Looking back can make going forward easier and more meaningful.
When a relationship grows stale, couples tend to believe something is wrong: Maybe I chose the wrong partner. Maybe my partner doesn’t care about me. But consider this: What if there isn’t anything wrong? What if this is just a speed bump in the normal course of a long-term relationship?
I have been married almost 25 years. Greg and I have had our challenges, just like every couple. And we’ve counseled a lot of couples during our careers (he’s a psychologist, too). Some come in saying things such as:
- “Our relationship feels empty.”
- “There’s no spark left.”
- “We don’t hate each other. Our relationship just feels flat.”
- “There’s no magic“
One thing we have found helpful at such times, both personally and professionally, is to talk about the start of the relationship. Even couples that come into our offices on the brink of divorce usually smile and remember in great detail how they met, and what attracted them to each other.
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Every couple’s story is unique: You may have overcome great odds to be together. You may have disliked each other initially, but then something changed your mind. Or you may have fallen in love at first sight, feeling amazed that someone could understand you so well. Maybe you both came from backgrounds full of pain, and were surprised to be nurtured.
All of these stories tell us about the foundations of a relationship, and depict the miracle of intimacy.
So what does remembering your own love story have to do with today?
First, it can take a brick out of the wall that may be separating you and your partner. Even one brick removed weakens the wall, allowing room for love to return.
Second, remembering can give you clues (or reminders) about the strengths in your relationship, strengths that you can build on.
Third, remembering can provide you with hope and motivation. Reminding yourselves that your relationship was previously fulfilling helps to point you in the right direction.
It’s easy to forget how hard you worked to build your relationship in the first place. It may seem like it happened magically, but it didn’t: You created the magic, detail by detail. You formed the special bond by paying attention to each other with the intense focus that characterizes falling in love.
Following are 16 questions we use to prompt couples to share their story. Even secure couples will benefit from this exercise. You can jot down answers to share with your partner, or use them as a starting point for a conversation.
Even if your partner doesn’t want to do this with you, it can still be helpful for you to think about.
- How did you meet?
- What first attracted you to your partner?
- What did you do on your first date?
- When did you know this relationship could be something special?
- What made you think the relationship could be special?
- What did your friends think of the relationship?
- What did your family think?
- Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be together?
- If you’re married, what made you decide to get engaged?
- What did you like about how you communicated?
- What kinds of things did you enjoy doing together?
- How did you let your partner know you were loved and cared for?
- How did you nurture each other?
- What did you feel were the strengths of your relationship?
- Did you feel that any past hurts or pains began to heal by virtue of your relationship?
- What were the times when you felt most deeply connected? What were you doing? What were the circumstances?
Other activities we’ve found helpful in remembering your special love story:
- Listen to music you’ve both previously enjoyed.
- Watch movies that you enjoyed together in the early stages of your relationship.
- Read to each other passages of books that were important to you.
- Look at photos or videos from happy times together.
- Return to a restaurant you enjoyed together but haven’t been to in a long time.