LoveAndLifeToolBox

The Often-Overlooked Glue of Long-Term Relationships

Most people know what it feels like in the beginning of a relationship when both of your brains are busy bringing you together, as in the “honeymoon phase.”  Romantic love produces high levels of dopamine, creating euphoric feelings and the resulting behaviors for each other.  You are at the beginning of building emotional safety, putting energy into prioritizing, listening and validating each other.  Your best face is forward in your kindness and attentiveness as you slowly build important trust between you.  You spend a lot of time thinking about each other, and you may feel the warm and fuzzies of a love buzz.

Much have been said about the fact that this phase typically fades. Couples are hopefully left with the aspects of each other that they fell in love with to flow with the ups and downs of life together.  It can be fairly seamless but often not.  If there was an over-focus on the high of early love and not enough insight into the realities of each other, including the less desirable parts, the transition may be a challenge.  As vulnerabilities or “warts” start to reveal themselves, how well do couples adapt?

Back to emotional safety.  With the glow of the “honeymoon” out of sight in the rearview mirror, they need to rely on other connection points.  Ideally, they really enjoy being with each other, have mutual trust and respect and shared relationship goals to positively move ahead.  If they have general good will and a collaborative spirit, they can avoid letting mistakes or life pitfalls cast doubt on their ability to rely on each other.

But what keeps intimate partnerships thriving for the long haul?  Communication, conflict resolution, crisis management ability, finances and views on parenting are some of the few keys but there is one aspect that can be missed.

The little moments are the often-overlooked glue of long-term relationships.

Life goes on.  Days become weeks, become months and then years.  Couples need to adapt to things happening internally and externally in their lives.  But the “little moments” of their ongoing interaction patterns are critical.  The list of these moments can be infinite as people feel loved in different ways but the important thing is that whatever it is for each person in the relationship, that the little moments happen and somewhat regularly.  Here are a few:

  • Flirtatious glance.
  • Stroke of the hair.
  • Ask about their day, with authenticity.
  • Spontaneous hug.
  • Text to check in during the work day.
  • Neck massage while watching tv.
  • Use of loving nicknames.
  • Bringing partner coffee.
  • Kiss or hug at transitions. (hello, goodbye, good morning, good night)
  • Playful tap on the rear in passing.

If you think back to the beginning of your relationship, many of the above or others may have been happening.  You both probably were very clear that you mattered to each other and felt loved.  It’s natural for some of the more intimate behaviors to drop off over time but all of it dropping off is a red flag.  And for some of you, none have every been there and you may be reflecting on the impact of that.

No matter what is going on in the relationship, the messaging to each other that they are loved and matter is a critical component.  Loving micro-behaviors are unique to each couple and are a thread keeping them connected over time.  Know that people have different levels of need for these so in some cases one may desperately need them to remain connected and for the other it may not be as organic (due likely to earlier experiences and attachment styles).  All of this can get quite complicated and unfortunately, breed resentment and disconnection if not addressed.

Uh oh.  The “glue” is lacking in my relationship.

A lack of out-of-bed intimacy can put the freeze on in-bed intimacy.  For the many who need general intimacy intact to feel well connected, the thought of sex with your partner at this point may literally feel viscerally negative.  The long-term consequences of not having that thread or glue intact can be eroding disconnection originally fueled by a slow burning sense of rejection.

One solution is to ask your partner for what you need.  Even if it’s not natural, they then have the opportunity to create new habits for the sake of your relationship.  Hopefully, they hear and respond to this.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of relationship laziness over a long period of time.

If one or both of you does some of these but the other hasn’t been great at responding positively, try to change this.  The risk is the one doing the behaviors will eventually stop, leaving the relationship even more vulnerable to disconnection, not having the glue it needs to stick together.

If the issue runs deeper as a result of resentment or other unresolved issues, creating an obstacle to the above-mentioned micro-behaviors, seek couples therapy to dig deeper to try to get back on track.

The little things legitimately matter.

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Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of LoveAndLifeToolbox.com with emotional and relationship health articles, guides, courses and other tools for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in CNN.com, HuffingtonPost.com, MensHealth.com and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers Emotional Health and Relationship Consultations via email, phone or video conference.