. They weren't doing the things they had been doing, so they were beginning to not feel the things they had been feeling.
At the time I had them on my schedule for that evening and two additional appointments. I told them they didn't need to be in my office, they needed to be out, with each other, having fun. I suggested since they already had child care lined up for the next two weeks for the scheduled appointments, they skip the appointments and turn those hours into dates. Calculate the total amount of time and money they had spent that evening to come to therapy, and spend at least that same amount of time and money on themselves for each of two date nights.
Like many couples, this couple hadn't connected the dots between the gradual (and inevitable) decrease in time spent together doing fun things and their decreasing feelings of excitement when they were together.
At this point a lot of couples say, "But Dave, we have small children at home." Or, "We work different shifts." Or, "We're not in college anymore, we have adult responsibilities."
Bottom line: As true as those things may be, your relationship will not retain its spark when managing Smith or Jones (insert your name here) Family, Inc. Running a business can be exciting and the business of running a household isn't much different. But most of even the most dedicated business owners go home occasionally. If you're not careful, the business of family will eat up every single bit of your time, and that will leave your relationship dull, strained, or worse.
The choices we make in life have consequences. Usually we have a lot more choices available to us than we realize, and we are free to make whatever choices we want but, once we have chosen, we are not free to escape the consequences of our choices. (Not even the world's greatest relationship counselor can make that happen. We're not wizards.) Somehow, in the middle of all the family business, the financial strain, getting through school, buying a house, dealing with car repairs, and everything else it takes to make a family happen, you must prioritize time with each other or your relationship will lose its spark. Notice I didn't not say it "might" lose its spark, I said it will. It's inevitable that this is what will happen if you don't tend to your relationship and water it with plenty of time and attention.
Speaking of watering it, let's use the plant metaphor a bit more. If you're responsible for keeping a plant alive, it's probably not a good idea to neglect watering it most of the year and then, on one or two days a year, putting it in front of a fire hydrant. Couples who think they can neglect each other most of the year and then get the spark back with a weekend retreat every year or two need to really assess what they are doing.
Of course exactly how you prioritize time together will differ depending on your circumstances, finances, access to child care, and other factors. If you can get away from the children and have dinner just the two of you once a week, I would highly recommend it. But once a month is better than nothing. On some kind of regular basis the two of you, without children, third wheels, or any other distraction, must connect somehow. Yes, it will take time and money that you're probably already strained for. But trust me -- it's cheaper and easier than counseling. I mean, I'd love to help you, but let's see if first I can help you make people like me a last resort.
In my next post I'll address another reason the spark goes out: couples start resenting each other for being the people they both were to begin with.