We go into marriage with the promise of lasting love and hope for a storybook romance.
It’s a time of excitement and joy about your future life together and the dreams you share.
Few couples, however, really understand what it takes to make their marriage work. When the honeymoon is over and real life settles in, your differences begin to show in a much more noticeable ways.
Those differences likely started out so small, so irrelevant, maybe even welcome. But now they are all you can focus on and, perhaps, you wonder, how did we get here?
If you’ve found yourself here, disillusioned and disheartened, but desperate to make your relationship work, there is help. But, this is not for the faint of heart; it requires digging deep, being open to learning, sustained effort, and a willingness to change.
Dealing With Differences
When differences become more obvious it can be very scary for couples, leaving them to wonder if they married the right person. Partners tend to use ineffective but well intentioned methods to try to convince each other to see, do, and think it their way.
Lacking effective skills to manage your differences brings unwanted conflict and heartache. Soon, a pattern begins to develop. The relationship turns into a kind of tug-of-war, each of you trying to preserve what you hold as true.
Your relationship becomes stuck in a painful cycle of argument and blame. You love each other but don’t know how to maintain your love and connection as you face these challenges.
How do you handle these differences? Many couples attempt to make their differences go away by convincing their partner that their way is wrong. A healthier and more realistic alternative is to work on accepting these differences. Realize your partner is a separate person, with individual thoughts, feelings and beliefs. If those are different than yours, it doesn’t make them bad or wrong; it’s just different. Get curious, try to refrain from a defensive response and try to understand your partner’s perspective by asking questions.
Sustain Love and Connection
A concept I’ve found helpful in my work with couples is remembering that relationships don’t just happen—they are created. Yes, relationships are hard work! When “happily ever after” fades (and it will), the challenge is to remain loving and giving even when you don’t feel like it.
Like growing a garden, your relationship needs care, consideration, and attention.
If you ignore or neglect your garden it will wilt and, eventually, die. The same is true of your relationships. Ongoing efforts to nourish and nurture your relationship are key to maintaining a loving connection to your partner.
Some simple ways to nurture your relationship include showing or expressing appreciation/gratitude, carving out time to be together, daily rituals of connection such as a kiss goodbye, and a warm greeting at the end of the day.
When things get tough in your relationship it’s easy to fall into a pattern of criticism and blame. Blaming each other for not getting your needs met is a common dynamic in couples. This, unfortunately, does not lead to the change you desire.
Real change starts with you. Remember, the only person you have control over is yourself. Looking at yourself and your contribution to the problems in the relationship is far more challenging to do, but it is key to creating a healthy, sustainable relationship.
Instead of focusing on your partner’s shortcomings, ask yourself, “Am I being the kind of partner I aspire to be?” If not, then what do I need to do to change that? Instead of focusing on what you’re not getting, shift your mindset to ask yourself, “How can I give to my partner in a loving, kind way?” Beginning with self-change will lead to greater growth individually and relationally.
Yes, the happily ever after fades, but it doesn’t mean you married the wrong person. The newness and intense excitement of any relationship fades. It’s a natural developmental process the relationship moves through over time.
The intense feeling of being “in love” develops into a mature love. A love that is not just a feeling but one that requires doing and giving even when it’s not convenient. Feelings come and go, but to sustain real love you must be active in doing loving things for your relationship to strengthen and grow.