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How to Resuscitate a Dying Relationship

All relationships are unique. There is no template for the perfect relationship and no one way to heal an unwell one. But we can always learn something from the experiences of others.

Judy and Will’s Story

When I first met Judy and Will they blurted out in a somewhat bewildered fashion that they really didn’t have a problem and didn’t know why they were talking to me BUT their relationship was feeling a bit flat and was there something that could be done about this?

Both went on to proclaim that when they met and married just over three years ago their relationship was wonderful and they felt great every time they were together. They had met on the tennis courts and were overjoyed in finding a companion that shared their passion for tennis and for a whole range of other sports.

For the first year of their marriage their life together centred around tennis, squash, biking and any extreme sports they felt challenged to try. They were the best of friends and felt they had “lucked onto” the perfect partner. They never argued, they did everything together and always had fun.

Things however suddenly changed. Judy suffered a knee injury and could no longer participate in these high impact sports.

Will felt sorry for Judy missing out on these activities she loved so much and initially he cut down on some of his pursuits so as to spend some time with her. But soon he was back on the tennis and squash courts and was engaging in all his sporting interests as before. He just relied more on his mates for companionship.

Judy began to use her new found time upgrading her skills through various courses and began to focus more on her career.

For the first time since they had become a couple they were no longer spending very much time together, and when they did get together over the odd meal they were at a loss as to what to talk about. They still were not arguing and were polite and civil to each other, enjoying a laugh now and then. BUT….

But they were no longer CONNECTING. They were no longer sharing themselves with each other. They had stopped communicating their thoughts and their feelings.

When questioned about the intimacy in the relationship both concurred that they still had strong feelings for each other and that they enjoyed holding hands and the occasional cuddle. Neither of them, they confessed, were ever into all the “romantic mushy stuff” and so did not feel that they had a problem in this area. However there were some signs that the ‘flatness’ they were experiencing in their everyday relationship was beginning to creep into their intimacy.

THE QUESTION: HOW DO YOU RESUSCITATE A DYING RELATIONSHIP?

THE ANSWER: RECONNECT

Will and Judy had built their marriage on a foundation based on companionship. They were bonded by their common interests and this impacted on their entire relationship. When they lost their common interest they strayed from their relationship and the foundation they had built began to crumble from a lack of care.

In order to rebuild this foundation Will and Judy needed to reconnect as a couple.

There are some common cliches that are triggered when you think of the word ‘connect’ in relationships:

  • “we just clicked and I knew that he knew what I was thinking without saying it”
  • “we’re exactly the same- what she likes I like”
  • “he always knows what I am feeling”
  • “sometimes I feel as if we are one person”
  • “she just gets it”

These cliches do reflect some truths. For couples who are connected listen with respect to each other; they share an interest in what is happening in the other person’s life; they feel empathy for their partner’s pain and unhappiness; and they take pleasure in their partner’s joys. There are the smiles between them validating what each is thinking, and they freely communicate their thoughts and feelings.

Will and Judy wanted once again to experience such a connection.

What follows are five steps to help couples reconnect. They are:

  1. The Reality Check Part One: Do you and your partner share common values?
  2. The Reality Check Part Two: Are you and your partner on the same page?
  3. Acting on the Mutual Wants and Expectations
  4. Acting on the Individual Wants and Expectations
  5. Connecting Rituals

The Reality Check Part One: Values

The Reality Check is a way of determining whether you and your partner share the same values. Values are qualities that bring meaning to your life and include such concepts as: companionship, fun, romance, security, family, spiritual connectivity, money, success, personal growth and so on.

To start with Will and Judy were asked to write out a list of the values they felt were important to them. They had never actually considered their values when they entered their marriage as everything seemed to be perfect. When they did their independent lists there was no surprise that companionship and fun were at the top. What did surprise them was a number of other values that they both shared and had never considered as important to their relationship.

Once Will and Judy had completed their lists they were asked to share and discuss their similar and dissimilar values.

Will’s and Judy’s exploration opened the door to some thoughtful conversations, and they soon saw that there was more to their relationship than just fun and games.

After thoroughly exploring their values Will and Judy were already feeling more connected and were ready for their second list: their list of relationship expectations.

Reality Check Part Two: Are you and your partner on the same page?

Writing out this list can create some discomfort in couples as they have to be a little selfish and take a hard look at what they want out of the relationship, and so need to ask themselves some difficult questions as: “Why am I in this relationship?”; “Is this what I thought a partnership would be like?”; “What do I need to get out of this relationship to stay in it?”; “Am I satisfied?”; “What more do I want?”.

By answering these questions each partner creates a blueprint outlining their expectations for a successful relationship. To feel connected each partner needs to know that their relationship needs can be be met and that they and their partner share a common list of relationship expectations. It is not necessary to have a list of identical relationship wants but there has to be enough of a common ground to ensure both partners are on the same page.

At the first glance at each of their lists Will and Judy noticed that they had a number of expectations that were different, but noticeably they had a number of similar wants. For example both wanted to be able discuss any topic with each other without feeling that they were boring their partner. They both expected and wanted to do things together – not just eat an occasional meal together or visit a friend every now and then.

So although their list included different expectations they still shared some common ones and were close to being on the same page. With a little work their relationship could be as vital as it once was.

Acting on the Mutual Wants and Expectations

This step of the Reconnecting process begins by both partners creating a single list of the wants and expectations they both agree need to be realised if their relationship is to breathe life once again.

A micro problem solving process can be useful at this time. The couple begins by translating their want/expectation into a specific goal. They then brainstorm as many possible ways to reach this goal. Any idea from the logical and practical to the absurd and unrealistic is listed for consideration.

Once this list is completed partners jointly scrutinise the solutions they have come up with and start to wean out the ones that really have no way of working. Ideally there should be a few options that stand out with potential. The couple now discusses the pros and cons of each option and further refine their list until they are left with a solution or solutions that offer the best promise of satisfying the want.

The strategies required to implement this solution are put in place and the couple is well on their way to satisfying their mutual wants, needs and expectations.

Will and Judy had identified “companionship and spending time together” as a mutual want important to them both. Changes in circumstances had nearly ended this companionship and now they had to brainstorm new ways to be together. After refining their list of options they decided to join a swim club. They would now be able to spend more time together, enjoy a physical activity that was not high impact and make new friends with which to socialise.

With such a positive start they were able to find quite a few other interests they could now share and were able to repeat this brainstorming process with all their wants.

Feeling excited from the success of Step 3 of the Reconnecting process Will and Judy were ready to move forward.

Acting on the Individual Wants

This can be a bit more challenging. Partners now work on satisfying the wants that only one of them considers to be important. This process may require a bit of give and take, negotiation and conflict resolution. Hopefully partners can collaborate through this process as they begin to realise that the satisfaction of their partner’s individual expectation can result in a happier relationship for both of them.

As with the mutual wants this process begins by identifying the expectation of one partner and setting a goal. Brainstorming the various ways of satisfying this want comes next. Once again all possible options from the rational to the zany are recorded. The list is refined with the main criteria being acceptance by both partners of any options. This is where there may be a need for a bit of negotiation as one partner may not be that happy doing something that the other partner may want them to do. With a bit of bargaining and controlled discussion a favourable outcome may be reached.

What was interesting in the case of Judy and Will was that one of Judy’s wants related to the romance in their relationship. Judy as noted earlier felt the same as Will about intimacy and really didn’t want any “mushy stuff”. But she did want a bit more than was happening now. Will was quite clear on the fact that he was no romantic and had never been and didn’t want to make himself uncomfortable “being something I am not”.

Fortunately for Will and Judy her want did not require a personality change on Will’s part. It did however require a bit more effort in bringing some more romance to their relationship. A start was made when both Will and Judy agreed that they would go out on a date each week and that they would take turns planning a romantic surprise once a month. Judy’s want had resulted in a satisfactory outcome for both her and Will.

The above four steps of the Reconnecting process can help couples rediscover the uniqueness of their relationship, reinforce the bond between them and re establish a solid foundation for future growth. But to reassure that the couple stays connected requires Step 5 of the Reconnecting process.

Connecting Rituals

Basically these rituals are the little things that couples do together regularly to show that they care and are interested in each other and the relationship. The choice of ritual is determined by the lifestyle and interests of the couple. Some examples include:

  • one partner making coffee while the other stays in bed
  • sharing fifteen minutes at the end of each working day with a cup of tea and a chat
  • meeting weekly at a favourite coffee shop
  • spending Sundays at the markets
  • reading a novel and then discussing it together
  • watching a special TV show

Judy and Will took this step seriously and worked at establishing a number of their own rituals. They both had busy jobs and activities that could easily overtake their lives so it was important to them to connect daily. On the days when their paths would not cross until bedtime they decided to get up extra early and have breakfast together. They began meeting once a week for lunch at their favourite deli and each day they connected with each other by a simple mobile call.

The strategies followed by Will and Judy enabled them to reconnect with each other and rebuild their relationship foundation. Their relationship had changed in the three years they had been together and had lost its spark but with a little work and a lot of ‘want’ they had been able to give it a new life.

Not all of these strategies may work for all relationships, as each relationship is unique, but they may serve as a kick start to resuscitating a dying relationship and so just may be worth some consideration.

Counselling: http://www.zahava.com.au/counselling/
Coaching: http://www.zahava.com.au/life-coaching/

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