I’ve seen countless couples over the years stuck in the fantastical notion that love can conquer all problems in a relationship. In other words, this is the basic misperception that one can proceed with a relationship, or continuously sustain a successful relationship, through love alone.
A feeling that most of us will find quite dominant in the first months of a relationship is the adoration and affection that comes with falling in love. There’s an expectation that this will continue with the right partner, but there’s actual biological reasons why it doesn’t. It does dissipate over time, and maintaining the relationship gets harder when we can’t count on just love getting us through.
We’re left with the challenge of sustaining the relationship over time. In fact, it’s rare that any relationship really thrives over time without significant and deliberate effort, because no one is getting any real orientation on how to mature a relationship over time once the honeymoon phase is over.
We can’t expect it to just “work itself out”.
The first step in unlearning this notion of love conquering all is to actively shift away from the natural idea that “it all should just work out”. Most couples operate under the notion that at one point things were working pretty well, so if this is the right partner, then it should just continue. And if it doesn’t then this isn’t the “one”. Now, I don’t mean this judgmentally, and I include myself in this statement as well, but this is a naturally lazy way to proceed in a relationship. It indicates – and tries to justify – that you just don’t want to expend the effort to treat your relationship for what it is: a multidimensional, every changing, unsolvable, and sometimes profoundly disappointing challenge to your ability to have control over your life. Isn’t that what made it so thrilling in the beginning anyway?
The reality is that a long term relationship really does require a lot of effort. We’re talking about a potentially-decades-long partnership, which is entirely a collaborative endeavour. I hesitate to compare a relationship to a business, because of course a relationship is complicated in so many additional ways, but there’s some similar qualities to both that you might want to consider.
What does it look like to treat your relationship like a business ?
Set aside, if you would, the part of you that balks at the some of the aromantic tone of this framework. Trust me: this approach will actually provide the structure and effort necessary to sustain romance and aliveness in your relationship over time.
A relationship is a significant, collaborative endeavour that needs to be tended to in very specific ways. Just like a business, it has multiple different dimensions (or departments) that all need to be understood well, and assessed periodically, to understand where they are falling short or where they need attention.
Essentially, you need to periodically look at each dimension of your relationship and give it a review.
What are these dimensions?
You can always come up with your own dimensions based on your own relationship, but I want to share a few with you that I see as the big ones in any relationship.
Fun and adventure
Ask yourselves, how is this relationship performing in the realm of adventure? Are you deliberately and consistently committing yourselves to having experiences together that are fun and that recreate the sense of out-of-controlness you had at the beginning? You can put your program creator hat on and come up with some wild and edgy experiences that intentionally break the cycle of “Oh ya I know this person” or “We do this and We don’t do that”. Brainstorm dozens of possibilities with no wrong suggestions and see how you can mix it up.
Sex and romance
This is a sensitive topic, and very subjective for both parties in a relationship, but it is important to discuss – and discuss often – in order to catch issues before they become gaping holes in your relationship. Try to sit together and rate your current sex life on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, for example, if your sex life is at a 6, ask yourselves what it would take to make it a 7. What about a 10?
Again, this is a very sensitive area of conversation, so it is imperative that both partners are committed to ensuring a non-blaming, kind, and reflective conversation together about improving your sex life.
This dimension is not fun to talk about, and yet it’s a big portion of one’s relationship success. Household management includes child and parental management, responsibilities, bills, chores, how you manage finances, your pets, and car maintenance. Anything that you do either for or within your household falls under this category.
This doesn’t need to be a terribly boring conversation, but it is important that you assess how you are performing in this area. Be honest and humble about your own contributions to the household, and be self-forgiving as you assess and consider together what your collaborative partnership looks like. Ideally, you’re proactively tending to this dimension on a consistent basis without it becoming something that you just “have” to do. It’s something you can learn to create necessary structures around so that it becomes part of your routine, and even a somewhat enjoyable part, when you are no longer swamped by the thought of handling it at every turn.
Life stress support
This last dimension can include health issues on either side, family issues, or professional challenges. Basically, it’s all the things in everyday life, outside the home, that add stress to your life inside the home.
Ask yourselves, how are you as a couple supporting each other to mitigate the effects of these stressors on your lives? How can you become better and better at helping your partner truly feel supported and met in their time of stress?
Reframe what your relationship is
In order to be successful in a relationship, you need to turn the fantastical notion that love conquers all into the reality that you’re engaging as two adults in a complex, difficult, collaborative endeavour that requires kind of a relentless commitment to learning.
You have to commit, together, to assessing where your gaps are, and what resources you need to bring in to tend to those gaps.
This is what will ultimately improve and increase your competency as relational beings.
If you need help with this process, feel free to reach out to me: https://ryanginn.com/contact/