Relationships are full of ups and downs, but they can also have long lulls in which you just don’t feel the same level of intimacy or excitement with your partner. I’ve written a lot about the reasons you may start to lose that lit-up feeling of being in love as well as the ways you can use your own power to get it back. Here, I share with you five tangible actions you can take today to change your half of the dynamic and shift your relationship. These steps can reconnect you to your own warm, loving feelings and bring you closer to your partner.
1) Be bold. Take some time to reflect on what would really make you happy in your relationship. People tend to get tangled up in all the things that aren’t working for them, rather than thinking about what would. Ask yourself what you want to happen between you and your partner? Do you want it to be exciting? Affectionate? Romantic? Less routine? It’s better to make your intentions more about a general feeling between you two than a specific course of events, because when you get too attached to a single idea, you can set yourself up for disappointment, and you don’t allow a space for closeness to naturally flow.
Think of the actual things you’d like to happen and the actions that would need to take place to facilitate what you want. It may be easy to think of what you’d want your partner to do, but what about you? What is something you could do that would be a pronounced step in the direction you want things to go in? Don’t be afraid to go big or be bold. People often think they’re expressing more than they are and then feel hurt when their partner hasn’t caught on or responded. They may play it safe and resist really putting themselves out there, because they fear that they’ll feel foolish or be let down. Yet, we have to be willing to let our guard down and be vulnerable to receive love.
Don’t be afraid to be daring when it comes to love. In her book, fittingly titled Daring to Love, author Tamsen Firestone wrote, “Never forget that love is not just a noun. It’s also a verb – an action. The source of your greatest power and freedom in life is your ability to choose the actions that you are going to take.” This doesn’t mean you need to fill a room with roses or plan an elaborate event. It can be an act as simple as being more flirtatious, acknowledging, or affectionate. It can be a matter of breaking a routine, surprising your partner in a small way, or slowing down to offer them your full attention. Whatever action comes to mind, don’t talk yourself out of it, and go for broke.
2) Stop making comparisons. Couples tend to get into trouble when they weigh their actions against each other. In a relationship, it can sometimes be tempting to catalogue all the things you’re doing and your partner isn’t. For instance, when you start ruminating that you’re putting yourself out there or working harder in some way, while your partner is distracted, you will most likely pull back, and become guarded or critical. You may even miss out on some of the ways your partner is reaching out and offering something, because you’re busy building a case.
It’s helpful to remember that your partner has their own internal (and external) life. They may be going through something that has nothing to do with you, and you may not always feel like you’re getting the response or attunement you desire. However, it’s okay to be there for your partner even when they’re not entirely there for themselves. It’s alright to let the little things go and to accept that you each have unique and separate things to offer. This does NOT mean you should stand by a person who is consistently unkind, ungenerous or isn’t making you happy. Yet, making constant or nitpicky comparisons with someone you share life with can be the work of your “critical inner voice,” an internal commentary that tends to undermine you and your relationship. The person it takes the biggest toll on is you, and it can get in the way of your own loving feelings for your partner.
Your critical inner voice can always find things that your partner could be doing more of, but you’re the only one you have control over in your relationship. When you get sucked in to a tit-for-tat mentality, you forget that love is not a competition, and kindness isn’t a technique to get the upper hand. Being loving and generous, even (or especially) when your partner is having an off day, is a strategy to feel close to them again. And it’s a choice you can make for yourself.
3) Ask for what you want. One of the best things you can do to stay close to your partner is to say what you want directly. People underestimate how hard it can be to do this. They think they are expressing what they want directly, but what they’re often really doing is hinting, nagging, complaining, demanding, or expecting their partner to read their mind.
Being open and direct can make you feel vulnerable. You may try to avoid the risk of feeling hurt or let down by either not saying what you want or saying it in a way that comes off as critical toward your partner. You may find yourself making digging jokes or commentary, like “well, if you ever got home early enough, we could actually see each other.” Or, you may stonewall or punish your partner when you don’t feel satisfied. A lot of times, you do this because you are listening to your critical inner voice, telling you to protect yourself and to not say what you want. It tells you that you’ll only be disappointed, and that you can’t trust your partner.
Getting close to your partner often means pushing past whatever your critical inner voice may be telling you and saying what you want directly. Try to be open and vulnerable when you express yourself, speaking as an adult, without sounding victimized or angry. Take Dr. Les Greenberg’s advice to say something more general that you desire, then voice a more specific want that your partner could fulfill. For example, if you feel like your partner hasn’t been available, you might say, “I miss you. I want to feel your interest and attraction. I love when we spend a little while catching up at the end of the day.” Being vulnerable and honest allows your partner to know you and feel for you without feeling on the defense. And they are more likely to offer you what you want.
4) Take a breather. When I suggest you take a break from your partner, I don’t mean it in the sense that you should break up or press pause on the relationship. I just mean that a little time and space can be rejuvenating and offer some perspective, particularly at times when things either get really complicated or pretty dull and routine between you. When you’re with someone for a long time, you can start to operate as a unit, feeling an unspoken pressure to do everything together. The problem is the form of being a couple can become more important than the substance of actual relating.
You don’t have to be together all the time to be close. Taking time to do your own thing gives you a chance to gain perspective, to miss the other person, and appreciate who they are all over again. For some couples, this kind of clarity can come from a few hours, a single evening, or a week or two away. These separations can come naturally and shouldn’t be used to punish or threaten your partner, but to reconnect with a feeling inside yourself.
5) Be your old self. When a couple goes through a hard time, they often long for or miss the person with whom they first fell in love. They talk about how the other person changed in the relationship, but what they’re usually missing are certain vital and vulnerable characteristics. These characteristics often wain when a couple enters into a fantasy bond, an illusion of fusion that replaces real, vital feelings of love. When we enter a fantasy bond, the truth is, many of us miss these qualities in ourselves. We don’t understand where all our own energy, independence, and loving feelings went.
Think about how you felt about yourself when you first fell in love. How did you feel about your partner? How did those feelings make you act? In the initial stages of a loving relationship, most people express more curiosity, respect, kindness, and excitement toward their partner, but additionally, they often feel more curiosity, confidence, care, and vitality within themselves. Think about the qualities that matter to you, and try to uphold them, because it’s when you feel you’re most yourself that you feel you’re most in love.
Of course, every human evolves and grows, so the idea of being the person your partner fell in love with isn’t about denying your development or pretending to be an old version of yourself. In fact, it’s barely about your partner at all. Rather, it’s an exercise in getting back to a feeling you had toward yourself, your partner, and, often, your life in general.
You may have come across the expression, “We fall in love by chance, we stay in love by choice.” It may sound a little simple or unromantic, but it’s true in the sense that maintaining your feelings toward your partner is often a matter of staying alive to love within yourself. You have to keep opening yourself up to another person and taking loving actions toward them if you want to stay feeling close and in love with them. Most actions we take in the name of love are acts of being vulnerable and undefended. These five steps are no exception. They may make you feel out on a limb, a little insecure, or exposed, but they’re significant strides toward staying in love.