All people long for connection in the relationship.
And yet it is not that easy to create this connection and, above all, to maintain it over the years.
Most of the time, the feeling of connectedness is still very strong in the beginning phase.
We constantly seek the closeness of our partner, have passionate sex, we talk about our dreams for hours until late at night and shower the loved one with small gestures of attention and love. There’s no place we’d rather be than in our partner’s arms.
Why can’t it always be like this?
Why does it eventually always become so difficult and exhausting in a relationship?
What actually stands in the way of the connection in the long run?
Even if it feels beautiful, the connection at the beginning of a relationship is, to be honest, mostly still relatively superficial.
We try our best and show our best side.
But no one is always loving, courteous, and empathetic.
At some point the time will come when we also get to know the other side of the partner.
This is the point that defines whether the connection to each other will deepen and the feeling of affection turns into love, or whether we will gradually move away from each other, start living side by side and long for the feeling of the early days.
So what needs to be avoided in order to maintain or even deepen the connection beyond this point in time?
1. Judgment over the partner prevents connection in the partnership
The question that probably everyone has asked themselves at some point is: how will my partner react when they find out “this secret” about me?
We all have traits, preferences, and thoughts that we usually prefer to hide from others.
But in an intimate relationship and growing closeness, sooner or later the point comes when it becomes difficult to maintain one’s own “ideal image” and we either consciously start to show our rough edges or the partner discovers them themselves 😉
This can be the gained weight of the last weeks or the hair on the back.
This can be the secret fantasy of being dominated in bed or the desire for an open relationship.
This can be a tendency to make a mess around the home or an inability to listen emphatically.
The big question is: how do we deal with it?
Do I suddenly stop admiring my partner’s beauty because she has gained some weight? And do I judge her when she is taking another piece of cake?
Am I making a big scene because he addresses the topic of “open relationships” because – “like all men” – he only has “one thing” in mind?
Such reactions can quickly destroy the emotional security and trust in the relationship. Because that’s how I convey to my partner: “You’re not okay the way you are”… and therefore I attach conditions to my love – just like most of us already know from our parents from childhood.
What the partner gets is usually the realization that it is dangerous to show themselves authentically.
The result: either accommodation and oppression, or rebellion and strife… and both at the expense of connection.
Either she tries to please her partner, go on a diet, order only one salad in the restaurant and to permanently suck in her stomach in bed…
Or she falls even more into unhealthy eating habits to numb her own pain about being “not good enough” for him.
Either he will suppress his needs and never bring up the topic of an open relationship again (but maybe 10 years later he will cheat in a relationship crisis and live it out in other ways)… Or there will be an argument that is constantly repeated, in which both parties accuse each other of being “horny”. ‘ or being ‘prude’…
Both strategies lead to both partners moving further and further away from each other and having distance dominate their everyday life.
What it needs instead is empathy, understanding and acceptance.
A safe framework in which both can show themselves authentically without being judged.
This doesn’t mean that I have to put up with everything or have to go along with it.
I can accept that my partner has the need for an open relationship, show him or her understanding and still express that I can’t imagine that at the moment because I’m still struggling with strong jealousy.
I can accept that my partner is messier than me and still express my own need for a clean home.
When I manage to accept my partner as he is – with all his traits and preferences – to hear and understand him, then true connection and intimacy develops.
And then the probability is much higher that he can also hear and understand me and that we can find a solution that suits us both.
2. Expectations and Miscommunication
This brings me to the second big point that decides whether there is more closeness or distance in the relationship: Communication.
Unfortunately, very few of us have learned how to communicate in a way that creates connection in the relationship.
Many people are used to communicating demands or expectations instead of expressing their own wants and needs.
The difference is:
If I communicate a wish, my partner is absolutely free to decide whether he wants to fulfill it or not. If so, it creates a feeling of gratitude and appreciation in me. If not, that’s perfectly fine too. Then I just have to find another solution.
A demand, on the other hand, can look the same at first glance and be formulated super friendly, but is linked to the expectation that the partner will fulfill it. If he does, that’s self-evident and needs no further attention. However, if he does not fulfill them, he often has to expect consequences such as criticism, disappointment, anger or punishment.
Unfortunately, in our work with couples, we see again and again how often they mainly make demands on each other and thus also endanger the connection in the partnership.
Most people love to fulfill the wishes of loved ones, to give them gifts and to enjoy the happiness of their partner. This creates closeness and connection.
But very few people feel like fulfilling expectations or demands. This usually automatically leads to resistance, arguments and distance.
Another point, which is just as damaging for the relationship, is the tendency to not communicate one’s own needs at all, to only give, to please the partner and hope that they will notice what we need if “they really love us”…
Unfortunately, this rarely happens in reality and in most cases leads to frustration and resignation.
So if I have considered point 1 and accepted and understood the partner with all their characteristics and needs, it is just as important to express my needs as well. This is the only way an equal relationship can work.
And when I do this in the form of I-messages and wishes (instead of accusations and demands), I also increase the likelihood of my partner hearing and understanding me, too.
And only when we have both understood what is really important to the other, can we look for a common win-win solution that satisfies both needs.
A beautiful example of communication in a marital conflict can be found here from Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of NVC (Nonviolent Communication).
3. Hardened fronts and protection strategies
Of course it happens in every relationship that there are arguments, we say things that we regret afterwards or we withdraw offended.
These are also moments where we can decide: for connection or for distance, protection, our own pride…
John Gottman, who has done the most comprehensive research on relationships and marriage, describes criticism, contempt, justification and walls as the 4 factors that can destroy a relationship in the long run.
If we repeatedly criticize our partner, react with contempt to what he says or does, constantly justify or close ourselves off in conflict situations and break off contact, then this has fatal effects on the connection in the relationship.
At the end of the day, these are all strategies many people use to protect themselves when they’re triggered or feeling attacked.
So if you recognize yourself in it, it is not a matter of judging yourself for it, but of understanding the reason and trigger and bringing more awareness to the appropriate situations.
Every behavior has a good reason and we may meet ourselves with compassion as a first step. Because you probably learned this behavior from your parents or adopted it to survive as a child.
Unfortunately, today it is no longer helpful. Especially in an intimate relationship where you actually long for connection.
That’s why the second step is about becoming more and more aware when you fall into this old pattern. It often helps in this moment to pause or even get out of the situation.
When we practiced this at the beginning of our relationship and noticed during an argument that we were no longer listening to, but only accusing each other or justifying ourselves, one of us said STOP and we took some time to sort through our own feelings and thoughts by ourselves. We reminded ourselves what we actually wanted – it was connection…
It quickly became clear to us that connection in a relationship is not possible as long as we both remain in ego and want to be right or win.
Creating true connection takes openness and vulnerability…a willingness to talk about your feelings, wants, and needs (rather than pointing out what your partner did wrong).
Taking responsibility for your own behavior, apologizing, forgiving and remembering what unites us as a couple and that we are not working against each other, but actually have the same goal…
This is exactly what has always helped us.
Nowadays, we often manage in the conversation directly that one of us creates awareness (“stop, we are caught in an unhealthy pattern right now”) and together we remember what we actually want.
Sometimes it also helps us to research together why one of us is so triggered in the situation and what feelings and needs are actually behind it.
So the key is always awareness, vulnerability and forgiveness.
But there are also situations in which the conflicts in the relationship have become so hard that it is difficult, if not impossible, for a couple to get through them on their own. Then we definitely recommend professional support through couples coaching or couples therapy.
4. Lack of physicality
Everyone needs touch. We are social beings and physical closeness is not only important for our happiness, but also for our health.
In most cases, the frequency of touch in a relationship also correlates with the degree of connection.
At the beginning of the relationship, we usually can’t keep our hands off each other. We walk holding hands, sit close together and constantly seek physical contact with one another, we hug and kiss a lot and have sex as much as possible.
But over time, the touch – and thus also the connection in the relationship – becomes less and less.
Many people no longer take the time to greet their partner with a hug when they come home in the evening and at most say “hello” into the other room.
The (marriage) partners often walk, stand and sit further and further apart, which means that there is less and less physical contact.
Sexuality also becomes less and less frequent for many over the course of time and sometimes even falls asleep completely.
In order to strengthen the connection in the relationship again, you can decide to give your partner more physical contact again and to consciously seek his / her proximity – both in everyday life and in bed.
A Tantra course is of course a great opportunity to not only revitalize and rediscover your own sexuality, but to also bring more sensuality, massage and unintentional touch into the relationship.
5. No time for each other
The final issue that is taking an extreme toll on many relationships today is the general pandemic of stress and lack of time.
Everyone seems to have far too many appointments and commitments and an endless to-do list that grows every day. And the candlelight dinner with your partner, time for sex, a day at the spa, etc. is at the bottom of the list for many long-term couples and therefore always falls short…
This behavior shows the partner every day that work, the children, the household, sports, social media and the television program are obviously more important than one’s own relationship.
Everything that is supposed to thrive and blossom needs our attention and regular care. Everyone knows that indoor plants need to be watered regularly to keep them from dying.
And yet many couples wonder why the relationship falls apart after not maintaining it for 3 years…
So if you long for a relationship or marriage that is vibrant, gives you energy and satisfies your need for connection, passion and fulfillment, then it is simply important to invest time in it on a regular basis.
And by that I don’t just mean cleaning up the kitchen together or watching a movie.
But real quality time in which real encounters take place.
This can be time for deep conversations or playing and laughing together.
This can be time for intimacy, hugs, massage or a passionate sexuality.
This can be time for trips together, short vacations or just a date night.
It is best to schedule this time in the calendar and to give it the necessary priority so that the date may be postponed but not deleted…
If you consider all these points – accept your partner as he/she is, communicate your wishes and needs openly, bring more and more awareness into your patterns, show yourself vulnerably and plan regular quality time for relationship maintenance and physical closeness – then your relationship, too is sure to blossom again soon and the connection between you and your partner will grow deeper and deeper over time.