You’re not alone if you wake up one morning and find that the romance is gone in your relationship. One of the most common challenges I hear from clients is that the spark has faded over time, and what once was a fulfilling relationship is now hollow, lifeless and running on autopilot.
While waking up to a hollowed relationship is a common situation, thankfully there’s a clear pathway for rekindling the spark. The secret to a vibrant relationship that’s filled with love, connection and happiness is fostering more safety within your partnership.
Let’s look at why the spark with our partner goes away, and how we can renew it by fostering more safety in the relationship.
Why we lose the spark
The reason that many of us lose the spark starts with the nature of relationships themselves: They’re always changing.
We like to think that we buy into a relationship and that’s what we can expect in the future, but relationships are always changing because WE are always changing.
You’re not the same person today that you were five years ago. It’s not the same relationship you have today that you had five years ago. So, you have to keep learning, keep growing, keep trying things out.
The spark in our relationship comes from the dynamic energy of constantly growing and renewing the partnership as we grow. This renewal keeps our relationship strong and introduces new elements that make if fresh and continually vibrant.
The death of the spark occurs when we stop sharing in the relationship. Our relationship starts drifting and becomes lifeless when we don’t renew it through constant sharing and adjustment.
Of course, most of us don’t consciously stop sharing and adjusting with our partner. We pull away slowly and almost unperceptively through little omissions when we don’t feel safe enough to share. If we feel that our partner might not accept what we want to share, we hedge or avoid these taboo topics.
Most of us aren’t trying to hurt our relationship when we avoid certain topics, obviously. We’re actually trying to help the relationship by avoiding fights and disunity. But this avoidance comes at a big cost. Because you care about your partner and you don’t want to fight with them, you’re not giving yourself as much. But actually, you’re avoiding growth. You’re avoiding continuing to change. And that’s part of what’s needed in a relationship to keep it alive.
Instead of growing the relationship, we just keep the peace. We don’t want to rock the boat or face criticism. In the process, we stop sharing our full selves and we stop growing the relationship. Hence the spark fades and eventually dims to the point that we may even lose track of the love we have for our partner!
How to Renew the Spark
If your relationship is lacking the spark (and most of us get there at some point!), the solution is nurturing more safety in the relationship and then reconnecting in the areas where avoidance has grown into big disconnects.
Here are three steps you can take right now to start reversing the trend.
- Find the walls
Here’s a truth for you: What you don’t accept, your partner probably won’t share. When you don’t accept an idea, emotion or action, you’re basically telling your partner they won’t be accepted in these areas. This leads to secrets and things unsaid.
So, the first step toward rekindling the spark is acknowledging the areas where you and your partner are communicating a lack of acceptance, where there are walls that inhibit sharing. This lack of acceptance might only be a fear in your partner’s head, not an actual wall that has been erected, but it matters as long as you or your partner feels they cannot share in a particular area.
Together, define these areas where you and your partner feel there’s a lack of acceptance within the relationship and zero in on these areas as the walls that are hurting communication and the process of growing together.
Some areas where couples commonly struggle with sharing include money, career change, hopes and dreams, and sexual needs. Be on the lookout for any wall that might limit communication in these or other areas.
- Build Acceptance
Once you understand the areas where sharing is inhibited by a lack of safety, the next step is addressing these areas through an understanding of the difference between acceptance and agreement.
There’s a huge difference between acceptance and agreement, but we often get the two confused and this creates the lack of safety that keeps us from sharing.
Basically, acceptance is the acknowledgment that an idea, emotion or action exists. Acceptance is not a judgment on the validity of an idea, emotion or action; it’s just an acknowledgment that it exists. Yes, we as humans can do both good and bad things in the right situation. Yes, we can think a range of thoughts. Yes, we can respond emotionally in a variety of ways, both good and bad. Acceptance is just acknowledging this fact.
Agreement, on the other hand, is the value judgment that most of us confuse with acceptance. Agreement is where we weigh in on whether an idea, emotion or action is constructive or destructive, good or bad.
The problem is not judging the goodness or badness of something, because we all have our opinions. The problem is when we withhold acceptance because we disagree with the validity of something.
If we accept an action but think it might not have been smart, our partner will feel safe enough to share. If we confuse acceptance with agreement and withhold the acceptance part, however, that’s when we send those signals to stop sharing. That’s when we’ll condemn, judge, and not necessarily still be on our partner’s side.
- Create a Safe Space
Now that you have identified the walls of non-acceptance and both you and your partner understand that you can disagree with the rightness of an idea, emotion or action but still accept it, the next step is creating a safe space where you can get past the walls in your relationship.
Creating a safe space is relatively simple, but it takes conscious effort.
Once a week for at least five weeks, sit down with your partner for an hour and just talk. Unlike normal conversations, however, set some rules for these special conversations.
Rule #1 is that you will take turns talking, and while the other person speaks you will listen silently and then verbalize back what you’ve heard when they are finished. Rule #2 is that both of you promise to accept whatever the other person says, even if you reserve the right to agree or disagree.
Don’t talk about just anything, too. Instead, focus on sharing the deep issues in your mind and in your heart during these special conversations. Share the things that matter most to you, and especially the areas where there have been walls.
If you follow these three steps, you’ll be well on your way to rekindling the spark in your relationship by building more safety and opening the lines of communication for continued relationship growth.