The pressure we place on relationships today is higher than ever. We want it all, and we want it with our partners… kids, healthy sex life, friends, money, good health, attractiveness, mystery, etc. All while balancing the distraction of digital connection. You get the picture.
As if that weren’t enough, we’ve developed a new coping mechanism of escaping through voyeurism. We spend all day on our phones, looking at other peoples’ lives, comparing our lame existence to their perfectly curated content. How can we win when we always feel like losers?
Everything we focus our attention on grows. As with most things in life, including body image, money, and work, long term results come from sustainable (not dramatic) actions. Below are some tools to help us turn away from social comparison and return to building a sustainable relationship. Some of these suggestions may not be applicable to all people or all situations but see if you can pick one or two to focus on over the next couple of weeks.
- Limit socializing during the week. Jam packing your calendar with social activities, whether you are socializing together or separately, is not sustainable and can induce stress on a relationship. Socializing can be depleting for introverts and it means very little energy is left to put towards the relationship. Even if your job requires that you socialize, draw a line so your relationship doesn’t suffer. Agree on a maximum of two social events per week so you have time to connect at home or on a date. Any more than this, and your time is almost entirely consumed by people outside of your relationship. It would be impossible to expect any relationship to thrive when there simply isn’t enough resources being allocated to it.
- Have a two or three day limit for guests. Let’s be honest. Even the best guests are draining! Dan and I turned our second bedroom into a home office because we found, time and time again, that guests (especially in a small New York apartment), were distracting and ultimately damaging for our relationship. Being unable to connect for long periods of time without a third-party present is unhealthy. Do it often enough, and you will forget how to connect entirely. If you have someone living with you, or you need to have guests often (which I would argue is unhealthy), plan date nights so you have a chance to be alone.
- Find time to connect immediately before and after you travel without each other. Do what makes you feel most connected. Go out on a date, cook dinner together, or just go to your local bar and grab a drink before you travel separately. Always make time to deeply connect. When your partner travels often for work, it can feel like you are living two separate lives. Eventually, you will find yourselves co-existing unless you make a deliberate effort. Even if it’s just a long walk with your dog or by the water, find ways to prioritize your relationship even in the busiest of times.
- Schedule a recurring date with no curfew. This idea came from Esther Perel and I thought it was brilliant, especially for parents. Once in a while, ask a friend, sibling, or parent to babysit while you and your partner make a plan with no end time. As Esther describes, give yourselves the opportunity to be a couple – not parents- to see where the night takes you. You can also encourage other couples to do this by volunteering to babysit their kids, and having them return the favor.
- Adventure goes a long way. Find a way to be sustainably adventurous. Dan and I decided a few years ago that we both wanted to learn more about wine. It’s something we bond over, get excited to learn about and explore, and it often drives the kind of adventures we take. Having something to share with your partner, that no one else is part of, does miracles for connection. If that is difficult for you to do, Esther Perel suggests creating an email account for only the two of you to communicate on. No one knows about it, and it’s your little secret. Send each other messages throughout the day and that can be your little sustainable adventure. Sounds silly, but when it comes to relationships every little connection counts.
What are some ways that you and your partner connect? Comment below.