A married couple recently said to me: We used to be so happy together; what happened to us? They’ve been together over twenty years and realized their relationship isn’t what it used to be. Can you believe that? Hopefully… because pretty much every relationship ends up asking this question at some point. This can seem strange because when I do a wedding it’s hard to believe this excited couple will one day likely be divorced or hit a wall of “Why aren’t we as nice to each other as we used to be?” But it happens. In Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance: An investigation, a book I really enjoyed, he mentions that according to one scientist the wedding day is the happiest day in the relationship and marks the start of the downhill slope for passion. This follows what I heard as a kid: After you get married, put a penny in a jar every time you have sex, and then after that first year take a penny out for every time you do it. You’ll find you never run out of pennies. This was, of course, teaching for people who save sex to marriage, but it’s not far off from what the scientist in Aziz’s book says: Passions dwindles over time. The couple I was talking to pointed out that when they were first married they didn’t have very good jobs and they struggled financially while also dealing with crying babies; yet, somehow, they were happy. Now, it’s all flipped around. They have good paying jobs and way more disposable income with grown up kids who are wonderful; yet, somehow, they’re not happy. Since life is technically better, shouldn’t they be happier and their relationship be better? The good news for this couple is they’re pretty normal. They’re not freaks for going through this. The bad news for this couple is… they’re normal. All relationships have ups and downs, and a lot of couples, like this one, get stuck a pretty big down.
As I often do when a great question like “What happened to us?” is asked, I had the couple start brainstorming together to come up with reasons why any relationship would be worse off connection wise in an externally successful long term marriage like theirs. This was to give direction of what they need to address. The following list is inspired by their answers:
- Someone in a couple can start to panic about not being good enough compared to other couples and then go overboard on criticism and pushing to grow when things are fine or the relationship just needs a simple tweak… orrrr someone refuses to see there are problems.
- It’s normal for people to get complacent and take their partner for granted in long term relationships.
- We stop using a healthy filter in how we talk to each other and become mean.
- People get stagnant instead of continuing to learn and pushing themselves to grow.
- As we get older it’s easy to get isolated and lose social interactions, which help keep us accountable and life more interesting in general.
- Couples stop doing stuff together when they need to try to have occasional projects together, date nights, double date nights, and work at having things in common in order to inspire conversation.
- People let work, hobbies, and kids become the priority over properly taking care of themselves and/or their relationship.
- People get hung up on what the other person is doing, which are the things you didn’t really notice when you got married, but now are like nails on a chalkboard.
- People get hung up on what the other person is NOT doing: (person) “They didn’t put their dirty cup is the dishwasher again? Ugh they suck!”
- People assume the other person is the villain and only trying to hurt them.
- People will play the victim and assume only they’re getting hurt
- People will assume the other person is the sole reason for a fight when it takes two to fight. If you start making a list of what the other person is doing wrong this is a sign you’re going down a very bad path.
- People will blame their partner for everything, especially if they aren’t happy with their own life in general. It’s easier to pick one person or thing to put all the blame on rather than accept responsibility.
- People haven’t dealt with their childhood issues, which are now being transferred to this relationship.
- Some people can’t handle success and subconsciously find ways to self sabotage.
- We forget to celebrate the victories and reminisce about accomplishments as a person and as a couple, which leads to feeling worn out and resentful.
- Aging can scare us and cause us or our partner to do really weird things.
- Some people resent not being in the passionate/honeymoon phase anymore rather than appreciate being in a safe and comfortable relationship
- We achieve goals like have kids and get a good job and then wonder “Now what?” We need to continually develop new goals to keep us motivated and not just watch TV every day.
- We assume we’re better or worse than our partner because of what we achieve and use the word ‘deserve’ like “I deserve this,” and “I deserve to be happy,”
- People can be too arrogant or stubborn to see a therapist or look up communication tips to help stay connected when things start to get rough.
This week may you start to consider what you can do to help prevent becoming another couple who hits a really low point that makes you consider divorce. Low points are natural in a relationship, but they won’t be as low if we have healthy habits in place.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people