“It’s not the same,” Sue said, annoyed. “We used to be so connected. Now it feels like we’re going in different directions.”
Sue’s complaint isn’t unusual. For most of us, there are few things that jazz us as much as that euphoric feeling called “in love,” right? Then, when that early bliss of a relationship wanes, couples often feel sad.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could be “in love” all the time? Maybe, but more likely, not…
A few years ago I had a conversation with twenty-something Ed, who’d just gotten engaged. Though not normally excitable, Ed was clearly really happy to finally be with “the one” he loved and who loved him. And, as I tuned into his upbeat emotions, I felt happy too. “This is this most delicious time in your relationship,” I gushed.
Then, thinking about the kind of intimacy that can only happen with time, I told Ed, “this is better, but what you two have now is simply delicious. Enjoy every second.”
A few hours later, thinking about Ed and his very sweet fiancé, I wondered why that “delicious” feeling dissipates and one or both people feel more like Sue than Ed. I asked myself if I would give up the comfortableness, emotional safety, and affection I have now for that “in love” feeling.
The answer came fast.
No. I wouldn’t. That always-ecstatic feeling was fun then and I’m glad for the memory of it. But what I have now is great. And, unlike that constant over-the-moon feeling of new love, this is actually sustainable.
The truth is that the emotional level of new love is impossible to maintain in the real world. Also, insisting that it be that “thrilling” is damaging to the relationship; it thwarts your growth as a couple.
Is Change Disappointing?
My spouse, Joseph, and I met on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. When we were still together a year later, we decided to celebrate the one-year anniversary of meeting. We’ve been marking that day ever since then. This year, we celebrated covid-style with a 2-hour drive down the shore and a walk on the beach. Then, on our way home, we returned to the quaint, tree-lined where, 35 years ago, we were both on our way to a meeting at one of the homes, and met on the sidewalk.
When we got there, what a disappointment! In recent years, the growth of the nearby hospital has spilled onto Summit Grove Avenue. Gone are most of the sweet twin homes, replaced by a parking garage and a medical pavilion. The house where we met is still there, but the sidewalk “spot” isn’t.
The biggest disappointment? The street sign is gone. In fact, if I didn’t know where Summit Grove was already, I probably wouldn’t have found it (I’m glad I snapped a picture of the sign a few years ago). Still, it felt like something special had been taken away from us.
Is Change a Relationship-Wrecker?
While I sort of mourned the loss, the truth is that nothing and nobody ever stays the same. With change comes the opportunity for growth, for something better. As disappointing as seeing that once-charming little street become something else, the reality is that the hospital is now serving its community better.
And as cute as Joseph and I were in 1985, we changed; we’re better. It’s true that some of the changes have been difficult ones. They could have destroyed us, but we didn’t let it.
That’s the key…choosing together to work through the challenges as a team. If only one person works, the whole thing doesn’t.
You need a plan to make it work. Here’s one.
Dealing with Change in Relationships
Change is going to happen. Expect it and prepare for it. You can start with these three tips for dealing with change in your relationship:
- Acknowledge it. The change could be external, like getting or losing a job, having kids, or moving. Or it could be internal, like when you have kids or you are caregiving for aging parents, and you see life differently. You owe it to your partner to clue them in to what it is. Maybe you’re overwhelmed, or bored, or having problems at work or with in-laws. Keeping it inside will only make you anxious, angry, and resentful.
- Schedule Family Meetings. In The Five-Year Marriage, I recommend having regular Family Meetings, either weekly or twice a month. Start your meeting with what’s working (your high fives) and what’s not (everything from scheduling to feelings). If something isn’t working for one of you, you find out pretty fast. Once you know what it is, you can problem-solve and fix it together.
If it’s about externals. like kids or household chores, you can redistribute the workload. If it’s internal stuff, the Family Meeting becomes a safe space for discussion. Or, if you can’t fix it yourself, you know to get third-party help before you hate each other. And remember: what happens in Family Meeting stays in family meeting.
- Celebrate it. Change is almost never easy. When you come through a rough patch, make sure you pat yourselves on the back. A date night or a getaway weekend usually works – and, when you do it, make sure you both understand this it’s a celebration of your partnership. Couples can’t overestimate the value of high-five-ing it when you successfully solve a problem, together and a s partners.
Finally, marriage and relationships are hard. They take work between two people. Sure, when your head is in the clouds, it feels nice. But unless your feet are firmly on the ground, you can’t move forward. If you can’t move forward, you cheat yourself out of the partnership and true intimacy of love. Instead, the result is a breakup. And, as the old song says, breaking up is hard to do.