A New Challenge for Couples
I’m bored” my friend Barbara told me a few days ago. “And not only am I bored because my usual activities have been cancelled, but it is boring just hanging around with Henry all the time. When we each had our daily activities, we had stories to share in the evening. Now we have little to talk about.”
How sad I thought to myself. I often hear this complaint when couples contact me seeking marital counseling. As you traverse through life, through career challenges, job changes or moves, and raising your children, your lives necessarily diverge. Family interactions with children and extended family are often the glue that keeps the energy going between you. So, for those of you who have reached the empty nest life stage, or a crisis like we are experiencing now, when you are captive with one another, you wonder what you will talk about, what you have in common anymore, and what is the glue that will hold you together now.
One of the first questions I ask couples when they come to see me is “How did you two meet?” Then I ask them what was special about each other. Of the many people you dated, what made this person special? Why did you want to continue to spend time with her or him?
Almost always they will say “because he was handsome” or “because she made me feel comfortable and we could talk forever.”
So what happens when it becomes difficult to talk? Does the person who made you feel so comfortable only frustrate you or did he become a stranger? To put it simply, life happens, life gets in the way. With your busy lives you had more limited time to talk, and much of the discussion had to occur in passing when you’re dividing the tasks of who will pick up Steve from soccer practice and who will stop at the grocery store, or when you will visit your Mom or Dad.
Also, the more you two experience life together, the more you become aware of your differences. The fact that he doesn’t follow through on a task starts to really bother you. The fact that she puts off paying the electric bill until the company threatens to shut off the power irritates you. These frustrations and irritations are often not addressed in a constructive manner and thus lead to resentments, fights and distance between you.
I like to encourage couples to look again at those strengths they each brought to the relationship. I tell them that the chemistry they had in the beginning is still there, it’s just become submerged with all of the stresses of life and the diversions they have experienced.
Therefore, it occurs to me that in this time of crisis, when you are forced to be enclosed with one another and to be around each other more, this creates the perfect opportunity to get to know each other again. Although you may have been through numerous challenges and sometimes wondered why you stuck it out, I believe you still have those early relationship components that can be a binding force again. You are different now, you are clearly at a very different life stage, but those strengths that you brought to the relationship in the beginning are still powerful and can again be binding. The traits you fell in love with can intensify your attraction and make you like—and love--- this person all over again.
Often I encourage couples to discuss what they think or feel about an issue, rather than just report the issue. Since you have less material from your daily activities to talk about, bring ideas into the relationship. When you hear a report or a story on the radio or TV, share your feelings about it, not just the story. This helps your spouse get a better sense of who you are today, what you think, what might upset you or delight you. New info with the same person creates a whole new experience.
You might even want to become creative by finding new activities to do together. This might be a good time to start your own book club: read a book or an article together and discuss it. Or you might want to learn more about the birds in your yard and begin to research that together.
Social distancing is not a good idea for a couple of course, but given that it separates you from other family members and good friends, you can learn more about video conferencing options. This may be a new concept to one or both of you and an interesting challenge to learn together. You can even play games with your grandchildren, or read stories to them through video conferencing technology.
It may even be a fun, and a great re-organizing task as well, to go through your old photos. It will evoke many memories and will likely be worth a few laughs. Examining old pictures can take you back to times when you felt connected. Discuss what worked between you then in order to create those moments again.
The present crisis can provide an opportunity to enrich your relationship and hopefully make your home a more peaceful and loving haven.
Wishing you good luck and good health.