By the time you’re reading this, I will have dropped my kids off to school, kissed them goodbye and headed into a weekend with my husband to celebrate 23 years of marriage…
Twenty-three years?! That’s a LOT of time, my friends! We’ve reached the point where we’ve been together longer than apart. And ours has been like most marriages, I think… Full of ups and downs, times of challenge and change, uncertainty and confidence, disconnection… And thankfully, reconnection.
While it’s true that in a long-term relationship there will be periods when you feel blissfully connected, grateful to be understood and accepted by your beloved, feeling lucky to have found someone that you want to spend your whole life with…
There will also be periods where you can’t imagine being more irritated by anyone else on the planet! Your partner’s habits, their idiosyncrasies — so endearing when you were first falling in love — might actually become the things you can’t stand, and navigating all of the ways you and your partner will change and grow over the years together makes this relationship the hardest one you’ll ever be in, and likely, the hardest one to maintain over the long-haul.
But, here’s the secret, something that they — whoever “they” are — don’t tell you about being in a marriage or otherwise long-term committed relationship: if you’re patient, if you’re willing to do the hard work that relationship maintenance requires (and you have a willing parter — it does take two to tango*) then that cycle can swing back around and you can feel connected again.
This, in my opinion, is what every single one of us as human beings is hard-wired for and wants more than anything: to feel connected, to feel seen, to feel loved and a deep, abiding sense of belonging.
Now, it’s possible to get these feelings met in lots of ways that don’t necessarily have to come from a single source, from a partner. There are plenty of self-fulfilled people who feel complete in all of the ways that make our human existence beautiful and worthwhile and they are not in a coupled relationship. I’m not speaking to this.
I’m speaking more directly to the reality of what can happen after we enter into relationship with someone, and especially if we decide to start a family with them.
It can be comforting to know that there will be ebbs and flows in this relationship — and that this is a normal pattern that cycles and recycles over time. But how do you ride out the rough patches? How do you stay afloat amidst the ebbing?
This time last year, my husband of 22 years and I were NOT in a good place. We were about six weeks into in what ended up being about a six month slog of feeling disconnected, of being upset with one another, of not seeing things the same way, of uncharted territory in our relationship… and it spilled into everything else in our lives: our work, our parenting, our ways of moving through the world — as individuals, and as a couple.
This time last year, we were supposed to be celebrating our Anniversary. But I’m going to tell you that my memory of that weekend was, in a word, awkward.
We did all the things, we went through all the motions: we ate great dinners, we watched lots of movies, we even sang Karaoke… but it felt forced. It wan’t good. There was so much we needed to work through, but I’m not sure that either one of us felt able to dig in and do what needed to be done at the time. The initial challenge was still too fresh, and too intense for either one of us to start unpacking, plus — “Happy Anniversary! You wanna fight?” held no appeal. We just couldn’t do it at the time, and to be honest, I don’t think either one of us really wanted to.
So, how are we here… a year later and in a place where we literally can’t wait to spend four days and three nights away together? (What a difference a year can make!)
When you’re disconnected from someone you love, it feels like there’s a semi-solid mass built up between you. You can barely see one another through the barrier that’s in place. You certainly can’t hear one another well and you really don’t want touch one another, even if you could. You go through the motions of being in a relationship, but not in a way that feels authentic or real, loving or supportive. It ends up feeling anything but true.
So, how did we do it? Because we’ve done a complete 180 from where we were a year ago.
Well, there were many, many, MANY long, into-the-night discussions. Lots of check-ins where we were honest about still not feeling like we were on the same page with one another. We did the hard and honest work of taking off the armor that the world would insist we wear 24/7— and we trusted one another.
We trusted that if we were truly vulnerable with one another, striving to be real rather than right, that we could each hear what the other was willing to share and create a new and better understanding of ourselves and our relationship. And then we made renewed promises to strive to take better care of this relationship that we both choose to be a part of.
And that’s a point to focus on: we choose to be together, we have created a family together, and have promised to stay together for our whole, entire lives.
Whoa, that statement is HUGE when you see it written out that way… “our whole, entire lives.” And it can be scary as hell to think about that timeline when things are not good, when the overriding feeling is of disconnection from one another.
But during those times, remember that you do have a choice. When things are hard, when your promise to one another is being challenged, you can choose to leave.
Or, you can choose to roll up your sleeves, turn toward one another, take off the armor and do the hard work of pulling down the barrier that exists between you bit by bit, and try to reconnect in a deeper, more intentional, more meaningful way.
And so, a year has passed. And we find ourselves EXCITED about our time away to celebrate not just 23 years of being married, but all of the work we put in this past year to get back to this place of connection together.
I feel vulnerable in writing this today, but I do it because it’s important to share not just the realities of pregnancy, birth and new parenting with all of you, but also the realities of what it means to try and maintain a relationship.
Authenticity is probably my number one core value, and I have to practice what I preach as a Becoming Us Facilitator and Couples Coach. I can’t encourage my families to do the work, and extoll the virtues of it, unless I’m also doing the work — and reaping the benefits from it, too!
The work of seeking out reconnection in times of disconnect is hard, it takes time. It’s not a lot of fun, to be honest.
But it’s so damn worth it.
And here’s something to consider that can really help keep the couple relationship strong after you’ve made the decision to start a family: leave the kids with someone you trust and get the hell out of your day-to-day life and spend some quality time together at least once a year!
My husband and I struck a deal with our good friends who have almost as many kids as we do (their three boys are equal to our two girls and two boys — at least in terms of energy and food intake!) And for the past eight years we’ve each dropped our kids off and taken a weekend to ourselves as a couple.
It started out as just a 2-night stay, but as soon as we realized our kiddos could handle it, it turned into a 3-night stay away (that third night is SO awesome!) We take their kids in October and they take ours in May.
It’s a crazy weekend for the host family, but in terms of food production, mostly. When you have seven kids, you have to figure out how to keep them all fed. You’re almost constantly prepping the food, feeding them the food or cleaning up after you’ve fed them the food.
Thankfully, our kids are like cousins and get along well. And we know that if our kids start to act up, they will parented pretty much the same way we would, given the circumstances. These Anniversary trips been a contributing factor to a positive and a relationship-saving strategy for both of our families over the years.
This might not seem like a possibility for you yet if you’re still a new family, and it might not be for awhile — and that’s okay. But being in a committed relationship for your whole lives means you have the time to make a plan for the future! And it’s so good to dream…
About six months ago, my husband and I started dreaming about this year’s Anniversary celebration. Why? Because we were good again. We felt connected, and wanted to plan something special to celebrate that we made it through another year together! And despite the hard work that was required, I’m happy to say we’ve come out the other side closer, stronger and ready for year number 24! Bring it on.
All my best to those of you who might find yourselves in a period of disconnect.
Breathe, gauge your readiness to dig in but be patient enough to ride out this rough patch and try to stay afloat during this time of ebb. Do what you can to break down those barriers and reconnect. And if you need a little help, get in touch. I’ve seen some amazing things happen through my Becoming Us classes or private Couples Coaching sessions. I’d love to be a resource for you!
*I want to acknowledge that there are times when addiction, abuse, infidelity, or an unwilling/unresponsive partner sabotages the relationship that you might be really willing to work and fight for. There are professional resources available that would be worthwhile to help you navigate these situations/issues. I offer my sincere compassion to you. Not everyone has a partnered relationship that’s able to cycle from connection to disconnection and back to reconnection in a healthy way. I know this and recognize all that you’ve done and are doing every day to support yourself and your family.