4 Common Challenges in Long Term Relationships (and Some Tips on How to Deal with Them)
We live in a deeply romantic culture obsessed with absolutes about how love should be. It fuels great expectations in our young souls and then leaves us to the mercy of everyday banalities three years later.
It’s no surprise that most of us come quite unprepared for the challenges of long-term relationships.
Once the fairytale is over, we wake up next to the snoring frog beside us one morning and wonder: ’’Where did love go?’’
It’s still there. Only it has changed and its next phases may include some awkward issues we would have to face.
Here they are:
At the beginning of my relationship with my (now) husband, I was deeply attracted by his reliability and his sober temperament. He, on his part, enjoyed my adventurous nature and my enthusiasm for experiments. A couple of years later, we experience a certain shift of perspectives. I get annoyed by his rigidity and stubbornness while he sometimes finds me irrational and impulsive.
Every couple gets to know the ugly side of attraction. The things that brought us together now take us apart. It’s normal and you can use it as an opportunity to exit your comfort zone in order to see the reason behind the other’s point of view.
The boring sex life
After the fireworks of hormones in the dawn of your relationships are over, you gradually slip into a sexual routine that may be quite predictable and not so exciting. The demands of work, the little daily squabbles, the disconnection – all take their toll on the relationship.
Here is what Dr. Sue Johnson from the ICEEFT (Internation Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy) says:
‘’ … Good sex is an intricate act of responsive co-ordination and attunement. Hard to do when most of your attention is caught up with monitoring for incoming threats and reaching for your armor. Good sex requires opening up and being able to share what feels good, what is arousing, what turns you off and what moments are truly satisfying for you. Good sex starts with taking the risk to talk.’’
Working on the other aspects of the relationship may also influence the quality of your sex life. Talking about sex feels vulnerable to both men and women. Creating a baseline of security in the couple may ease the expressions of sexual wants and desires.
Even in healthy, stable relationships moments of disconnection do happen. What matters is how we deal with that and how we track the reasons for the emotional distance. Is it the draining project at work or do we self-protect by chilling out in order to avoid a difficult conversation?
According to Dr. Johnson:
‘’There are only three ways to deal with our sense of impending loss and isolation. If we are in a happy basically secure union, we accept the need for emotional connection and speak those needs directly in a way that helps their partner respond lovingly. If however we are in a wobbly relationship and are not sure how to voice our need, we either angrily demand and try to push our partner into responding, or we shut down and move away to protect ourselves. No matter the exact words we use, what we are really saying is, “Notice me. Be with me. I need you.” Or, “I won’t let you hurt me. I will chill out, try to stay in control.”’’
The ghost of disconnection appears in every relationship but it’s not a death sentence. It is a symptom we need to address in order to prevent it from soaking us up in a negative spiral of withdrawal and resentment towards our partner.
I used to have a very handsome, irresponsible and romantic boyfriend in my college years. He would take me at the top of his block of flats to watch the sunrise and make love. Then he wouldn’t call me for a week. Sometimes, after a hard day at work and an especially nasty fight about money with my husband, I can spend the whole evening ruminating how my life could have been different (much better, of course) if I had married that other guy (very handsome, did I mention?).
People in long-term relationships are well acquainted with doubt.
In a world full of beautiful others what is there to keep us committed to this one person (who is hurting us quite often above all)?
Very often, however, doubt is not so much about our relationship. Rather it’s about the tendency to burden our partners with too many expectations. It is convenient to blame them for all our insatisfactions in life. They endure our tricky sides more than anyone else in the world. And they still stay with us. Day after day.
As the expert on long-term relationships, Linda Carroll, says:
‘’The notions that passion always peters out, that we’re vulnerable to a “seven-year itch,” and that honeymoons are over once reality sets in are clichés that contain a kernel of truth. But the inevitable waning of infatuation doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy long-term love…Love cycles, including Doubt and Denial, are part of genuine intimacy, rather than signs of its demise.’’