So you are in a long-term relationship and now that you’ve been together for a while, you’re finding yourself hitting some road bumps. Perhaps, at this point, you’re wondering exactly why relationships are so difficult to maintain. In the beginning, maybe you found everything to be relatively easy — things unfolded pretty well, you didn’t fight or disagree, no one freaked out while trying to decide which movie to watch on Netflix or which restaurant to order from on Seamless.
But, as life has a tendency to do, sooner or later, stuff’s going to get real. That might mean a breakup after a year or two or three, or it might mean that you’re just not as into your relationship as much as you used to be, or it might just be a slow stalling-out feeling. But whatever the case may be, this kind of thing happens all the time. If this is your life rn, don’t worry: I got you covered. I spoke to 10 relationship experts about why this happens, and what you can do when it does. From holding onto your own sense of self to allowing yourself to be open and ask questions, keep these things in mind when the going gets tough in your relationship.
1. It’s Hard To Be Intimate
"Romantic relationships can be difficult to maintain because they possess more intimacy than any other relationship," life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. "The amount of closeness — emotional, physical, spiritual, and even mental — that is in a relationship is overwhelming to handle at times." If you go slow and let yourself really fall in love, no matter what happens, you can fight off this sense of keeping yourself locked up tight.
“Knowing when to take breaks and how to hold onto your own sense of self gets complicated, but without that space, we can turn on each other and start blaming each other for anything and everything,” she says. “It's easy to want to completely rely on someone else for all of our emotional needs, but that is what creates the most problems.” If you can let go of fear, you’ll be a lot happier and healthier, in and out of your relationship.
2. Relationships Need Conflict Management
"People often do not get past the point of getting to know each other, learning how to resolve conflict, and truly learning to work on their communication skills with their partner," psychologist Nicole Martinez, who is the author of eight books, including The Reality of Relationships , tells Bustle. "If they do not let themselves be open, ask questions, and learn what their unique conflict management style is, they will struggle to get past the initial stages."
On the other hand, if you’re down to figure out how you handle conflict and how to make that work within your relationship, you’re golden. “If they are willing to do these things, they stand a much better chance of having an open and strong relationship communication, and conflict resolution style,” Martinez says.
3. One Word: Expectations
“The most difficult piece of all is the expectations,” Dr. Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With A Narcissist , tells Bustle. “The expectations that float around a romantic relationship can be what brings it down — we have a 'vision' of what we want, and many people find it hard to pull back from those expectations.”
Your idea of what the perfect relationship should be is never, ever what it’s actually going to be — and “after a while, fabulous first dates and courtship give way to routine and sometimes boredom,” she says. To make things worse, couples usually “engage in lots of social comparison, comparing stuff, partners, lifestyles — and that can set a high bar for your own relationship.” If you need to combat relationship fatigue, try to stay as far away as possible from your unrealistic expectations — and comparing yourself to others.
4. Romance Isn’t Supposed To Be There 24/7
“The romance in a relationship is meant to be temporary,” zen psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist Michele Paiva tells Bustle. She compares relationships to fishing to paint the picture of what she means. “We get the fishing pole, the right string, bait, a hook, and a great watering hole — and have patience. The string is what we put out there, and the hook is how we catch them — the bait, is the romance,” she says. “That's what the fish in the water really is attracted to. They don't want the hook, line or pole. So, we reel them in, and we are thrilled. Bait isn't meant to last forever, just to get the fish attracted,” she says." And so you might find yourself feeling bored later on in a relationship.
“Romance, while it can ebb and flow, isn't mean to be there all of the time." There’s good news, though, she adds: “Do you know that feeling where you simply just love being in love? You feel physically better, the sun seems brighter, all is right in the world, and you can't wait to wake up and you don't want to sleep — you just want to talk and be with that special person?” She says you can recreate that feeling by manifesting optimism. “By creating a more self-optimistic life, you can actually mirror or mimic the feeling of romance for yourself and with your partner.” Accept that it won’t be all romance and flowers — and enjoy the special moments you do have.
5. Romantic Relationships Bring Up Unhealed Issues
“Romantic relationships bring up unhealed issues, and when these issues inevitably surface, trouble ensues,” relationship coach and psychic medium Cindi Sansone-Braff, author of Why Good People Can't Leave Bad Relationships , tells Bustle. “A lot of people run away from love at this point, thinking that they were fine until this person came into my life.” You can’t blame this feeling on your partner, but it’s tempting to do so. “Of course, this isn't true — these people just had a Band-Aid on a carcinoma,” she says. “Unresolved issues and trauma from the past, such as relationships that didn't work out; childhood abuse, neglect or abandonment; and a whole host of other unhealed issues start bleeding into the relationship and contaminating it.”
But there is a solution. “Heal your issues,” she says. “Do as much inner homework as you can on your own — go to therapy, a twelve-step program, read self-help books, or talk things over with a trusted friend.” Whatever you do, don’t take out your problems on your partner, as you’ll just have to keep doing the work in another relationship if not this one.
6. Distractions Are Brutal
We live in a world where there are way too many distractions, relationship coach and psychic medium Melinda Carver tells Bustle. “All of the distractions available to us now with technology” can wreak havoc on our romantic lives, she says. “When our partner becomes distracted by the TV, internet games or porn, we receive less of their attention and the focus on romance fizzles.” As a result, you might feel as though it’s not worth continuing your relationship.
Expectations can compound the issues, she adds. "State your desire for more romance or book a getaway for the two of you,” she suggests. “You also may create romantic moments without waiting for your partner to do so.” It does take two, after all.
7. It’s Too Easy To Take Things For Granted
“Once we feel comfortable in a relationship, we have a tendency to take everything for granted,” Salama Marine, psychologist and online dating expert for dating website EliteSingles, tells Bustle. “It could be a simple ‘I love you’ when you leave for work, or doing something thoughtful around the house — the more we advance into our relationship, the less special these small moments and kind gestures feel.” Even if you are exchanging those niceties, it can still feel stale. “’I love you’ doesn’t sound the same anymore, or you’re less grateful when he or she helps you,” she says. “Everything is normalized. This is the number-one challenge in a romantic relationship: Do what it takes to keep these moments fresh for as long as possible.”
A huge part of this is just remembering that it is special that your boo is telling you that they love you, or doing the dishes when you’re extra tired. “Every gesture of affection — and appreciation — counts, and will help you to live as happily with your partner even after the honeymoon period,” she says. Pay attention.
8. Romance Takes Serious Work
“Romance has a life of its own,” New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. “That’s why you have to nourish it. After a while, the flow of natural excitement in a new relationship recedes.” But you can do something about it — don’t fret. “Your job is to stimulate it,” she says. “Life is fluid, and so, too, is romance. It doesn’t stay still.”
So you have to get up and feed it. “If you want to maintain romance, you have to work it,” she says. “You can do this by creating new experiences, rekindling old ones, and looking for deeper, more mature love" — love that's less about a spark, than about love and respect over the long run, she says. It doesn’t have to be exciting all of the time — but you both have to show up and want to make things work together.
9. It’s Hard To Stay On The Same Page
“Since dating used to just be about meeting someone to marry and have kids with and that's not what it's about anymore, it can be hard to be on the same page at the same time,” Stefanie Safran, Chicago's "Introductionista" and founder of Stef and the City, tells Bustle. “In addition, the rules on courting are so blurry, so it's harder to know if you are both on the same page, because there is no rush or pressure to follow any specific path by a certain timeline.” If you can’t tell if you’re both in search of the same thing, it’s easy for your relationship to fall to pieces. Communicate! This will help tremendously in the long run.
10. Relationships Don’t Have To Be A Struggle, Though
“[Relationships are] not really difficult, if you understand how to create partnership,” Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it out Together, tells Bustle. “It does take some time and attention to keep a relationship on an even keel, but usually it’s selfishness that makes relationships difficult.” Well, that’s refreshing to hear. “If you focus on seeing things from your partner’s side as well as yours, everything will get a lot easier.”
There are lots of secrets to a lasting relationship, Tessina says. These include communication, relaxing together, speaking up and sharing your gratitude. “Be partners,” she says. “The most powerful thing you can do to keep your [relationship] strong is to form a partnership, a team, based on mutual respect, caring and helpfulness.” Sounds good to me!
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