Beyond The Honeymoon Phase: Cultivating Passion in Enduring Relationships

            At some point in most of our lives, we fall in love. Whether we come crashing into love with a storm of fireworks, or if it develops more subtly over time, it's hard to mistake that sensation of love. We are fueled by passion, sexual connection, shared interests and the discovery of each others' mind, heart, body & soul.

            Oftentimes, it can be challenging for couples to carry this enormous energy forward past what we commonly refer to as the "honeymoon phase." When the honeymoon phase is over, the "highs" of love may dissipate as we gain footing in our worldly lives. The question remains as to whether we take the giant step to carry forward in this relationship, or if we let go.

            Clinical Psychologist Randi Gunther, PhD. observes that there are certain patterns to watch out for early on in a relationship, that if they are attended to, can produce a more fruitful, long-lasting relationship on our quest for "the one."

1.   How to Heal from Missed Connections: Early on in a relationship, we often find ourselves with our senses tuned more finely to the needs of our partner than our own. However, as we progress into the third or fourth month of a relationship, we may not have the same urgency we once did in connecting with our partner. Seeing as new lovers often hold back complaints with each other, these missed connections can go unnoticed without effective communication strategies.

Gunther suggests that we remain open to discussing these missed connections with each other; whether one partner is preoccupied by work or a family obligation, or even something more serious, naming these missed connections and how they affect oneself can be a crucial key in preventing resentment and hurt from boiling beneath the surface. Be patient and understanding with your lover, but remember to name your own needs as well!

2.   How to Navigate Faultfinding: One of the most toxic features of any relationship arises when gentle criticisms morph into bitter blame and irritation. At the same time, it's important that we name what's bothering us in a relationship, because a healthy, heart-centered challenge can be a powerful tool for growth, individually and in response to our partners.

We may often have unrealistic ideals about our new relationship being a savior from the troubles of our past relationships. If a lover is speaking negatively about prior relationships, we gain a vital clue as to what hurt our partner in the past. However, it's important that any discussions between partners about irritating moods or behavior patterns comes from a place of compassion and authenticity, not resentment and unreachable expectations.

3.   "Ghosting" Vs. Titration, or How To Hold Spaciousness in a Relationship: When loving relationships begin, it can be hard to distance ourselves from the connection we have with our partner. The phrase "head over heels" speaks of how far we're often willing to go to be near our partner.

Yet over time, we may find our partner disappearing from our line of communication unexpectedly. We ourselves might pull away, whether that comes from an insecurity, a period of doubt, or a lack of trust. Things might feel off when these disappearing behaviors are so dissimilar to the ecstatic sparks of early love.

In this scenario as well, we run into the healing power of honesty & open communication; a gentle nudge to check in with our partner about this distancing. Partners who have no secrets to hide are often ready and willing to own up to the change, and address any emotional ramifications it may have caused.

It's important to remember that separation is often natural and necessary after being deeply intimate with a partner for an amount of time. If we're swimming in a pool, it's useful to get out now and then so we don't turn into raisins. The same can be said about relationships, and I refer to this as the allowing of titration, or breathing room. Momentary disconnects may even strengthen a bond of love, because it speaks to the respect of our partner as an individual. Honest communication is key! (Are you noticing a theme here?)

4.   How to Develop Patience in a Worthy Relationship: At the beginning of a new relationship, patience often appears infinite for both parties, and it can be hard to see the flaws in our significant other. Over time, we may experience more reactiveness or defensiveness with our partner, which is completely normal by itself. The key is to monitor our own reactiveness in heated moments.

Sometimes these quick bursts of impatience build gradually, and sometimes they appear out of nowhere. When this arises in your relationship, it can be a sign that emotional resiliency is waning. Once partners are able to recognize this and name it, profound healing can occur. These sort of relational challenges are an excellent reason to seek individual or couples counseling, as one's reactiveness may link to early childhood trauma that is being stirred by the partner.

Together, the search for the underlying cause of a lack of patience in a relationship can be an insightful and healing journey. By facing these problems with open eyes and an open heart, we may allow ourselves to fall in love more deeply.

5.   Managing Decreased Energy: New lovers often experience a grand and powerful energy together. This energy stirs physical passion and chemistry, and it makes an impact on the environment around it as well!

Over time, as lovers become more secure with each other, they may being to "know what to expect" from their partner, thereby lessening the sense of discovery that leads to passionate energy. It's fantastic to feel secure in a partnership, but it's also important to cultivate a genuine interest in the ever-changing lives of our partner.

Gunther writes, "When partners become aware that their relationship is losing energy, they must reevaluate why that is happening. Is it truly a lack of interest, or perhaps even too much security? Is there the possibility that one or the other partner is now giving the best of themselves elsewhere, content to use the relationship more to just refuel?" Once you begin to ask yourselves these challenging questions, a door opens to deeper satisfaction in the relationship.

6.   Healing from Loss of Affection: Warmth and affection are two of the most powerful factors in sustaining a love relationship. While this magic may run rampant in the early stages of a relationship, a struggling relationship may show warning sines of affection waning. This could manifest as a decreased sex drive, less eye contact, and emotional distancing.

What's most important here is to step back from the temptation to respond with frustration, anger, or blame. The felt sense of rejection can be quite painful, and responses such as these only serve to push one's partner further away.

If you are experiencing decreased affection in a relationship, it may be time to check in with yourself and your needs. A gentle re-invitation to intimacy may be all that is needed to bridge the gap. Fundamentally, as long as these challenges are met without blame, shaming, or anger, the wounds can heal.

 

            After the initial joys of the honeymoon phase transform into something more stable, sober, and enduring, it's crucial to keep an open line of communication between partners. It's always worth re-assessing your own values if you genuinely feel that the relationship is not going to work out. Ending a relationship before resentment begins to boil can be one of the greatest gifts to yourself and your partner.

            However, if you decide to stick it through, remember to be patient both with your partner and yourself. Expect challenges, annoyances, and quibbles, but remember your own powerful inner tool of open communication and honesty. Through being willing to discuss problems and own up to your own challenges in a relationship, you can move forward with your partner from a place of integrity and wholesome love.

 Greg Tilden, AMFT, is an intake coordinator at The SF Marriage and Couples Center and 2018 graduate of the California Institute of Integral Studies. As a person who is passionate about holding space for people to find their own inner tools for wellness and self-development, he contributes his work to SFMCC and Amador Institute, Inc. Greg envisions the process of therapy a fun, co-creative & curious endeavor. In his spare time, he enjoys astrology, tarot, creating and appreciating music & art, and exploring nature. 

Greg Tilden, AMFT, is an intake coordinator at The SF Marriage and Couples Center and 2018 graduate of the California Institute of Integral Studies. As a person who is passionate about holding space for people to find their own inner tools for wellness and self-development, he contributes his work to SFMCC and Amador Institute, Inc. Greg envisions the process of therapy a fun, co-creative & curious endeavor. In his spare time, he enjoys astrology, tarot, creating and appreciating music & art, and exploring nature. 

 

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