Are you and your mate in need of a reconnection? Melissa Orlov, a marriage consultant and author of The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps, has counseled couples all over the world. Here, she outlines the warning signs of a “strained” relationship that is screaming for help.
Q: What does a strained relationship look like?
A: The research on marriage suggests that almost all couples would benefit from strengthening their connections. One longitudinal study of over two thousand couples done by researchers from Penn State and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln showed that marital happiness fell sharply in the first ten years of marriage, then continued to fall at a slower pace after that. In other words, it’s normal for your connections to weaken, particularly if you are “just going along and living your lives.” Couples who take it upon themselves to strengthen their ties over time are more likely to avoid that downward spiral.
Here are some quick indicators that you would benefit from reconnection:
1. You are feeling as if your partner is more of a nuisance than an asset
2. You have difficulty feeling empathy for your partner’s problems or predicaments
3. You don’t regularly show appreciation for each others’ efforts
4. You are bored in your relationship
5. You are starting to look elsewhere for companionship (friends, emotional affairs, etc.)
6. When you argue you feel one or both of you doesn’t “fight fair”
7. You’re not sure if you trust your partner
8. One or both of you frequently rolls your eyes in response to what your partner is saying
9. When you think back on your past together, your memories include negativity or regret
10. Your pronoun choices are most often “I, me, mine, you, and your” instead of “we, us and our”
Q: How does this disconnection affect a couple’s sex life?
A: Reconnecting sexually can be challenging once you have had marital issues. Most marriage counselors will suggest that couples have sex even if they aren’t really “in the mood” because the chemicals that sex releases help bond them together. However, if a marriage is truly dysfunctional, a couple should take it slowly. Holding hands, creating special time to just be together near bedtime and going on special dates can help make connecting easier.
Bedtime, in fact, is a critical time for couples. There aren’t that many calm times of day to be together, particularly if you have kids. And couples who are having trouble often seem to migrate to different bedtimes, in part because doing so means they aren’t forced to interact. I advise couples to leave a window of time at bedtime that is specifically for connecting in ways that make them feel calmer together — perhaps reading next to each other, talking about your day, sharing dreams, doing a crossword puzzle…or having sex if they feel like it. A spouse who is a night owl can always get back out of bed to go do whatever he or she wants after you’ve had this special time together.
Q: Are there certain pitfalls that commonly interfere with attempts to reconnect?
A: Once anger sets in, there is a tendency to want to blame your partner for all of the problems you are experiencing, particularly if you have tried to convince your partner to do things differently and not much has changed. Couples that accept that it always takes two people to either hurt or help a marriage do better. They are able to take responsibility for making improvements in the only person they can truly change — themselves. Conversely, people who spend lots of time trying to change their partners but not looking at their own contribution are usually less successful in reconnecting because their actions alienate their partner.
Q: What’s your advice for anyone who’s feeling disconnected from a partner?
A: Don’t accept a disconnected marriage! If you feel badly about your relationship, it is up to you to take charge of your part of what is hurting you both. Vow to create an “intentional relationship” that makes time to be together and lets you focus on each other in positive ways. Do new and challenging things together. Your partner will likely respond to your overtures, your relationship will improve, your children (if you have them) will benefit greatly, and life will open up for you both.