Ever have the feeling that you and your partner are drifting apart like icebergs, and you don’t even know how it happened? This cold sense of drift is one that mounts very slowly over time, and then one day you just know that the relationship is in danger of being irretrievably lost, yet you experience the shame and sadness of not knowing how this happened. You begin to wonder if there is anything that can be done to save it.
This is the case more often than not for mature marriages where couples have been in relationships for a long time, and typically one person in the relationship becomes stressed enough to know help is in order. They realize that something has to change if the relationship is to survive, much less thrive. However, when our sense of connection is threatened, we sometimes begin to act in ways that can damage our relationships even more. There are three different types of behaviors that often occur when this happens.
The first is withdrawal that is very gradual. Sometimes during the course of daily life couples become absorbed in their “roles.” The busyness itself causes the drift to occur, and we pull back, not speaking our feelings of separateness until the gulf is wide enough to cause the fear and shame of separation. We start to keep secrets, or at the very least we no longer share our feelings.
A second behavior that causes distance is when on partner feels the withdrawal of another and begins to please and appease, changing and denying their own selves in a desperate attempt to reconnect with the other. Ironically this can cause the other partner to withdraw even further from the overwhelming neediness they sense in the pursuing partner.
And finally one partner may become angry, engage in power moves, and use shame to belittle the other partner. Perhaps they send angry texts or “forget” to do a promised task. One of our worst fears is being criticized or ridiculed, and if you are the target of this behavior, it can be very demeaning.
What Is The Way Back When You Are Drifting Apart?
The way back towards a healthy, meaningful relationship might start with recalling why you chose your person in the first place. What was it that attracted you? What qualities did you partner demonstrate that drew you in and captivated you enough to want to spend your life with them? If you begin to place your attention on these positive qualities, it is likely that your negative viewpoint will begin to dissipate.
Tend To The Weather
You also need to tend to the weather in your relationship if you want more sunny days. When you are drifting apart, look for opportunities to do things for your partner that you know will please them and make their life easier. And please don’t do these acts of kindness looking for praise and recognition. This is different from the ‘please and appease’ behavior I mentioned above. It is a genuine desire to create small bites of happiness that show the other your daily investment in the partnership. The beautiful thing is that these acts feed on each other, and make your partner want to do for you.
And there is no shame in asking for help if you cannot figure out where to start. There are many helpful tips and research-based tools that a trained therapist has available to get you started. Specific interviewing questions and ways to manage conflict that are not apparent until they are taught can make a lot of difference in how you interact with your partner.