Does Your Relationship Still Have That New Car Feeling?

One of the most salient themes I notice doing therapy , is that couples stop being nice to each other at some point along the way. They toxify their relationship by using stonewalling, defensiveness, criticism, and/or contempt- and then wonder why their partner is “no longer the person they married.” They do and say things to their partner that they wouldn’t dream of doing to anyone else. They are nicer to their dry cleaner than they are to their own partner.

The very first task I usually ask couples to do is to put consciousness back into their relationship and practice being kind to each other. Instead of reactively, lazily, unconsciously slipping into their knee-jerk dynamics- I ask couples to take a few moments pause before responding to their partner.

To illustrate how we beat down our relationships over time- I’ll often use the new car analogy. Think back when you first got your car. It probably smelled really nice, and you washed it every week. You wouldn’t dare let fast food, pets, trash, or even a bottle cap hit your floorboard. 

However, as time passed- maybe you dropped a french fry, or spilled coffee that you didn’t clean up right away. Maybe you let your sweaty gym bag stay in the back a little too long. Over time, you begin to hold less and less value for your vehicle and allow it to wear and tear. 

This is unfortunately how many of us operate in our relationships. We let a biting quip, a venomous tongue, or a biting insult fly out of our mouths. We make our loved one feel small so we can feel tall. We push our partners buttons better than anyone else, and then over time we wonder why they’ve “changed?” 

An important question to ask yourself in cultivating relationship health is “would I rather be right or would I rather be happy?” We can choose to be the scorekeepers, fostering a tit for tat culture where no good deed of ours goes unpunished- or we can begin to be the change we want to see in our relationships by doing good first. Instead of letting the dishes just sit in the sink so he really gets that he should have taken out the trash- maybe you do both this time? Spiritually, and relationally- you will get way more back than you ever bargained for before.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Why is it that familiarity breeds contempt- yet absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Many of my couples in come in begging for excitement, refreshment, and the spark back in their relationships. We all wrongly assume that if we spend every last waking and ending moment with our partner- that we will become more attached and more in love. However, the relationship that cultivated love between ourselves and our parents (or primary caretakers) is not the same relationship we need to keep the passion alive.

In other words- safety, attachment, dependence, and predictability are an express-train to marital/relational hum-drumville. In order to recreate the excitement and connection we once had with our partners- we must introduce elements of novelty and spontaneity. Think about when you first met. You weren't guaranteed that he (she) would always be there or call every day. There were things in your life that you probably didn't share every bit of with your partner and vice versa.

In my upcoming blogs- I will continue to help you with new ways to induce life and the "spark" back into your relationship. For right now- start with a date. No, I'm not talking about dinner and a movie. Do something together that gets you out of the comfort zone and carries with it an element of fear. Here are 10 date ideas to get you started:

  1. Bowling
  2. Rollerskating
  3. Surf or Stand up Paddle lessons
  4. Improv, Comedy, or acting classes
  5. Rock Climbing
  6. Picnic under the stars
  7. Laser Tag
  8. Hiking in a mutually unexplored (but public) area
  9. volunteer
  10. Hang gliding

By introducing novelty back into your routine, you can begin to see your partner in a different light. Maybe you start to realize how much your partner's presence brings you comfort in unfamiliar situations, maybe you are reminded of how cute your loved one looks when they are vulnerable and trying out something new.

Tit for Tat

I see a lot of "tit for tat," come into play in my office. Many couples come in and start off the therapy session by naming a laundry list of things their significant other has done or has failed to do. They sound "armed" with evidence supporting their sometimes selfish, withholding, and toxic nature. I watch as the other partner squirms in their seat, getting noticeably more and more angry and frigid.

One of the best parts of my couples therapy is asking each of the partners to identify what it was that initially made them fall in love and what it is that is keeping them still holding on. The climate immediately begins to change. The twinkle and spark goes back in each others' eyes, and their postures begin to melt. The smiles come back and so does the laughter. It is from this place, that I am able to effect the most change and the most motivation to change with the couple.

I ask couples to go back to the beginning. When every text, every phone call, every mention of the other person's name would send a little electricity through their veins. Back when they didn't keep score and they just gave unconditionally. We learn that we get so much more back by no longer keeping score of what we've gotten back. When we give unconditionally and our only goal is to make our partner feel completely loved and valued- an extraordinary thing begins to happen- we begin to feel valued ourselves.