Why NOW is the Time for Your Relationship

FayPsych Staff

“We’ll start having sex more after I’ve lost weight.”

 “We’ll spend more time together after I’ve gotten the promotion at work.”

“We can focus more on each other when the kids are older.”

“Once I stop traveling so much there’ll be more time for us.”

“My mom really needs me right now.  I know you’ll understand honey.”

How many times have you heard a friend say something along these lines, or maybe even uttered something similar yourself?

Couples tend to put off for tomorrow what they should be doing in their relationships today.  It’s easy to become nonchalant about our partners and our relationships.  It’s easier still to avoid the anxiety-provoking facets of our relationships and face them ‘some other time.’  We just assume that our partners will always be there for us, no matter what.  We so often fall into the bad habit of putting them on the back burner while we prioritize everything and everyone else ahead of them—jobs, kids, extended family, you name it.  But we do so safe in the knowledge that one day, when we’re ready, we can refocus our attention on them and they will be waiting for us.  The problems we have in our relationship can be worked out when that someday comes along too.

Only it doesn’t always work that way in the real world.  Couples who put off tending to the current needs (and trouble spots) within their relationship may find that their partners are not waiting for them when they’re finally ready to fully invest in and work on their relationship.

Many of the couples who present to therapy as a last-ditch effort to save their relationships have discovered that this “wait for another day” approach has had devastating consequences when they have finally decided to focus on their marriages.  Some have learned that it has left their relationship filled with resentment and so devoid of intimate connection in the here and now that they have chosen to seek out other connections through extramarital or emotional affairs.  Others have found that their partners did not want to wait for them and felt it might just be easier to leave the marriage altogether.  For those who have not yet reached this “critical” stage, there can still be a lingering sense of disconnect, loneliness, and “how could this happen to us?”

It’s terrible to see people who once had strong emotional connections come apart, especially since most of these couples could likely have avoided their fate if they had applied greater vigilance earlier in their relationship.  The damaged relationships described above didn’t happen overnight, it took time for their battle scars to be inflicted.

So what can couples do for their relationships to strengthen them right now?

Recognize that your relationship requires an investment of your time and energy on a daily basis.  Given the stresses and strains that career, children, extended family and other external factors may place on you as an individual this may be easier to pull off some days more than others.  Remember that your effort each day is part of a long-term investment in you, your partner, and your relationship that will pay dividends far into the future.  Some days you will do a better job than others, as will your partner.  Learn to forgive yourself on the days that your performance isn’t quite up to par, and extend the same forgiveness to him/her.

Try to remember what dating your partner was like when prioritizing your day.  When you were dating, your energy and focus were on your partner and your relationship while other aspects of your life became background players in those heady hormonal days of your early courtship.  This prioritization has likely reversed over time. While your partner can’t be your number one thought every waking minute, moving him or her up the list more consistently will make a big difference in how you feel about the relationship and how he/she is likely to feel about it as well.

Imagine what you would do differently if you were vying for your partner’s affections against a rival suitor.  Most couples have given up pursuing one another since the “deal has been sealed.”  Once you’ve stopped the chase, he/she feels less desirable and you are likely to be less engaged in your interactions with your partner.  Resetting your mind to the notion that you are in competition for your partner’s affections can help you bring out your A game.  Maybe you’ll pay a little more attention to how you dress and groom yourself, perhaps you’ll open the car door for her or send him a sexy text message– whatever the things are you think would catch your partner’s attention and win him/her over again.  Have an affair with your spouse!

If you are putting off being close to your partner because of your own physical, psychological or spiritual issue(s) you will address it/them– now.  If you’ve been holding your partner at a distance sexually (or otherwise) because you’re embarrassed that you’ve put on a few pounds, now is the time to do something about it.  If you have problems in your relationship with your father, that are affecting your relationship with your partner, now is the time to talk to someone about them so that you can resolve them once and for all.  The bottom line is, don’t expect your partner to either fix your problems or wait forever for you to decide to take care of your problems while they damage your relationship.  Take responsibility for yourself, and take action – NOW.

If the two of you are really stuck, seek guidance from a qualified couples therapist – now.  One of the biggest mistakes couples make is waiting too long to seek help when they come up against a problem in their relationship that they can’t handle on their own.  Rather than letting a problem pattern become entrenched, or letting resentments build up for years and years, talk to a professional who can help you learn new skills for addressing the issues the two of you are facing in a healthier way.

Copyright © 2011 Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC

Drowning in Emotion Part 3: Closeness Brings Anxiety and Anxiety Makes Us Selfish

Dr. Bill Spaine

If this metaphor of drowning seems too extreme when you reflect on your own behavior, lie back on the couch and let us analyze a bit. Think of yourself in relationship: with your spouse or partner, child, parent, sibling, pet, friend, work associate, boss, employee, classmate, student, neighbor, or roommate. Now, image an interaction that you have had with any of these individuals in which you lost control of your emotions or behavior.

If your anxiety level reaches a critical stage, you will react in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze (and freeze doesn’t last long). If your usual emotional reaction is to fight, you will say attacking or hurtful things to the other– perhaps you will yell. If flight is your accustomed reaction, you become silent, leave the scene; maybe you storm out of the house. Some people deliver the one-two punch of yelling and then charging out of the room or house. The freeze reaction occurs when emotional and behavioral circuits are overloaded, temporarily, and a moment or two passes before the reaction of fight or flight unfolds.

Be honest and self-observant. What goes on internally when that person important to you says or does something that hurts, scares, or angers you or triggers your shame? Are you a fighter or a fleer? If you are a fighter, you likely say and/or do something thoughtless in an attempt to counter the pain that you are feeling. Your behavior, at that moment, is about you and your attempt to treat the pain you are experiencing. Think about it– your behavior is an attempt to regulate your emotion. Even if your desire is to hurt the other person emotionally (or even physically), you are hoping to back them off of you or to pay them back in reaction to your pain.

Returning to our metaphor of drowning, you have just thrown your arms around their neck and shoved them underwater. You are not considering them or your relationship with them. Your goal is survival. (Some people believe they must “win” in order to survive.)

What if your method of coping is flight? Do you clam up, leave the room, or storm out of the house? Some people are sufficiently practiced at the drama of flight that their exit assumes operatic stature. This is the passive-aggressive flight that often leaves crying children in its wake. The intent of this passive-aggression is, like the fighter’s attack, to treat personal pain: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth makes it “fair,” or perhaps it makes you feel better to deprive them of the satisfaction of continued engagement. You may be saying to yourself “This is just going nowhere, and I’m not going to do this anymore.” The exit is used to treat your pain: it is not a thoughtful gesture for the benefit of the other or for the sake of the relationship. Sometimes, passive-aggressive flight takes the form of a more subtle emotional or sexual withdrawal–a process that occurs over a period of weeks, months, or even years.

There is, of course, a denomination of fleer whose aim is simply to get away as quickly as possible from whom they perceive as the source of hurt, fear, anger, or shame. That itself is the remedy; distance is the treatment of your pain. As with the passive-aggressive type, the process of flight may be emotional and/or sexual withdrawal from the person who is, or who is believed to be the source of pain. This flight, too, may be sudden or it may happen a step at a time. Gradual flight can almost seem natural – “we just grew apart over the years…”

Next: A Legion of Saviors

Copyright © 2011, William E. Spaine, Psy.D.