Has the spark faded from your relationship? Does your partnership feel hollow, lifeless or like it is running on auto-pilot?
If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. Many if not most relationships suffer from a lack of connection at one point or another. We wake up one morning and discover that the spark is gone, the passion has faded, and we’re left feeling alone and like something is missing—even if we’re married and see our spouse every day.
While many couples encounter this challenge, not every couple handles it well. The typical response is ignoring the problem until a great chasm has developed. We then either accept the situation through inaction, or we allow it to ruin the relationship. Neither is good. Neither is necessary.
So let’s look at why we lose the spark in our relationship and what we can do about it.
A fundamental dynamic inherent in every relationship is change. Every relationship changes. It is inevitable.
Our relationship changes because we as individuals are always changing. This can feel scary, but it also is a good thing: From this constant change and evolution comes vibrancy and what we call “the spark” in the relationship. By constantly changing, we add new dynamics to the partnership, and we prune away old elements that are no longer serving us.
The spark in our relationship fades when we stunt or halt this change through a lack of sharing. When we don’t share, we don’t make the necessary adjustments in the relationship. So our partnership drifts and becomes stale.
Few of us consciously stop sharing, of course. It happens over time, almost unperceptively, through little omissions that come when we don’t feel safe enough to share with our partner. When we don’t feel that our partner will accept what we want to share, we avoid or hedge on this topic.
We aren’t trying to hurt our relationship when we avoid certain topics, of course. Our avoidance and hedging actually is an attempt to help the relationship by fighting less. We’re avoiding disunity by working around divisive or incendiary topics. This avoidance comes at a huge cost, however.
That’s because when we don’t share with our partner, we’re not giving ourselves to them as much. There’s a disconnect growing, and this hinders growth. We’re stunting the process of connecting and evolving the relationship, and that’s part of what it takes to keep a relationship healthy. Rather than growing, we’re simply keeping the peace. This helps us avoid criticism and it doesn’t shake up our relationship. But it also stops us from growing—which snuffs out the spark.
Because this deadening of the relationship comes from a lack of sharing, which comes from not feeling safe enough to share, the solution is nurturing more safety in the partnership and then reconnecting in those areas where a disconnect has developed.
There are three steps for fixing this problem and lighting the relationship again.
An important truth about relationships is that what we don’t accept, our partner won’t share. Whenever we don’t accept an action, emotion or idea, we’re implicitly telling our partner that we won’t accept them in this area. This fosters secrets and things left unsaid.
The first step in reigniting the spark in our relationship is therefore to acknowledge the areas where we and our partner are expressing a lack of acceptance; we need to find the walls in our relationship so we can break them down. This lack of acceptance might only be a fear of ours, not an actual wall that has been built by our partner. What matters is that the wall exists, however, not whether we’ve created it in our head or if it is a true lack of acceptance by the other person. If there’s a barrier to sharing, that’s enough.
Together with our partner, we must define these areas where sharing is inhibited by a lack of acceptance so we can work on moving past them and growing the relationship again.
Common areas where couples struggle from a lack of acceptance include sexual needs, money issues, values and career change, among others. Look for walls that limit communication in these and other areas.
After we have identified the areas where sharing is inhibited by a lack of acceptance, we need to address these walls. This is done by understanding the difference between acceptance and agreement.
There’s a lot of confusion around the difference between acceptance and agreement, even if most of us can easily define these two ideas individually. This confusion helps create the lack of acceptance that blocks us from sharing with our partner.
Acceptance basically is just the acknowledgement that an action, emotion or idea can exist. It is not a judgment on the goodness of an action, emotion or idea. Acceptance precedes judgment. Acceptance is just a statement that these actions and ideas can exist. Humans can act good or bad depending on the situation, for instance. Or yes, we can have a range of thoughts. Or yes, emotionally we as humans can respond in a number of different ways, some good and some bad. We’re not judging the rightness or the goodness when we accept, we’re just establishing facts.
Agreement is when we get to the judgment part. Once we have accepted reality, only then can we get into the question of whether an action, emotion or thought is good or bad.
The trouble is that we often confuse the two, bypassing acceptance and going straight to agreement (or disagreement, as often is the case). There’s no problem with deciding if something is good or bad because we all must make judgments based on reality. The issue is that we sometimes withhold acceptance because we don’t agree with something.
Humans feel safe and can share when there is acceptance. We don’t need agreement that everything we do, think or feel is good because even we don’t like every single thing we’ve done, thought, and felt over the course of our life. We’re not perfect, and that’s okay.
What’s less okay is not being accepted for this imperfection. People who don’t accept themselves get out of touch with reality and their emotions. This is mental illness. People who don’t accept the imperfections of others get out of touch with these other people. This is relationship illness.
So the second step for rebuilding the spark is tearing down the walls through the cultivation of acceptance for our partner.
–> Watch my video on unconditional acceptance for more on this topic.
The third step is creating a safe space where we can work with our partner on breaking down these walls that have developed from a lack of acceptance.
Building this safe space is easy, but it requires conscious effort.
We create this safe space by sitting down with our partner once a week and just talking. This is not regular talk, however. There are special rules so we can break down the walls.
The first rule is that we take turns talking with our partner. It isn’t a discussion, it is a space where we take turns silently listening to each other and then verbalizing it back so we’re sure that we understood what our partner said.
The second rule is that we both must accept what the other person says, even if we disagree. We still can agree or disagree with the rightness of what is said, but only after we’ve accepted it as reality just as we would if we were talking to ourselves in our head.
We shouldn’t talk about just anything in these talks, either. The focus should be on sharing the deep stuff in our head and in our heart during these talks. This isn’t the time for talk about the laundry or what’s going on with our colleague at work. This is the time when we share what’s most important in our life, especially in the areas where there have been walls in the past.
This is how we reignite the spark in our relationship. Fundamentally it comes down to growing again as a couple by becoming comfortable sharing again with our partner.
Feeling safe enough to tear down the walls and reignite that spark is not always easy, however. If you need help, reach out; we at Kowalke Coaching will work with you and your partner on lighting that fire again.
Each of us deserves a healthy relationship that’s alive with connection, vitality and joy. But that takes spark—and knowing how to reignite that spark when it goes out.
Peter is founder of Kowalke Coaching. He also is founding director of the Philia Mission, a small charitable organization. Contact Peter.