“Our marriages are never static; they are always changing – either growing or withering…” Dave & Claudie Arp
Our marriages and most intimate relationships are incredibly complex and constantly changing; as we evolve and change, so do our closest relationships.
There are certainly times when we’re feeling incredibly connected to our partners, knowing their thoughts, finishing their sentences and even feeling their pain or insecurities. And there are those other times, when we’re wondering who this person is that’s sitting across from us and how we got here.
Those are the extremes, but certainly we live a good portion of our time together in the in-betweens, where we’re neither blissfully happy and connected, nor irritated and angry with our partners.
It’s helpful to take inventory of where our relationships are compared to where it is we would like them to be. Here’s how to tell where we are at any given time:
ARE WE LOVERS? Most people think that only newlyweds get to be lovers, but that’s not true. We move in and out of being lovers and we are in the lover stage with our spouses when we feel connected to them intimately, regardless of how long we’ve been together. We miss them when they’re gone, the thought of them makes us smile, we touch often, demonstrating our affection and want to make love to one another. It doesn’t matter if the lover phase lasts a day, a week, a month or a year; the lover stage with our spouses is sacred and should be cherished because it can feel fleeting in the midst of our busy and chaotic lives.
ARE WE FRIENDS? In any good relationship, there are long periods of friendship with one another. This is where we aren’t necessarily feeling intimately connected to our partners, but we do feel love for them. We care about their well-being and want them to be both happy and healthy. We communicate and laugh together. We share struggles and sorrows together. We still demonstrate affection for one another, but it’s more out of a caretaking and nurturing of the relationship than it is desire.
ARE WE ROOMMATES? When we begin to feel like roommates with our partners is when it’s time to start paying attention to the relationship.
• We become roommates when the house and the kids and everyone else’s needs come before our own or what the relationship needs. The priorities become making sure things are operating efficiently, as opposed to making sure relationships are connected and experiences are meaningful.
• We can easily fall into becoming roommates when we stop taking the time to really talk, connect, listen to, and be interested in one another.
• We fall into becoming like roommates when getting enough rest is more important than intimate connection.
• We become like roommates when we start to check-out of the relationship, when we stop trying and begin thinking, maybe this is all there is.
• If we’ve started sleeping in separate bedrooms – even if you tell yourself that it is for practical reasons –our relationships are in the roommate stage.
ARE WE ADVERSARIES? Of course every couple argues; that’s to be expected in any relationship that shares their personal opinions, needs and perspectives freely. But if we hit a patch where the disagreements become more frequent, the voices become louder and the resentments build upon one another, we’re in a dangerous place in our relationships. We are no longer able or willing to see our partner’s point of view, we distance ourselves emotionally and when we argue, we hurt one another.
Unfortunately, most couples wait to seek help for their relationship until they’ve hit the danger zone of being in either the adversarial or roommate mode for months, years or sometimes, even decades. And if we spend too much time there as a couple – as the disconnection between us grows wider and wider – sometimes the distance can simply be too far to bridge. Too many feelings are hurt, too much trust is lost, or too much time has passed to piece what’s broken back together again.
It’s a healthy practice to periodically take notice of the stage of our marriages compared to how we want to feel inside that relationship. No relationship remains stagnant in any one place, but if we can notice when we’re spending too much time in relationship zones that don’t align with what we want for our marriages, then we can tend to the issues before they get too far away from us as a couple.