I swung into the grocery store on my way home the other night to grab a box of My/Mo Mochi ice cream. As I reached the freezer section, I stopped as if frozen myself. My eyes gazed down the long aisle with hundreds of choices of frozen desserts: dozens of flavors and brands in every imaginable size and shape. Wow, how common prolific choices have become in stores and in our lives!
We live in a culture of instant gratification and continual titillation of our senses. Every moment confronts us with zillions of choices for eating, drinking, working, recreating, and traveling. Let's take the leisure activity of reading as an example: Amazon offers over 750,000 e-books on Kindle and an estimated 1.8 million books in print—endless choices. However, when it comes to relationships, most of us are with only one partner. One predictable person. One person to love and spend our lives forever after!
How Does Social and Environmental Conditioning Affect Our Relationships?
Has our throw-away culture with unlimited choices affected how we view our relationships? Yes, that’s the power of social and environmental conditioning.
Are we spoiled with a constant stream of exciting, new, and different things and experiences? Yes, a continual stimulus created through the proliferation of technology, media, gaming, online surfing, Netflix viewing, and virtual realities has formed a culture (or alternate reality) where real life can feel like a dull movie. Our daily lives and relationships are not always spectacular and exciting. Our partner may not match up to the romantic standard set by a Hollywood script in a popular love story.
Has this trend caused us as a society to lose touch with the truth that everything lasting and worthwhile takes effort, skill, and patience? Perhaps.
Life as a couple can feel predictable, even boring, especially after years together. (Trust me, after nearly 40 years with my husband, you need to shake it up from time to time!) You've memorized the other person’s habits, you're in a groove (or a rut) as a couple, and you know exactly (or you think you do!) what your partner is going to do and say. And the quirks that you once loved often caramelize into annoying points of contention.
For instance, early in my marriage, I depended on my husband’s stability, constancy, and regularity to balance my impulsiveness and provide security. Until I didn’t. When I didn’t need those things anymore, I replaced the adjectives constant and stable with predictable, and yes, boring.
His admirable qualities still existed; I was only framing them differently. I’d developed more confidence and surety in myself, and I needed more adventure, excitement, and depth of feeling in my life. I was pointing my finger at my husband when in truth, I needed something that had nothing to do with him. So, when you start criticizing your partner, look inward. Find out what you need, and act on it!
The Misconception of "Happily Ever After"
One of the misconceptions of long-term relationships and marriages is that it’s supposed to be “happily ever after.” We believe in this concept, especially on our wedding day because of how we FEEL. The sacredness of the wedding vows and the public witness of our marriage requires us to believe. Our love is expansive, and our connection deep; therefore, our partner is going to be in love with us forever after.
However, we can design the perfect wedding, pour all our efforts into an extraordinary day, and after the honeymoon bliss wears off, without continuing to nurture and grow the relationship, love can fade or get clouded. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that the marriage vows promise us a lasting marriage regardless of how much or how little we invest in the relationship.
We can even begin to doubt our choice and feel like we just might have made a mistake marrying this person. Maybe you have a few arguments, and you think to yourself, “My mom and dad never argued. What’s wrong with us?” or “If we were right for each other, we wouldn't argue.” Perhaps you stop doing the fun excursions you used to do while dating and wonder, “What happened to us? Why isn't our life together more fun?”
Alternatively, your recreation is nonexistent. Perhaps, rock climbing is a passion of yours, but you rarely get to the climbing wall or hike in the mountains. When you do have an opportunity, your partner guilts you or tries to convince you to spend time at home. Or even more miserable, they are mad at you when you return from a great adventure because they didn't get to do anything fun, or the yard work isn’t done. Or your partner says, “I’m just not a priority anymore.” Then, you might start feeling like your partner (or family life) is smothering the parts of you that you liked best.
For more information, check out this research that explains the fantasy bond and how giving up one's individual needs is detrimental to your relationship.
Related reading: The Challenge of Love and Marriage
Here Are Three Things You Can Count On
1) Your relationship is as strong and happy as each person in the relationship.
Your marriage or relationship can only thrive if each person is thriving. Compromising, capitulating and complying, or overpowering and controlling when conflict arises won’t win you happiness. Self-respect, self-love, and self-acceptance allow you to bring the fullness of your love to the relationship, which cultivates joy as a couple. If you’re unhappy, shifting that experience is an inside job.
2) Honoring, celebrating, and learning from differences are crucial.
You are both unique, complex, and beautiful people. Plus, you each live in a private universe governed by the individual, not the couple. Each person has their own experiences, beliefs, emotions, values, communication styles, insecurities, and strengths. Without recognizing and accepting these differences, conflict becomes bigger than the gift of each other. Conflict will happen—that's a given; however, you always have a choice of how you handle these conflicts.
3) You and your partner will never be perfect.
There are no perfect human beings, no perfect couples, and no perfect parents or families. You are both humans. Being human means, by its very essence, that you will make mistakes. It is not humanly possible for another person to read your mind, to be there for you 24/7, to always know what to say and how to love you. We must accept our humanity and learn to laugh at our idiosyncrasies. Stop expecting perfection from your partner—or yourself!
Read about the best marriage advice ever: "Love Is a Choice!"
“We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see
an imperfect person perfectly.” ~Sam Keen
Preserving that Honeymoon Feeling in Your Relationship
1) Take extreme care of yourself.
As stated above, a relationship can only thrive when each person is thriving. So, whatever is important to you, whether it’s your career, painting, marathon running, or socializing, it’s up to YOU to ensure these needs and desires get met—not your partner’s. Speak up for your needs and carve out time for self-care. When your needs are met and you’re at your best, more vitality, love, fun, and light-heartedness will fill your relationship. There will be an ease and flow to your interactions. The opposite is true when you neglect your needs.
2) Seek to understand each other.
From our perspective, it’s easy to find fault with another’s choices, habits, or behavior. Whenever conflict happens, presume innocence and seek to understand. Empathize from your partner’s position. Value what is important to your partner as much as you value the person and relationship.
3) Hold each other accountable to grow and be your best selves.
Of course, it’s vital to accept and love your partner unconditionally. However, acceptance doesn’t mean letting neglectful, disrespectful, or abusive behavior go unchallenged. It means seeking understanding, supporting them to be successful, setting healthy boundaries, AND holding them accountable to be loving, respectful, and fully engaged in keeping the relationship healthy and vibrant.
4) Always make room for quality time together.
Time is love’s currency. No relationship flourishes without spending time together, sharing, laughing, and connecting. A relationship’s vitality depends on continually making your love, the quality of your relationship, and each other a top priority, no matter how busy you or your lives might be. Choose each other every day, anew.
5) Mix it up and do new things as a couple.
The logical part of our brain loves the new and novel. Learning and stretching out of your comfort zones ensures that excitement and freshness will be a part of your lives. If you find yourself saying that life is too mundane, that’s your cue that life has gotten a little too routine. Opportunities are endless; brainstorm possibilities you’d both enjoy and pick one.
Mixing it up can be as simple as surprising your partner with a candlelight dinner when the kids are at a friend’s or planning a romantic adventure for a weekend. Keeping life fresh can be as simple as a flower on a pillow or greeting your partner with a beer after a long day of work. We all have time for simple, random acts of kindness.
It’s true; we live in a fantastic time of plenty. One of the most critical decisions is to choose daily to love yourself and your partner.
We may be satiated in technology’s advancements and inundated with information, but we have the most potent choice of all: where we put our attention. Choose love.
Keep your attention on what you love about your partner. Take full responsibility for the health and well-being of your marriage. Put vitality back in your relationship. Breathe new life into your partnership by not compromising; hold the high standard of happiness while taking actions to ensure individual and relational bliss.
And if you’re in a rut and want some support, we’re only a phone call or email away. If you’d like personalized couple mentoring, arrange for a discovery session and see which program is right for you!