As an experienced couple’s therapist, I often see clients who feel that their relationship has gotten stale over the years. What originally started out as a loving, passionate, romantic relationship is now little more than friends or roommates.
When this happens couples often come to therapy with little hope. They wonder if the marriage is over or if it can be fixed. And even worse, they worry that if they fix it in the moment, they will drift apart from one another again in the future.
How can I tell if we are drifting apart?
Drifting part is harder to identify in relationships. When you’re fighting a lot and things are loud and noisy it is obvious that there are problems. Drifting apart tends to be more of a whimper than a bang.
We don’t spend time together like we used to
One of the signs people notice that their relationship is not as close is that they don’t spend nearly as much time with one another as they once did. A couple that would make time for each other every day may now find that the relationship is not the top priority.
This may be because life has gotten busy with work or kids. Sometimes busy schedules make it difficult to do things as a couple. Others just refuse to put in the effort to do things with each other. When this lack of time to connect becomes habit, then couples begin to drift apart.
My partner keeps asking for more space
Sometimes one partner starts to feel the need for more space. This can be a sign that they are drifting apart from each other. This is especially the case if the person asking for space is not an introvert.
While it’s healthy to take time away from one another, when this becomes the norm then it can be hard to stay emotionally connected.
We spend time with each other, but not connecting
Does one or both of you spend a lot of your couple time with a phone in front of your face? Do you mostly just watch tv and not talk about it? These types of things can make your marriage or relationship seem stale and boring. This is an example of spending quantity time together but not quality time.
You’ve stopped dreaming together
One of the ways to tell you are drifting apart is that you’ve stopped planning and dreaming with your partner. When you were first in a relationship, remember looking forward to things like anniversaries, trips and just spending time with them?
If you’ve stopped planning couple time and talking about what could be good between you in the future, this is a sign you might be drifting apart. You and your spouse or partner may be putting your connection on the back burner instead of being excited about the relationship.
The sex is gone
One of the first ways many couples tell they are growing apart is that their sex life starts to suffer. A lot of jokes and popular culture assumes that married and long term couples don’t have sex often. This is not the case.
If your sex life feels like it’s in a phase of drought, then this is a big red flag that something else is wrong. This is especially the case if other types of physical affection such as kissing and cuddling are dropping off as well.
What causes couples to drift apart?
In a nutshell, a few things cause couples to drift apart. Usually it happens innocently, no one wants to purposefully make their relationship worse. But time after time it happens with couples when they don’t talk and connect the way they need to.
Not prioritizing the relationship
The biggest issue I see with couples who are drifting apart is that they do not prioritize the relationship. They will say their spouse or partner is the most important thing in their world but they do not show this with their actions.
Maybe work got hectic and then working too much became habit. Maybe they had children and now most of the time spent together is focused on the kids. Maybe other, extended-family issues have gotten in the way.
Things like this happen in the short-term, but when they become the norm the relationship will suffer.
Lack of novelty
How long has it been since you went on a date with your spouse or partner? Not spending that focused time to do interesting things together can be a reason couples drift apart. Novelty is one of the things that draws partners closer.
Lack of communication
Have you stopped talking about your feelings, wants, needs, desires and hopes for the future? This can cause a couple’s drifting apart. Lack of vulnerable, honest communication can break a couple’s connection and keep them drifting.
How to bring the relationship back together if we’ve drifted apart
If you feel like your relationship is drifting apart there are several things you can do to help restore the connection. Let’s take a look at a few of these strategies.
Put your partner first!
One of the best pieces of advice I can give to married couples is also one of the simplest. Put your partner first. I know that often doesn’t resonate with the me-first attitude and my interests take priority advice we often see, but it’s true.
Putting your partner first does not mean putting yourself last. It does, however, mean keeping your partner’s wants and needs in mind when you make decisions.
It also means not putting your friends above your marriage. A bros before hoes (or hoes before bros) attitude will always separate you from your spouse and make relationships harder. It doesn’t matter how much you love them if they can’t see it.
You will also need to put your partner before your family. This can be difficult at times, especially for those who are younger and not too long out of the family home. However, your partner does not want to compete with your parents for your affection.
Talk to each other!
Communicating with your loved one is one of the most important things to keep you close. No amount of eye contact and gifts will help your relationship if you aren’t talking. And I don’t mean sports scores! You need to chat about thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs. You also need to try to understand each other’s point of view by listening effectively. These chats will help your relationship.
If you are having trouble communicating with each other or hearing each other’s point of view, there are communication exercises you can do to make it easier to connect with your partner. Putting some effort into these exercises can help reduce the distance between you and help you feel more positive about each other.
Do quality time together!
I know sometimes, work, family, stress and life in general can get in the way of being with your spouse. But if you want a strong marriage the first step is taking time to be together without other distractions.
Many people in love will do things together, but the quality of the interaction is lack due to distraction. There is a lot of time given, but it’s not time used to interact, instead it’s time spent doing things next to each other. Doing only this kind of tandem activity can reduce love and appreciation for each other.
If you want your partner to feel loved, don’t just make a date to watch tv or a movie. Not that those things are bad, but you need to interact around them to feel emotional closeness. A better option is to see the movie and then have dinner after, discussing the show, and your likes and dislikes around it. This kind of focus during your time together can bring the love back and help improve your marriage.
Novel activity has a way of not only starting love, but also growing love. Years from now, would you like to think about all the time sitting on the sofa, or will you remember that one special date night where you did something unique, fun and interesting?
I know trying to have a date night can be hard when life is moving fast. But if you don’t make it a priority to focus on the relationship, you may not have one once the busy phase has passed.
Dating each other in memorable ways also shows appreciation for your partner. This is the case if you are a newer couple or are part of a long term marriage. Marriage is not a reason to quit making memories with your person.
Making memories with each other could be the thing that jump starts your drifting back together. If you’re having a difficult time thinking of memorable things to do, check out our article on fun, unique dates in Columbus, Ohio.
Have a hello and goodbye kiss
If you kiss your partner hello or goodbye, most of the time it’s a peck, something that’s a ritual but no longer meaningful. It shows you are thinking about them, but does it really show your love?
A six second kiss is mindful, it takes time and you should be fully engaged. This lingering kiss is more reminiscent of how you kissed each other when you first fell in love.
Remember the good times
Remember when you first met? Remember when you first started dating? How about your first kiss? Remembering these moments can bring back the fondness you felt for each other in the moment. These memories are much more powerful when shared with your loved one.
This sharing can be part of a date, or spontaneous. It’s up to you, but this shared positive memory with your partner can bring you closer.
Address the problem with your loved one
Maybe the problem is that you’re not working on the problem together, or even acknowledging that there is a problem. Often, it’s more of a relief to find that both people are missing the closeness than to think your partner doesn’t care if you’re losing each other. Having a polite, direct conversation about your feelings can be a great way to begin to heal the breech.
Sometimes, this isn’t something you can fix on your own, no matter how hard you try. Maybe you or your spouse have some trauma or bad communication habits that are getting in the way. Maybe you don’t know where to start.
This is the time to get help from a therapist. A therapist can help you understand what’s going wrong, and what you need to do in order to make the two of you closer. If you are in Ohio and are looking for help with your relationship, contact us at Columbus Therapy and Hypnosis. Our professional couple therapists would be happy to work with you.