Keeping the spark alive in a long-term relationship may not be easy, particularly when the stresses of every day life (we're looking at you, cost of living crisis) get in the way of romance.
But, advice housed in a new book - written by real life couple and licensed therapists John Kim and Vanessa Bennett - may just save your relationship.
From how to argue without falling out, to how to reframe your notion of finding 'The One', the expert duo share four pieces of advice that every one of us could do with reading.
1. Rip up the idea of ‘the one’
We are programmed to believe in, and to want ‘The One’. It’s hardly surprising, since we brought up on a diet of fairytales, romantic fiction and programmes like Married At First Sight (there’s a reason it’s so binge-worthy!).
But ideas about waltzing into the sunset with our Prince or Princess charming to live happily ever after are not only unrealistic but also detrimental to our relationships.
In fact, what long-term couple and authors Kim and Bennett discovered was that holding onto the idea of The One stripped their clients of the chance to even do the work in their relationship, because it gave them an escape whenever things got tricky.
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“So instead of building a healthy sustainable relationship that bridges differences and incompatibilities,” they write in their book, “we nit-pick, get frustrated… and wonder who else is out there.”
In short, we either cut and run, or we stay in the relationship but disconnect. We become ‘ambivalent’ – with one foot in and one foot out, thinking if this ain’t The One, then they must still be out there.
But ambivalence, Kim and Bennett point out is one of the major relationship killers. It breeds insecurity, distrust and ultimately causes you to ‘drift’.
Even before a relationship has been established, it can be suffocated by the idea of The One. Think about it: expecting just one person to meet your needs and constantly set your world alight? Talk about pressure!
When you realise they can’t half moan and have shocking taste in music, what then? You move onto the next, totally normal, flawed human just with different issues…
How about instead considering that there’s no such thing as The One and more likely, numerous ‘Ones’ with whom you could have a wonderful, happy relationship.
As Kim and Bennett write, “The truth is, at some point in our thirties each of us woke up and realised that happily ever after was bull**** and relationships take a f*** ton of work…..”
Try to reframe the idea of The One, as simply, “the one you choose to love now”. Then do the work necessary to deepen that bond. Simple.
2. Love them like it will end
How many of us have entered into a new relationship thinking things like, “He/She has to promise to never hurt me”? We all want a love that comes with guarantees but that’s not how love works – because it’s not how life works... and love is just part of life.
‘Love them like it will end’ simply means 'love for right now' because as the old adage goes, now is all we have.
In It’s Not Me it’s You, Kim and Bennett encourage us to see love not as something ‘you get’ or ‘own’ but as a space in which belief lives. If you protect and nourish that space, then the belief will grow.
And one of the major ways you can do that is by staying engaged in the here and now, by concentrating more “on the growth of today and less on the deal, the agreement and all the what ifs.”
That means not harking back to old relationship patterns – including ingrained blueprints from our parents, or worrying if he or she is marriage material.
“It’s about taking all your ideas about types, attraction and what a ‘good relationship’ looks like, every judgement you’ve made because of your past, and starting with just one thing….curiosity…” says Bennett.
Curiosity stops us from being judgy. It allows us to pause and reflect.
So practise getting more curious in your relationship. From your emotional triggers to your arguments and lovemaking – ask yourself and your partner, 'How did that feel? What emotions did it bring up?'
Remember a ‘new love’ doesn’t have to mean with a new person, it can be a new love with the same person.
3. Learn to weather the storms
Nothing worth having is ever easy and the same thing goes for love. The problem is, when the turbulent times roll many of us quit.
Kim and Bennett refer to these turbulent times as ‘the breakers’ – the big waves that come to test all of us in our relationships. These could be actual events like redundancy or the death of loved ones or they could be more subtle things like jealousy or co-dependency rearing their ugly heads.
Whatever they are, Kim and Bennett’s point is: "If you never swim past them, you’ll never get to the calm and the peace on the other side.”
You won’t even know it’s there.
“The truth is, love doesn’t actually start until things get hard…" they say in their book.
So how do you get past these turbulent times without losing your nerve?
The basic answer is awareness. It’s only when we wake up to what is actually happening in our relationships and why, then commit to working through it, that we can respond in a different way this time and grow as a result.
If we follow the thread of a trigger, such as feeling rejection, we can see it usually stems from when we felt similarly in the past. So our defences go up to protect us…” and when defences go up, there is no room for compassion or understanding,” as the authors point out.
What we don’t realise, say Kim, “is that it’s less about the person and more about the relationship dynamic created by two people with unhealed wounds.”
Thankfully, there are heathy ways to soothe rather than aggravate those. Which brings us onto…
4. Learn to argue without fighting
Learning how to argue healthily (yes, you heard that right), is one of the most important tools in your relationships arsenal and in It’s Not Me It’s You, Kim and Bennett write about a practice that can help you do this: Non-Violent Communication.
NVC consists of four ‘stages’.
So when you’re next in the middle of one of those horrid rows where you’re going round in circles and getting nowhere, try this checklist:
1. Observe what’s actually happening: e.g. my partner is saying I’m being needy and demanding
2. Identify how this is making you feel: e.g. ashamed, hurt
3. Convey now what you need in this situation to feel less triggered e.g. some reassurance.
4. Make a practical request of how they can do that (i.e. make time for a cuddle or chat)
Your partner then does the same, going through the same process, the idea being that you both try to ‘understand before being understood’.
This is one of the key tried and tested tips that Kim and Bennett recommend to, as they put it, ‘relationship better.’
“‘Hold love, don’t grab it…” they advise. “Think about love as a bird you’re trying to feed. Chase the bird and it will always fly away, but if you just hold the food out, the bird will come to you. And the more it trusts you, the more frequently it will come. Love is the same.”
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