When I deal with married couples facing difficulties in their relationship, I know that the key to help them effectively resolve their current problem lies in finding the core of love they felt for each other when they began their relationship. If they can revisit the reasons they originally chose each other, they will automatically be more motivated to triumph over their current distress. Their answer to this specific question tells me what commitment energy is still available for us to work with.
"If you weren't married right now, how likely would it be that you would choose each other again?"
It would be a welcome surprise if the answers were always a resounding "yes." More often though, the question is met with a perfunctory reassurance that might not reflect what each really feels underneath. It is more probable that I'm going to see two once-beloved partners struggle to answer what each would want to hear, but may no longer be fully true.
Perhaps they haven't asked each other how they have changed who they are inside or what they have wanted differently for a very long time. Maybe they haven't even thought of the individual dreams each may have left behind in service of the parallel team they have become. Dealing with the challenges and unexpected pitfalls they've had to face, what if they've forgotten how to love each other above all else? If their common goals didn't materialize because tragedies emerged, illnesses took their toll, or outside temptations threatened their mutual trust in each other, how has that affected their relationship?
Significant challenges might have given opportunities for renewing their prior closeness, but perhaps the stresses were too difficult or too many for them to hold on to what they once knew. Most probably, after each succeeding crisis, they were just glad to return to life as it was, back in the day-to-day groove they came to know as comfort.
You Are Not Alone
If you are one of these committed couples who have drifted far away from your initial vows to love and treasure each other forever and above all else, please understand that your current state is not unusual.
Most people marry with the best of intentions to live out their lives together. They believe that their love is strong enough to weather any and all challenges that life will bring, strong enough in their union that they will triumph over all odds.
A committed couple, who transforms too often from personal intimacy to parallel commitment, may inadvertently and unconsciously exchange their original love bond for a more platonic friendship. In leaning on each other to get through the tough times, they can easily forget to recreate what brought them together in the first place.
As that parallel orientation becomes habitual, the original sweetness that made them pledge their hearts together can easily fall away without their knowing. Habits and rituals have replaced innovation and discovery. Compromise has suppressed individuality. The lure of secure predictability has become a way of life.
On the surface, this established couple may seem to have found a time-worn compatibility to be proud of, but underneath there may be a different story. They may have forgotten so much of what they once deeply knew about each other, or what may have changed dramatically inside that is no longer shared. Whatever newness, discovery, adventure, and exploration they had for themselves, each other, and the world when love was new has given way to doing whatever they can to make the relationship work.
If you ask them whether they still love each other, they will say, "of course." If you ask them how their relationship is doing, they will say, "as good as you can expect, considering the challenges we've faced." If you asked them, instead, "Given the chance to do your relationship over, what would you change?" and they were honest, you might hear stories about long-lost dreams that did not materialize, or decisions that they wish they could have made differently.
If you then ask them how they might make their relationship become more alive, passionate, and exciting, you might hear "I don't know," "That would be nice, but it's okay the way it is," or "I'm not sure." It would be clear that they are not necessarily unhappy, but it is a far cry from what they felt at the altar place when they committed themselves to a lifetime together.
The couple is deeply entrenched in practicality and security, but their romantic connection has diminished. Even as their answers state the status quo, there are hopefully two people somewhere deep inside who once loved each other more passionately and are wishing desperately that the other will notice their fading light.
How can couples who have substituted comfort and predictability restore the significant connection they once knew and promised to each other? What tools can they use to prevent losing each other in the first place or find each other again if they are too far apart?
Prevention: Yearly Check-ins and Renewed Commitments
Every year of every love relationship, it would be ideal if intimate partners would take stock of what they wanted to happen during that year and whether or not they are on track. They could re-assess what changes have happened to each of them internally and inter-personally and whether they need to change some of their expectations. They would openly and honestly face any disappointments either partner might be feeling and how they could be addressed. They would make certain that their intimate connection stayed intact regardless of the outside challenges they might be facing. They would remember who they were when they pledged their forever love and would be willing to do whatever they needed to feel that way again.
Then, they would ask each other the crucial question: "What would I need to do or become today that would make you want to marry me again?"
As if in a new beginning, each partner would immediately make the other's request of utmost importance and instantly begin making plans together to implement them. Willing to make each other front and center again, the couple would together strive to foresee potential disconnects and head them off before they gathered steam. They could help each other view the past year and evaluate what they had done, what resources were depleted in the process, and what they needed to do to repair any damage.
Repair: If You Need to Love more Deeply Again
If you love each other still but have forgotten how to show it to each other, begin with writing down the answers to each of these questions. Do that separately first before sharing them with your partner. Take your time and answer each one as completely and honestly as you can.
Before you share your answers, look deeply into each other's eyes for five full minutes before you speak. During that time, ask yourself silently that, of this were the last time you would ever see each other, what would you feel? Hopefully, it would be great sadness.
If so, this exercise will prepare you to share and receive your authentic answers from each other with consideration and kindness, and begin your commitment to love each other more deeply again.
1) What did you most love about me when we married?
2) Why did you think I chose you?
3) What were your dreams then for us?
4) What have you felt have been some of our most precious moments over the years?
5) What experiences have pushed us apart?
6) What do you still love most about me?
7) How would you like me or our relationship to be different?
8) What do you need from me now to feel more treasured?
9) If you could have any kind of future with me now, what would it be like?
10) Would you like us to have more time alone together, and, if so, doing what?
11) Can you tell me your innermost thoughts and feelings? If not, what would that take?
12) If our relationship were to end, how would you be?
13) What are your disappointments in our relationship?
14) What good things have happened to us that you didn't expect?
15) What would make you feel more alive and excited about your life?
This exercise is an opportunity for re-doing your wedding vows based on a long-term relationship of shared history and a much deeper knowledge of who you both have become. Whatever aspects emerge will be the foundations for change because you now have the best of a new beginning along with the lessons from the past. Hold on to all that is still sacred, leave behind what no longer is helpful, and commit to a new, re-ignited future.