I need your help. This has been really weighing on me, and I don’t know who to turn to…
How do you know if you’re still in love with someone?
~Hesitant Heather in Harbor City
Lauren, today’s Dear Ellie columnist, has some advice from her own personal experiences with love:
Dear Working on a Relationship,
Being in love, especially in a new relationship, is intoxicating. You constantly communicate. You long for one another. You plan extravagant adventures. So what happens when the shiny new penny becomes dull? How do you know if you are in a growth stage or falling out of love?
Before meeting my husband, I could fill silence like a champ. Even a brief lapse in conversation could send me into a tizzy and still does from time to time. When we had our first silent moment, I kept randomly saying ‘hi’ to fill the air. I didn’t know what to do. Was he bored? Did we already run out of talking points? The silence was his baseline, his norm. The silence was his highest compliment. Learning this helped me navigate our relationship, and in time, I found that being silent with each other was beautiful!
Just like happiness, being in love with someone can fluctuate. I’m not implying that it changes from minute to minute; instead, the feelings can vary in strength but remain constant. Difficulty enters when one compares the highest point of a relationship to the lowest point. It’s not a fair comparison.
Being in a healthy relationship takes work. The effortless illusion that comes with what most people refer to as the ‘honeymoon phase’ is a mirage. When people hear that relationships take work, they often give up. Who wants to work at something? If we are destined to be together, shouldn’t it just be easy? Since we don’t live in a Disney movie, I’ll help bring you back into reality. The ‘work’ for a relationship, built on mutual respect and admiration, will guide you. Think of it as your map. It may seem challenging at first if you are off course, but with practice, the ‘work’ becomes more accessible and natural. Like anything, the ‘work’ takes consistency. Reflect for a minute about the best things that ever happened to you? Didn’t they take some work? A relationship is no different.
Here are a few of my suggestions for the ‘work’:
Be present with each other
In our highly stimulated world, being present is tricky. Start with small chunks of screen-free time, like 30-minute increments. If it feels uncomfortable to sit and stare at each other, try planning an activity. Being present doesn’t have to be dull.
Send a text message when you think of them. Leave a card with a sweet message hidden. If you are overly communicative, try holding back and sharing a more meaningful message once or every other day. Mix it up a bit.
Give a compliment
Most people cherish a sincere compliment. If you haven’t complimented your partner in a while, dig deep, and share a non-surface-level compliment. Be sincere.
Plan a date
Planning is the work. If you are having trouble connecting with your partner, think of what they genuinely enjoy and plan an activity incorporating what they love.
Journal and Reflect
Reflection can often resolve conflict. In relationships, we tend to let the small things perpetuate into more significant issues. Instead of ruminating, try peeling back the layers and find the root of the problem. For example, you may be upset that your partner never picks up after themselves. What’s the source? My guess is the messy environment translates to a lack of respect. How can you share the root concern in a concise statement, taking out the drama?
Time and time again, I come back to The 5 Love Languages. Learn your primary language and learn your partners. If your partner’s primary love language is touch and yours is acts of service, you could be missing the mark by demonstrating your love in your language vs. theirs. It’s like speaking Portuguese to an Italian. Explore how you can interpret your love in theirs and vice versa.
Invest in Yourself
The phrase ‘You complete me’ from the movie Jerry Maguire is infamous, and I’m not a fan. It sets most couples up for failure. In my opinion, a healthy relationship revolves around two people who complete themselves. Yes, you can complement each other and challenge each other, but you are responsible for completing yourself. If you feel incomplete, invest in yourself. Be interesting, and be curious.
Do the ‘work’ and explore what happens. Does it become easier with time? Are you willing to put in the effort? If the answer is no to both of these questions, it may be time to move on. Fear of the unknown is not a reason to stay in a relationship. Be honest with yourself and your partner, and trust that little voice inside of you. You already know what to do. If you can’t hear it, find stillness. Plan a solo getaway, journal, and reflect. With silence, you will have your answer.
Best wishes on your journey. Remember, everyone deserves love. It may be together; it may be apart.
Lauren + Ellie