Complacency Kills: Six Completely Free Strategies to Keep the Magic Alive in Your Relationship
Exploring Intimacy Podcast
This post was inspired by two friends in my real life recently lamenting the perils of living with someone, one of them married and one of them not married. So this discussion isn’t about marriage, per se. This is about what happens when you forget that your partner, legally contracted or not, has a choice about spending their life with you. When you start to take each other for granted, there can be so many consequences, none of them positive: feelings of resentment, neglect, or anger; a decrease in desire for one another; a lack of trust; and the tiny bits that get chipped away and add up to the deterioration of the bond between you. But the longer you’re together, the harder it can be to remember to pay attention, to show the interest, love and care you did when you were in the courting phase. So what do you do about that? How do you continue to show each other you care? Read on, and I’ll share six completely free strategies to help you keep the magic alive in your relationship.
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1. Recognize that Your Partner is Dynamic
There’s a safety that comes with being with a partner for a long time. The better you know each other, the more you feel safe in each other’s space, the more you feel comfortable being around one another, the more you feel free to be when you’re with one another. So there’s a comfort that comes from feeling like you know each other well. But there’s a flip side to that as well. There’s no greater disservice you can do your partner than thinking of them as fixed, as done, as cooked. There’s a risk in feeling like we know our partner so well that there’s nothing new to learn…that we know how they’re going to react, that we know what they’re going to say, and we stop listening to them like they’re a new person every day. We’re all impacted by the experiences that we have on a daily basis. We’re all constantly evolving. And though we don’t change dramatically – our instincts don’t change – our thoughts, how we think about the world, how we approach the world, in small ways, may shift. And it’s nice to know that our partner is still interested, that our partner can still be surprised by who we are. And there’s a deadness that happens when we feel like our partner doesn’t see us anymore, doesn’t listen to us, doesn’t expect anything new from us. So one way to keep the magic alive is to listen to your partner like they’re new every day. We all fall into the “how was your day” pattern. But it’s important to remember to ask those broader questions, those deeper questions, on a somewhat regular basis. Those questions that get to what you’re thinking about, what you’re feeling, what you’re learning, what you’re exploring, what you hope for, what you wish for, what you value, what you care for. Not on a daily basis, but often enough to let your partner know that you’re still curious, that you’re still looking to learn more about them, and that you recognize that they’re not done.
2. Appreciate Your Partner the Way They Are
Ladies, we get a bad-rap, unfortunately well-earned, for taking on a man as a project. We relate to them like broken women. And men, ‘fess up. You relate to women as emotionally indulgent men. Gender aside, each of us have different ways of approaching the world. And guess what. Our different approaches work for each of us. As a strengths-coach, I help people recognize their natural talents and identify ways for them to be more of themselves to even better effect. As a strengths-based dating and relationship coach, I help singles and couples create understanding and appreciation for the different ways they navigate the world, and to learn to leverage each others strengths, rather than trying to convince the other to do things their way. As we all know, it doesn’t work. People are never effective at doing things our way, and it only leaves them frustrated that we don’t accept them as they are. So rather than try to change your partner, seek to understand your partner’s approach. Your way may seem better to you, and it’s probably genuinely better for you. But for the sake of your relationship, understand that their way is likely better for them. And learn how to make your ways work better together.
3. Keep a Gratitude Journal
When I discovered bullet journaling, one of the things I was most excited about is that the practice helped me strengthen certain habits. I used a habit tracker to track those habits I wanted to build, and a gratitude log to build the habit of acknowledging something I’m grateful for every day.
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In his TED talk entitled Want to be Happy? Be Grateful, David Steindl-rast set out two requirements for gratitude – first is that the thing is something valuable to you, and second is that it’s a gift. It’s not something you earned or purchased. You didn’t cause it to come about. It’s truly a gift. Those two elements in combination inspire gratitude. The point of David’s talk is that gratitude causes happiness, and every day, in and of itself, is something for which to be grateful. All it takes is the noticing. When I think about this in the context of relationship, two things stand out to me. One is that happier people enjoy happier relationships. So there’s that. But imagine what would happen, if in your habit of gratitude, you focused that acknowledgement on your partner, say once a week. If you are regularly identifying opportunities for gratitude for your mate, your attitudes toward each other can’t help but shift. The actions that keep the magic alive naturally occur. And if once a week isn’t enough to inspire magic, up it to two or three. This is the best free therapy available, so I highly recommend giving it a try.
4. Let Go of Keeping Score
In the very first Love Notes interview I did, Liz identified one of the things that makes her marriage work is giving up keeping score. Paraphrasing her sentiment, when she’s keeping score – for example, Ed didn’t pick up his socks, or Ed left dirty dishes on the counter, etc. – she finds that things are harder between him and he’s less generous with her. Instead, she tries to practice a concept she learned in a course she took that said it takes both partners giving 100%, not each giving 50% to make a partnership work. Liz finds that when she has that mindset, when she’s not keeping score, but instead is focused on giving 100% to make the relationship work, Ed is much more naturally generous with her. And they don’t talk about it. It just happens. So give up keeping score and focus on giving your share, and see what happens.
5. Ask For What You Need
The longer you’ve been together, the more you may feel your partner should know what you need. And maybe they should. But if you’re committed to the relationship, it will be better served by workability than righteousness. Now, if you’re asking for what you need and your partner isn’t willing or able to give you what you need, that’s a different conversation. And I completely recognize that it may not feel good to have to ask for what you need all the time. I also understand that it’s not always easy to ask for what you need.
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But if what you seek is not only workability, but magic, be willing to ask. Don’t let the resentment about not getting what you need build to the point that you can’t even see magic anymore. It can also be really helpful to talk about your love languages. In his extremely popular book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman describes the five primary ways we give and receive love: words of affection, physical touch, receiving gifts, quality time, or acts of service. If your primary love language is physical touch, you may give your partner lots of massages and make sure to hold hands in the limited time you’re able to spend together. But if your partner’s primary love language is quality time, they’re not going to be feeling loved the way you think they should. And you won’t understand why not. Understanding each other’s love language will help you to communicate love in the way your partner can hear it.
6. Express Your Love Every Day
This doesn’t take profound, poetic expressions of deep love and admiration on a daily basis. Instead, it’s the quick little gestures that can make the biggest difference. My sweetie and I use Bitmoji to send little random love images to each other. If you’re not familiar with Bitmoji, it’s a free app that allows you to create a character that surprisingly accurately resembles you, that you can then use to send brief greetings, acknowledgements, celebrations, frustrations, and messages of affection. What makes this strategy so effective is that the randomness communicates not only that you love your partner, which in long-standing relationships, your partner typically knows. But that you’re thinking of them. That they’re on your mind. That you appreciate them. That they’re special. I’ve heard of people using post-it notes on the bathroom mirror to similar effect.
Keep the Magic Alive
So there you have it. Six completely free strategies for keeping the magic alive in your relationship. None of them are particularly challenging, or even original. But they’re good reminders that it only takes a tiny bit of effort to keep your one-and-only feeling like the apple of your eye. I hope you found at least one practice you can put into play. I’d love to hear how you keep the magic alive in your relationship. Leave a comment below to join the discussion.