By Laura Froyen, PhD and Anna Seewald, MEd
Do you feel disconnected with your partner? Are you not getting much needed emotional support from your partner?
Would you like to re-connect and feel renewed energy in your relationship?
After transitioning into parenthood we get caught up in the everyday grind of life. We start going through the motions of being a family and we stop taking the time to do the things that made us feel connected as a couple.
Here is a question that gets asked in the authentic parenting community quite often:
“How can I reconnect with my partner when we’re both exhausted from work and parenting and other life stressors.”
In episode 201: How To Reconnect with Your Significant Other and When Your Partner Doesn’t Understand Your Trauma of the podcast my colleague and friend Laura Froyen, PhD and I talked about this issue and shared some practical tips on how to rekindle your relationship.
1. REDUCE STRESS
What’s stress got to do with your relationship? Well, it could be THE culprit for feeling disconnected from your partner and but no worries, here is what you need to know.
What’s the antidote to the stress hormone cortisol? Oxytocin. This hormone helps us bond and stay connected to those we love. A full body, 20 second hug with your partner can go a long way. Don’t believe us, try it! This feel-good bonding hormone is also released by holding hands, listening to music together, meditating, love-making, and cuddling.
When we experience elevated levels of stress in our daily life (there are many invisible and visible stressors) we naturally cannot nurture, care and love. We perceive threat and danger in our environment and relationships when there is none. Yikes! But that’s our biology and not our fault.
Couples have to be aware of this and take responsibility for their own management of their own stress levels so that they can regain the ability to play, love and laugh. And taking steps to flood your body with feel good hormones like oxytocin can go a long way!
2. TAKE LESSONS FROM THE EARLY DAYS OF LOVE
Do you remember what it was like when you were first together as a couple? What were the things that you did?
The thrill of seeing them made you take extra time to getting ready. You thought about seeing them and what it was going to be like. There was anticipation! You kind of prepared yourself mentally for it and then when you were with them you were more forgiving of them.
Do you remember how patient you were with your partner in those early days?
You were able to overlook things that maybe are more annoying habits or traits that get on our nerves now.
Can you put yourself back into that mindset and see things from the lens of a new relationship?
3. CULTIVATE CURIOSITY
In those early days of your relationship, you had an insatiable curiosity for your partner. We want to learn them, we want to know everything about them. We went to learn all there is to know and we lose that over time as we start thinking that we know all there is to know about them. But the thing is that over the years you’ve been together, you’ve been growing and changing and so have they. And if you have lost that curiosity and there’s parts of them that you know nothing about, there are stories in their lives from their days that you’ve never heard before. So rekindling that curiosity can go a long way to reigniting a spark. Making an effort to learn more about them can be a tool.
Dr. John Gottman, one of the most prolific couples researchers, has lots of beautiful books and his newest one is called “Eight Dates: Essential Conversations For a Lifetime of Love”. This book can really help you consciously nurture the couple friendship. Gottman also has an app, called “Gottman Card Decks” that is super helpful. It has these questions that you can kind of quiz yourself on. Do I know this about my partner? Do I know who his best friends are? Do I know what her favorite food is? And you might not know the answers anymore. If you’ve been together for 10 years, favorite foods change, you know what they loved at the beginning of your relationship, but their favorite meal when you were dating might not be the same anymore. And so you ask yourself, do I know the answers to those questions? And if you don’t, you find out the answer, you figure out a way to find out the answer. Because Gottman’s research overwhelmingly suggests that knowing your partner, having a strong foundation built in friendship, is key to satisfaction and longevity in relationships.
4. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
Both parties have to be responsible in trying to connect and re-rekindle their relationship. Take responsibility for your part if you want to start shifting the connection, the atmosphere, the kind of emotional temperature of the relationship.
EXERCISE: Make a list of at least ten things that you can do right now in your relationship that will improve things.
5. SMALL STEPS TO CHANGE
The key is to start small, take small steps for reconnecting because if the disconnect is too big, then you don’t know where to start. And don’t expect magic. This is what I know from personal experience too. It’s going to take time. You’re going to take baby steps of reconnection and one day you will have a different flavor to your relationship. Start with a friendship. Start with saying yes to their bids for connection. Start by liking them.
Start very small.
6. PAY COMPLIMENTS, NOTICE THE POSITIVE AND FOCUS ON STRENGTHS
I often hear in office couples complain about one another, mentioning the lack and focusing on the partner’s weaknesses and wanting somehow to change their spouse.
Notice the positive in them. Notice their strengths.
What’s your partner good at? Capitalize on that as oppose to wanting them to change, learn and get better at some things that you want.
7. LANGUAGE MATTERS
Stay away from the blame, judgment, criticism game and start appreciating one another. We all want to be seen, heard, validated and feel supported in our intimate relationships.
We take everything for granted. We assume that we know one another. We say: “I appreciate him for this. He should know that.” But often they DON’T know it! They can’t read our minds, right? We need to focus and say those words of appreciation to one another and if you want to receive words of appreciation, then begin by offering that to your partner first.
Like begets like, right? So if you are wanting less blame and more appreciation, you need to start cultivating an atmosphere where appreciation can flourish.
Nothing can spark a relationship like seeking new experiences together or individually. You can go to a new place, try a new restaurant or take a class together. Doing things on your own will also bring renewed energy to your relationship.
Something new that is snaps you out of your routine.
As Laura says, “You don’t even have to do it together. I started belly dancing last spring and there was this new spark in my relationship because it was something I was doing new and I would come home from the class feeling really good about myself and comfortable in my body.”
9. SEE A COUPLES THERAPIST
Couples counseling is not for folks who are on the brink of divorce. You can go into couples counseling for a tuneup.
10. REBUILD INTIMACY
Show parts of yourself that you never showed. Talk about your fears, talk about your inner world. Be authentic and more vulnerable with your partner. I think that builds a lot of deep connection and intimacy. And then, you know, you can do the touch slowly and you can just lay there in bed and do nothing. It has to start small.
11. DATE NIGHTS
Date nights can happen anytime, anywhere. So lots of the couples that I work with end up finding a way to take lunch dates on where their kids are already in schools. They don’t have to pay for sitters. We have date nights at our house after the kids are in bed where we will serve the kids their meal and get them tucked in and then make dinner together while we drink wine and listen to music.
It is also really important to do date nights mindfully. It’s easy to get into a habit or a rut and do the same things. I think it’s important to make sure that if you are having a date night that you drop into the present moment, you put your phones away, unless of course you’re using the Gottman card deck and that you are really connecting and being intentional about it.
So the big overarching takeaway here is that if we want a deeper connection with our partners we simply must prioritize the couple relationship. It is so easy to turn our focus onto the children when we become parents, but the couple relationship, when you’re parenting with a committed partner, is the foundation of the family. Kids feel safest and most secure when we as a couple are feeling connected and satisfied. So it’s not just for us that we need to prioritize our relationship, it’s really what’s best for the whole family. Plus, a lot of this is quite fun, right? *wink*