After years of searching, you’ve finally met the love of your life. Floating in the bubble neither of you can think of much else. The career you’ve loved for years suddenly becomes a way station for the weekend. You can’t imagine how you ever lived before – were you even awake? You feel like the two of you are one person and maybe can even read each other’s minds! The dopamine rush causes you to notice flowers budding, love songs give you the chills, and you start watching rom-coms for the first time in your life.
Then, slowly but surely, the air begins to leak out of the bubble. She takes up way too much room in the closet. You keep tripping on his shoes by the front door. She suddenly seems bored by your friends. He no longer wants to go to the same movies as you. She’s irritable after a hard day at work. Sex is getting to be a little dull. You keep pretending everything is the same, but it really isn’t. You spend a lot of time trying to get it back, that heart pounding feeling. Sometimes you find yourself avoiding him, often you argue. Everyday you ask yourself, “Am I in love with this person anymore?” “Is this the right relationship for me?”
Don’t despair! The honeymoon may be over, but your relationship may just be beginning. If you can both learn to define yourself, learn to listen and tolerate the process, you might actually be headed for a stronger, more rewarding and long lasting love.
When you think of defining yourself, you’re probably thinking, I know who I am! I have a career that I enjoy. I have friends and family and I know what I like and who I am.. That’s great. But I’m talking about defining yourself in an intimate relationship. This is a much more difficult process. It requires stating your needs, your wishes. It means telling your partner how you feel and how you think and acknowledging that he cannot read your mind. It means being vulnerable and taking a risk that she might not like what you have to say very much. It means being true to yourself and letting your partner really see who you are and what is important to you.
Learn to Listen
It is easy to listen to words and even content. But sometimes, when there is an emotional message, we hear only part of what our partner has to say. Then, we fill it in with what we think it means from our own history and our current experience in the relationship. Worse, as we hear the words, we are already planning our rebuttal, sometimes even interrupting. The skill of listening with the intent to hear, rather than with the intent to reply is more of an acquired skill. And if your partner is doing a good job in defining herself, it means you are going to have to hear things that may be difficult to hear. Even if you’re good at defining yourself, accepting that your partner has different thoughts, feelings, needs and desires is a different skill. But if you can do it, you will help your partner feel understood and loved.
Tolerating the process
Often when we are uncomfortable, we want to take action to relieve the tension. This may take the form of leaving, shutting down, self-medicating, or disappearing into our phone. And everything I’ve said about defining yourself and learning to listen can be very uncomfortable if not extremely painful. You have to make a leap of faith to do this. It can be risky saying to your partner, “I don’t like that thing we’ve been doing in bed” or “When we have sex so infrequently I feel unloved” or “I worry when you stay out late and don’t text me”. At this point in the relationship you may not know how he will respond. And although this may be the best relationship you’ve ever experienced, tolerating the tension of negotiating difference can feel devastating. It might feel a little bit like loss – that you’ve lost the unconditional love you thought you had and thought you needed. But the butterflies inside the bubble weren’t real and you always knew they wouldn’t last forever. Instead, when you both tolerate the frustration of this process, you will be rewarded with a deeper, more loving relationship.
And one more thing. It’s gonna be messy. Both of you will make mistakes, fall into old patterns, and struggle to just not quit. This is a new language and you don’t learn a new language without making many mistakes. For example, in Italy I once ordered ostrich (struzzo) from the menu by asking for the “stronzo”. Look it up.