Been married for years and feeling like a roommate? 5 Steps to a Stronger Relationship
A roommate is a person of convenience, a practical helper with whom you share financial responsibilities, day-to-day household chores and, in many cases, children and their activities. You may or may not speak to this person every day due to a variety of reasons: busy schedules or just lack of interest, and when you do speak, it's rarely meaningful, but rather just an exchange of information necessary to get through the day or plan for the week. You may reserve meaningful dialogue for an emotional emergency or when things have suddenly gotten ugly for one of you. These discussions typically revolve around such issues as mutual respect or appreciation, finances, inequity in responsibilities, and the big one, sexual intimacy or lack thereof. Though your roommate is a person with whom you share day-to-day responsibilities, you may lack true intimacy in the emotional or physical aspect of your relationship. Sometimes, we move in and out of roommate mode with our partner. When things are good, we think we are soulmates. On the other hand, if you often feel you're coasting through the relationship, you may have a roommate.
A soulmate, on the other hand, is someone with whom you share your mind, body and soul, but not necessarily day-to-day responsibilities. If you have both, great! The soulmate is someone you know and trust, someone who knows you so well that they can sense intuitively what you need and when you need it. They can do this easily, because you talk with them on a regular basis about what's important to you. You even talk with them about trivial matters, just for the sake of sharing, connecting, and being involved in your partner's life. You feel comfortable asking for their perception about how things are going in the relationship regularly, not just in an emotional emergency. Because you're more open with sharing your feelings, you may be more apt to share your physical passion with this person. For many, physical intimacy and passion comes with having a strong emotional connection. In Ancient Roman times at funerals, a person's success in life is based on one simple question during the Eulogy: "Did he have passion in life?" Do you have passion in your relationship? Being a good partner in life certainly requires being a good roommate when you live together. Being a great partner, requires someone who is passionately involved with the other and concerned about the health of the relationship.
I suspect now you are wondering what you define your own relationship as and what to do about it. If you believe it falls more on the roommate side, how do you move into the soul mate category? There are five steps to improving your relationship, being more satisfied and becoming a true soul mate. Soulmates aren't born, they're made! It just takes awareness, a desire to improve for your partner and a few skills practiced over time.
1) Ask and Listen. Talk about your values, dreams, fears, ideas, highs and lows. Sharing is important, as is asking questions about one another's day and experiences. Think about small talk at work. We ask questions to draw information out of another person. Act interested. When you get an answer, listen without judgment. Listen by paraphrasing what they said and how you imagine they feel. For example, if my spouse says "I can't believe my boss criticized my presentation today after he gave me only 5 minutes notice to do prepare it!" I may respond with, "It sounds like you felt unfairly judged by your boss." To that, my spouse should give me an affirmative "yes" if I paraphrased his concern accurately. Dr Stephen Covey, author of the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" says, "The deepest need of the human soul is to feel understood." Couples who don't discuss things on a daily basis won't feel understood or connected emotionally, which makes it difficult to connect physically.
2) Accept and Initiate Sex. Sex is a barometer of the relationship's health. For a woman, the more connected she is to a man emotionally, the more connected she will be with him physically. For a man, the more connected he is physically with his woman, the more connected he will be emotionally. In fact, Daniel Amen, MD, author of Sex on the Brain, says that levels of the hormone oxytocin in a guy's body skyrocket by 500 percent post-O, which deepens trust and makes him feel more connected to his partner. Men, connect with your woman on an emotional level, which means you may have to study the first pointer (ask her questions about her day and listen. Whatever you do, don't judge or problem solve.) Men, keep in mind that women take much longer to please than you do; be patient and considerate. Women are like ovens, not microwaves: it takes a while to warm them up! Women, try having sex even when you don't feel like it. Tell your husband what you like so your experience is always enjoyable. If you feel you are in a rut, be adventurous and try something new. And whatever you do, don't withhold sex when you are mad, which is just a power trip that never works in your favor. That creates resentment in your partner, who then won't connect with you emotionally. Sound like a vicious cycle?
3) Abide by the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you have others do unto you. It's a universal principle in all world religions that has worked for thousands of years as a moral compass. Do something selfless for your partner every day, without being asked. Even completing mundane house chores so your partner doesn't have to is an act of love and consideration, which will certainly get you brownie points. Try, however, not to make a point of telling your partner about your action; quiet humility goes a long way. Dr. Stephen Covey compares our relationships to a financial bank account, which he calls the Emotional Bank Account. This is a metaphor for the amount of trust we have in the relationship. Every kind and considerate action towards our partner is a 'deposit', and every inconsiderate action is a 'withdrawal' of trust. If you have deposited a lot over time, the relationship doesn't hurt much when a withdrawal is taken inadvertently.
4) Attitude of Gratitude and Agreement-Making. Tell or show your spouse your appreciation for what they do and who they are. If they cook for you, thank them. If they run kids around for practices, thank them. If they take care of the bills, thank them. If they act loving towards you, thank them! If they work hard and come home exhausted, thank them by loving them! If you think your spouse isn't helpful enough and you feel the relationship is imbalanced, ask for help and make an agreement about what is fair. Most agreements can be made easily with the 4W model based on the book, People Skills, by Robert Bolton, PhD: What, Why, What If, and What's Next. What is the behavior you desire? Why is it important? What are obstacles that get in the way of the task and what to do about it? What's Next? These move us towards the first action and requires a check-in meeting to determine how it's working. As I say with my coaching clients, "To prevent disappointments, manage expectations!" Too many of us have unstated expectations which should really be verbalized agreements. Bottom line, when people KNOW what's expected of them, and also feel appreciated for what they do, and they are more likely to show you how much they love YOU, both emotionally and physically.
5) Accept Responsibility and Apologize. When you forget to do all of the above or you mess up big time, accept responsibility when you are wrong, and say you're sorry. Even if you know in your heart that YOU were not the one at fault, saying you are sorry opens the other person's heart for forgiveness and further discussion. Remember what the famous Therapist, Dr. Phil, says, "Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?" And whatever you do, do not bring up past mistakes during an argument, which just opens the proverbial 'Pandora's Box' for more pain and resentment. And that creates more work to get back to square one. Studies show that for every mistake we make with our partner, or withdrawal we take from the emotional bank account, we have to make five deposits over time to build back the same amount of trust. Now that's a lot of selflessness. And, if we don't make those deposits, our emotional account is overdrawn and relationships weaken. One of several things inevitably happens; partners leave, partners stray or partners stay and become miserable. And when people choose to stay when they are unhappy, they certainly become roommates, not soulmates.
Which one of these five will you start working on today with your partner? The good news is that studies show it only takes 21 days to develop a new habit. Your relationship is in your hands; be proactive and take the first step towards higher levels of satisfaction. And, don't forget to tell your roommate about your desire for change. Maybe they'll even lend a helping hand in the process of becoming your soulmate!
For More On Relationships From YourTango:
- Why Men Are More Distant Than Women In Relationships
- A New Twist On The 80/20 Rule For Relationships
- Find A Relationship Expert