One of my Instagram followers, we’ll call her Neila because I think that’s a badass name, sent me this message the other day: “I’m wondering if you can give me advice..I’m feeling my boyfriend and I moving further and further apart…I don’t know him as well as I used to…”
She went on to describe more of her situation, but I’ll leave it at that in terms of her exact words. What Neila described to me was a relationship that started beautiful, but settled into routine, like so many others do. There was nothing wrong with her or her boyfriend, but their relationship was missing two important components: quality time and communication. They let it get bad for way too long, because they actually thought it was always getting better.
Before I go further, I should talk about a really powerful book called The Five Love Languages. There are two love languages called “quality time” and “words of affirmation” that align with what I’m calling the “missing components” of Neila’s relationship. For those who don’t know, everyone gives and receives love in these five ways at varying levels. Now, Neila may not give or receive love in these two ways in particular. I don’t know that, because I don’t know her. Rather, these two are an important part of every developing relationship. They won’t necessarily help you love your partner if they aren’t your love languages, but what they always do is help you know your partner.
You probably spent a lot of quality time with your partner when you first got together. Surely, you just always loved being together thanks to that honeymoon phase of the relationship. The “in-love” feeling turns a blind eye to worries and obligations. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s a natural part of being human. If your mind didn’t turn off to some things that bothered you and didn’t make you want to spend as much time as possible with one person, you’d probably never have grown close enough to anyone to ever form a lifelong bond with them. But once that emotional connection is formed, and once the in-love feeling begins to fade, you won’t always feel like spending a lot of time with your partner. The honeymoon phase is over, routine takes its place, and life returns to as it was before, just with an additional member.
All of a sudden, when you’re tired, you’d rather watch tv than go to the play with her, or let him take you on his favorite hike. Before too long, you’d rather get a drink with the boys than a cocktail with your partner. You just don’t feel like it, right?
It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel like it, because you don’t commit to your partner for you. You do it for him, for her. You do it, because you want to make them happy. It should be the most selfless thing you ever do in life, but you do it and you do it with joy, because you love your partner. Go to the play, because you know she loves theater. Let him take you on his favorite hike, because it makes him feel like a man. Get dressed up and insist on that cocktail bar, because it gives her that sensation of elegance. Take her anywhere she wants to go, because that’s what’s going to help you know her, him better.
How you communicate, as well as your need for communication, evolve over the course of every relationship. In the beginning, you don’t think twice about things that bother you and you’re shy about asking for what you want, while five years in, it’s just the opposite. Your love gets more complicated as you begin asking your partner for things you. The relationship gets more difficult when things that seemed trivial, start to bother you. How do you go about it?
Start by focusing on the good in your relationship. Every morning, Deborah and I tell each other why we’re grateful for each other. We set the precedent for the entire day. This makes the other person still feel appreciated if any issues do come up, and it reminds you that your partner is mostly good. One thing that consistently gets people is this downward head spiral of thinking everything their partner does is bad or out of malice, when 99.9% of the time, nothing could be further from the truth.
When you start by focusing on the good, you make a conscious decision to communication the proper way, when other people may simply act or react. Be purposeful, even structured, in your approach issues that bother you or things you want.
As soon as you shift your attitude in that direction, your quality time (even the things you didn’t want to do) become more fun than you thought they could be. As soon as you change your thinking towards positivity and focusing on the good in your relationship, communication gets better, and issues almost fix themselves.
More quality time and better communication are the two most important ingredients in any ever-evolving and long-lasting relationship.