We Used to Be So Close! Reconnecting Our Relationships & Communication
The first couple of years of committed relationships can be glorious. When love first sparks, it often shines a spotlight on our best qualities, our mutual interests, sexual desires, and easy communication, and casts a shadow on aspects of us and our beloveds that are less-than-ideal and threaten our connection.
Regardless of how joyous and wonderfully communicative we are in the early stages of coupling, most of us eventually experience some negative changes in our perceptions of each other, our relationship, and our modes of communication. How well we handle those changes—not whether they occur—is a primary differentiator between happy couples and unhappy ones, and between those who stay together or not.
As we settle into daily life, all couples face life’s chosen and unanticipated shifts (e.g., moving in together, having kids, a new job, health challenges, etc.). These, and other common transitions, impact the time and energy we have for each other and ourselves.
For example, after the birth of a first child, on average, couples have about one-third of the alone time as before. One-third! Plus, a portion of our precious time with our spouses is now spent talking about our kids and co-parenting.
How, then, can we stay connected as things change? How can we maintain or create good communication? For starters, we can understand two important truisms:
- All relationships, even the best ones, go through multiple changes over time.
- As our relationships change, so too must our strategies for staying connected.
Accepting that our relationships change doesn’t mean being overjoyed about all the shifts we experience as a couple. In truth, the best way to navigate life’s transitions is to acknowledge the losses we’ve experienced, even the ones we chose.
Staying connected or reconnecting over time depends, then, on moving or stepping through changes together:
Step 1: Acknowledge what we lost. E.g., it’s okay for new parents who welcome a baby with open arms to also miss the ability to be spontaneous—sexually or otherwise—or mourn when sleep was plentiful.
Step 2: Get curious about what we have or can create together in the present. Unless we shift to the present, unless we generate positive feelings and experiences in our relationship right now, we’ll be hard-pressed to sustain intimacy, good communication, and relationship satisfaction.
“We don’t communicate anymore” is a common refrain among couples that don’t transition through life’s twists and turns together. In truth, we’re always communicating, yet we confuse negative forms of communication—e.g., criticism, denial, disrespect, stonewalling, or conflict-avoidance—with non-communication.
According to relationship expert, John Gottman, happy couples have a 5:1 ratio of relationship positivity to negativity. What constitutes a positive or negative element in our relationships is unique to every couple, so it’s important to spend time with our spouses articulating what nurtures our bond, and what hinders it.
It’s also important to accept that what nurtures intimacy for one of us might not do so for the other. If that’s the case, either we need to pursue shared experiences or consciously choose to give our beloved what they need to feel close.
Gottman notes that enhancing friendship is key to increasing positivity for many couples. Consider asking each other: What do you most appreciate in your closest friendships? If we were to enhance our friendship by just 10 percent, what kind of things might we do with, or for, each other?
By understanding that all relationships change over time, and by fanning the flames of positivity in our relationships in the present, we acknowledge the past while inviting the present and future. Doing so is key to sustaining intimacy, good communication, and connection, and ensuring that not only did we used to be so close, we still are.