One of the things I’ve found after years of coaching my clients to have more satisfying, conscious relationships is that there is a tendency to overlook the obvious! I’ve seen this in my own life, when I am working diligently on anything - breaking an old habit, working through a loss or instigating a deeper, more intimate connection with my partner. We can focus so intently on the specific “steps” in a new book, various “techniques” to try or get immersed in a new idea or concept and implementing it, that we can overlook the powerful, simple actions that arise organically out of being present, in the moment! This really hit home last month while working with a client who is re-committing to her marriage. I say re-committing because last year, she was ready to throw in the towel and her husband was doing everything he could to reconnect with his wife, including hiring a Relationship Coach. While most of my work was with the husband to help him begin really “showing up” in the marriage in a way that sparked the emotional connection again, now and then she would decide to get on a call with us and be open to suggestions or exercises they could try. Sex had become challenging because she was not “feeling” the kind of loving connection she remembered they’d once had and he was in the habit of bouncing between begging, nagging or getting furious and heading downstairs to cool off. Obviously, none of that was working for either of them and through the Coaching, they came back together in a very genuine, warm way and off they went!
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when the wife called me to schedule some sessions again, more as a “tune up” she said, since things were going well. They had hit a few bumps over the holidays and the wife, with her renewed commitment and positive attitude, had wanted to be proactive and see how I could help them get back on track. She shared that most of the issues were related to sex again and that they had fallen back into some of the same patterns. It was getting harder for her to want to be intimate with her husband because there was no transition between the dry evening activities to feeling “sexy” and ready to hop into bed! Her husband was back trying all the things we’d discussed but it was not helping with their physical relationship. The gap was widening. I felt like I was missing something.
After finally asking her to describe a normal day for me, from the alarm going off in the morning to when they both landed in bed together at night, what was obvious to an outsider was being missed by both of them. This couple knew the big things to watch for, like making sure they all ate together as often as possible, leaving work at work, and asking about each other’s days. But in the midst of me listening, I suddenly realized that this couple, though trying to implement a plan of action, had stopped doing all the small, obvious things that create kind, loving connection with each other, in which their marriage could thrive! As he left for the gym in the morning, there was not even a goodbye, let alone a “Have a great day!” or “I look forward to seeing you tonight!” When he came home from work each day, she and the kids were in the kitchen cooking and doing homework. She never stopped for even one second to greet him, give a warm embrace or a kiss hello! There was literally no re-connection made other than with the kids, who clamored for his attention. Here they were, scheduling regular date nights, trying to work as a team, knocking things off their Life Lists that they had created together, working on a relationship “vision”, but on a day to day basis, they were going through the motions, emotionally disconnected, yet focused on what next “steps” they could take to get closer!
Thriving in your relationship does not mean just knocking out a list of action steps or implementing relationship skills and tools that you’ve learned. I hear daily, from both clients and friends, that it’s the small things that they remember fondly when they think back on their journey together and what they miss the most. Start here, and let these simple, maybe obvious reminders open the door to the deeper connection you are striving for:
- Be kind. You did this when you began dating and trust me, it’s what the majority of my clients in relationship crisis tell me they miss the most. Before you open your mouth ask yourself, “Am I leading with kindness and does my tone and body language reflect that?”
- Be present. We hear a lot about this, but what does it really mean? With another person, it means letting go of all the chatter in your head, the constant thinking, the agenda you are trying to push and to open yourself up to the here and now... not what happened earlier in the day, not what you still have to do tonight, but fully - right – here – now.
- Listen. Like you used to when you were dating, remember? Your partner does! I hear regularly how couples could talk for hours and had been listened to in a way that left them feeling cared about and appreciated for their opinions and thoughts. Hmmmm.
- Show affection daily. The small, obvious things. You used to do them because you couldn’t keep your hands off each other! When you talk, look each other in the eyes. Touch her arm, stand close, put your hand on his leg, rub her feet while you watch TV, hug him when he walks by just because, kiss hello and good bye and watch for a million other ways you can let your partner know you love them through kind words and touch.
- Take care of yourself and your grooming. Really. When I say the “obvious” gets lost many time with couples who are working diligently on having a great relationship, this one comes up more times than I can count! You showered when you were going to see each other or be intimate. Do you now? You thought for a minute (or hours!) about what you were going to wear and how to look your best. Are you throwing on those grungy sweats every single night now? Is there weight to be lost, a dental appointment to be made, personal grooming that needs to be ramped up? Be honest with yourself – not only does it make you more appealing to your partner, you will give yourself a boost by feeling good about taking care of yourself.
- Be a WE. You may think this one is really obvious and that you are doing it simply by being together, but again, getting away from having the sense that they are a “team”….a “we”…..is what my clients in crisis are struggling with. You can work diligently on your relationship, go out regularly, schedule time for sex and do all the many things that you hope will add to your connection, but if you don’t act as a real team, including having your mindset reflect it, you’re going to just go through the motions and your emotional connection will continue to spiral down. Pass everything through the filter of “Is this in the best interest of the relationship?” and see what a powerful shift that makes in you feeling like a “we!”
My couple committed to shifting their focus for the next 60 days to bringing back these small, simple, “obvious” things that had gotten lost over the years. Interestingly, the wife was shocked initially at how challenging it felt for her to begin reaching out in affectionate ways. The husband was amazed to realize how unkind he was being by not working toward closeness, then expecting sex. Last week, they shared that 3 out of their 4 kids asked them separately what was “going on?” and why they were so “mushy” together. Let your love be obvious!