Many men and women I speak to express sadness, anger and fear when the spark goes out of their long-term relationship.
And when I say ‘spark’ I’m not just talking about physical intimacy. The spark for many of us is what precedes physical intimacy. Deep, meaningful conversations. Date nights. Taking initiative. Presence. Spontaneity. Romance. All the little things that show someone they are cared for, valued, wanted, loved.
When those things slowly drop off, it’s a sure sign that the relationship has entered a new phase of comfort. This new reality is perfectly fine for some people. For others it’s frightening. So what can we do when we sense the spark has gone out of our relationship, our partner has stopped putting in the effort they once did and things feel flat and boring?
Get real about relationship phases. Relationships feel exciting, passionate and super interesting at the start. Because you don’t know each other yet. And if they didn’t feel that way, you wouldn’t stay together. It’s nature’s design to keep us together so we procreate and our species continues. The longer we’re together, the more we know each other. The more we know each other, the less hot things feel. It can seem unfair and frustrating but understanding this means we are able to separate fantasy from reality and co-create a mature, deep, rich, long-lasting partnership.
Does it mean we should be quiet and accept our partner’s lack of effort in the relationship once the steamy, initial phase is over? No, it does not.
Identify your needs. Appearing needy has become the most repulsive personal trait while being self-sufficient, totally secure and independent are indicators of someone who is healthy, easy-going and ‘good’ to be with. Who wants to be with a drama queen (or king) when they can be with someone who has zero needs? I call BS.
All human beings have needs. Period. Especially within relationships. Even the most low-maintenance people need something from their partners. Some people are just more aware of their needs and are more willing to express them. Knowing what you need from your partner and a relationship is the first step in getting your needs met. Spend some time thinking about what you need to feel safe, secure and satisfied in a relationship. Ask your partner what their needs are. Then set about meeting each other’s needs without judgement, ridicule, resistance or resentment.
Learn how to communicate. Ok, so now you know everyone has needs and you know what yours are. The tricky part is articulating your needs. I know, I know. How unromantic. Why can’t he just know? Do I really have to tell her? Doesn’t he love me?
Because. Yes. Love has nothing to do with it.
Let me say it differently: love doesn’t give people mind-reading powers. Humans are complex characters with years and years of programming, baggage and trauma. The only relationship education we get is what we learn from our family of origin and Hollywood. It’s up to us to learn how healthy, high-functioning, mutually satisfying relationships work and then to practise everyday. By being in a relationship. Would you jump into a vehicle without knowing at least a little bit about how to drive? Would you practise driving by sitting on the couch? There are ways to communicate with your partner that are clear, honest, respectful and effective. Ways that leave your connection and integrity intact. Read a book, listen to a podcast, hire a coach, learn how to communicate to resolve conflict fast and get your needs met while you’re at it.
Accept your partner for who they are. You’ve gotten real about relationship phases, identified your needs, and learned how to communicate them. Your partner steps up for a week or a month and then you notice his/her effort starts to wane again. It’s at this point that you should start asking yourself some important questions.
What else is going on for your partner right now? Are they under pressure from work, a health issue, family or financial stress? What unresolved traumas do they carry? What did they learn about being a man / woman / relationships that they’re bringing into your dynamic? Can you find evidence for all the ways they do try and what good they bring to the relationship?
The fact is that most people aren’t trying to be bad partners. They’re actually giving you the best they’re capable of at this time. So if this is their best, can you show them grace and love them for who they are? Can you accept where they are on the relational path? Can you be patient with them while they learn?
Have you tried letting go of the reins a little bit and focusing on yourself and different ways of getting your needs met? I don’t mean going outside the relationship. I mean, if you’re after stimulating, deep conversations about politics and your partner isn’t, can you have these conversations with friends instead? If you need constant encouragement, comfort and validation, could you turn inward and find this on a spiritual path? Too often we expect our partners to meet our every single need and this is unfair and unrealistic. I’m all about letting go of fantasy and living in reality when it comes to relationships. And …
Hold the vision. Don’t be ashamed of your needs and the vision you have for partnership. Relationships can be heaven on earth when both people put each other first and value the relationship above all else. Your desires are not wrong, silly or too much. They were put on your heart for a reason and they are absolutely achievable. I know this to be true.
A lost spark does not mean a relationship is doomed. In fact, it can be a pivotal moment in the life of a partnership. A invitation into something more nuanced, intentional and empowering for both people.
Be realistic, learn about relationships AND do whatever it takes to bring back the spark and keep it burning if that’s what you’re choosing! If you choose to stay in a relationship with a partner who refuses to do any inner work, who continues to ignore your needs and who doesn’t prioritise your relationship, ask yourself what that’s all about. There could be a whole lot there for you to unpack about yourself that you’d never know if it wasn’t for your partner showing up the way they are.
Do all relationships inevitably cool down into a room-mate-like situation of sharing bills and childcare? Not necessarily. Does the spark come and go in long-term committed relationships? I believe so. The key is acknowledging it when it’s out and both partners putting in 100% effort to reignite it.
Take the best care and seek support if you feel overwhelmed or confused. There is no shame in getting help. In fact, it can save you a lot of heartache, time and money to get help sooner rather than later.
If this post has brought up anything you’d like to talk more about, start by filling out my pre-coaching questionnaire.
As always, my posts are not written for anyone in an abusive relationship. If this is you, please disregard all advice and seek the appropriate lawful, medical or social support in your area.