By Audrey Kasting, Relationship Rx Facilitator
It seems to be common knowledge that there are natural and expected ups and downs in a marriage or long-term relationship. Couples prepare themselves to go through hard or more stressful times together. During these periods they may not feel as close, may find that they don’t have as much time to talk, that they may not do as many fun things together, or that their sex is less frequent or satisfying. Whatever the changes, couples may find that overall they are feeling less intimate, secure, or “in love.” An important question to ask is: “Are me and my partner just going through a normal rough patch? Or are my/our feelings diminishing?” The answer to this question is going to depend on each couple and their circumstances. Younger couples may especially find themselves wondering this, since they have not yet spent decades together. But here are some areas to think about if this is a thought that’s crossed your mind:
- Infatuation ends. Most of us have experienced the wonderful rush of falling in love. For a great number of us, there was a period in our relationship where we could not imagine a time when we would quarrel with our partner. Being infatuated with someone is driven by chemical processes in our brain, which is why we feel happy and full of energy. This cocktail of dopamine, norephinephine, and oxytocin may make us feel like we are on top of the world and that our relationship is perfect. Once we come down from this high and are no longer in a euphoric state, we learn things about our partner that bother us. The initial rush may have passed, but for couples who continue to communicate and make clear decisions for their relationship, infatuation will start transforming into a deeper attachment and love.
- Commitment has two parts. Research suggests that “commitment” is actually comprised of two things. The first is “dedication commitment,” which refers to the feeling of wanting to be with your partner, and a willingness to put in the time and energy into your relationship. The second is “constraint commitment,” which refers to the shared investments you and your partner have. Constraints can include, but are not limited to, shared bank accounts, a house or apartment, children, and a shared history together. Constraints make it harder to leave a relationship. We also know from couples research that in a relationship, there will be times where dedication commitment will drop; during these periods, constraints help a couple work through the stress or difficulty. Research by Johnson and other show that of married couples who seriously thought about divorce and stuck it out, 90% of them were glad they worked through it. With good communication, partners will most likely see their dedication begin to increase again once that period has passed. Ebs in flows in that feeling can be normal.
- Deciding vs. sliding. Couples research consistently find that couples who make clear and purposeful decisions for their relationship fare better than other couples. Individuals who find themselves constantly sliding in relationship decisions may begin to feel less secure or more confused later on. For example, many couples choose to live together to save money and to spend more time together. Sometimes this happens because someone’s lease ended, and it was more a matter of convenience. When this couple starts to experience more stress, one or both people might question their feelings for the other more strongly since they were not as intentional in cohabitating. Or, they may have different ideas about their commitment and what living together means for their relationship.
- Choosing the right match. Of course, these times of transition or stress will make many of us wonder, “Am I with the right person?” Again, the answer to this question is going to depend on each individual and couple and circumstance. However, some things to consider may include:
- Is your relationship safe?
- Do you share interests and values?
- Expect good communication but don’t run from conflict.
- Have a bottom line.
If your relationship is physically and/or very emotionally unsafe, then your relationship may need a more serious intervention such as couples therapy, in order for it to continue and grow. This may also be a sign that your partner is not right for you. Everyone should have a standard for how they want to be spoken to, and everyone deserves respect. Sure, partners won’t always use good communication skills with one another; we all make mistakes and have slip-ups. But if your partner is not on the same page in willing to try and better things, and if he or she doesn’t give you basic respect for your wants, needs, or who you are as a person, putting more energy into the relationship may not be in your best interest.
Dr. John Gottman has found in researching couples for over 20 years that 2/3 of the conflict that couples have is over perpetual issues. That means only 1/3 of the conflicts that we have in our partnerships will be solvable. We have to know that we will inevitably differ from our partner, and some of those differences will create conflict that to some degree will never go away. We will have to become good at managing conflict, because not everything we run up against is fixable. It is up to us to decide to work on these with our partner, or if those differences are something we are willing to tolerate and accept. If your partner differs from you in a way that demands you to change yourself or your basic values to receive love or respect, that person is probably not right for you. However, if you and your partner decided to work on you areas of difference in a respectful way, you may find yourselves having similar arguments or discussions over and over. That is actually normal. Some differences may not even come to light until a major life event or transition. But differences by themselves do not necessarily indicate a bad relationship or that you’re falling out of love. Differences can be helpful, complimentary, and a source of greater love and appreciation for your partner.
**The contents of this article are meant to be informative in nature and are not meant to tell anyone what to do about any particular relationship decision. Decisions about whether to stay in or leave a serious relationship are not to be taken lightly, and there is a lot to consider. We suggest talking to an individual counselor, case manager, pastor, or another person who is unbiased and supportive to help you if needed. Please talk to your Relationship Rx Facilitator or your health care professional for additional resources in this area.
 Johnson, C.A., Stanley, S.M., Glenn, N.D., Amato, P.A., Nock, S.L., Markman, H.J., & Dion, M.R. (2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline statewide survey on marriage and divorce. (202096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services.