Take a moment to think about who you were in your relationship at its beginning stages. Take a moment to think about who you were in your relationship before your children arrived. Now, take a moment to think about who you are, right now, in your relationship.
You were a different person in each of those moments weren’t you?
So was your partner.
As a relationship therapist in Sydney, I have conversations with individuals and couples who often feel like they don’t know who they are anymore as an individual or as a partner. They often feel like their partner doesn’t know them at all either. It’s a loss of identity, a loss of connection, and a loss of communication.
Knowing who you and your partner are
You change and evolve as you go through each day. Your partner changes and evolves as well. Passing through life’s milestones like having kids or a big birthday can be especially shifting. Our tolerances change, our desires change, and even our needs change.
It’s easy to feel safe in the thought that you’ve been with your partner for so long that you become complacent. You already did the “get to know you” work when you first started dating… you don’t need to do it now right? Wrong. Let me show you!
Recently my partner and I went to a small gig outside. I used to love going to gigs, drinking somewhat warm frothy beer, sitting on rugs, listening to up and coming artists.
Now I don’t drink beer, don’t tolerate the cold, and feel really old.
I still love music, outdoors, and picnic rugs. I just want to do it differently.
My partner knows this because it’s something I noted to him the next day. Sure it starts with me saying “gosh I feel really old!” But finishes with us agreeing that we’ve moved on from that part of our lives.
Knowing who you are, and who your partner is, helps to keep your couple dynamic strong and connected. An openness and flexibility is needed to learn about the new “you” or the new “them” and to establish the relationship with these new characteristics. The goal is to embrace the ebbs and flows of you and your partner as individuals. You want the relationship to be able to move with you like the waves of the ocean, opposed to staying stagnant at its beginning form like the seaweed build up on the side of a boat.
Connecting with yourself
Connecting with yourself is important for you to keep in touch with your changing and evolving wants, needs, and desires.
Some of my favourite ways for parents of young children to connect with themselves are:
- To listen to your body. If you’re rushing to pick up your kid from school, where are you feeling tension in your body? Notice and untighten that area.
- To accept your thoughts and feelings. This looks like saying something to yourself like, “I am angry right now. It is okay to be angry in this situation.”
- To do something enjoyable on your own. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes a day. Listening to a feel good song on full blast in the car, dance party in the shower, morning cup of tea before you start work, walk the long way home to call up a friend.
- To move your body anyway that feels comfortable for you. Walking, running, dancing, swimming, yoga, etc.
- To smile! Smile at yourself whenever you walk past the mirror.
- To journal. Some journal prompts to connect with yourself are:
- What am I most happy about in my life now?
- What am I most excited about in my life now?
- What am I most proud about in my life now?
- What am I most grateful about in my life now?
- What am I enjoying most in my life right now?
- What am I committed to in my life right now?
- Who do I love?
Connecting and communicating with your partner
It’s important to communicate your changing wants, needs, and desires with your partner and to ask them about theirs as well.
Just because your partner used to be into photography 5 years ago before kids (but they haven’t done it since) doesn’t mean that photography is still a passion or interest for them. You may say “hey, why don’t you go out and take some photos again? You love that” and get a brush off or a snappy comment as a response. I see it often that at this point, you become annoyed thinking that your partner is being lazy and they’re annoyed that you don’t know them very well anymore. Huh! It’s the beginning of a perfect storm of conflict.
Staying tuned into what you love or can tolerate is important, expressing it to your partner and remembering what they’ve said is vital in keeping your relationship connected.
I also know that connecting with your partner and communicating with your partner can be challenging for many couples because of past relationship models, busyness of raising young children, or the lack of skills.
This is where it’s my time to shine! To stay connected with your partner, make time for date night, let go of resentments, stop arguments before they escalate, apologize when you need to, and foster intimacy (remember, there are 5 types of intimacy: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and experiential).
To create healthy communication between you and your partner, recognize your unconscious behaviours in conflict, create a sense of safety, watch what you’re saying, and start listening more.
So, what’s something new that you can share with your partner about yourself that will bring growth into your relationship? I challenge you to have a conversation about it today with your partner.