“I feel like we’re just going through the motions.”
“We act more like roommates than lovers”
“Ever since we had kids, it seems like we just co-parent.”
“I don’t even know who my partner is anymore.”
Have you or your partner ever had these thoughts or said these things to each other? Regardless of whether you have been together for 9 months, 9 years, or 29 years, I’m here to tell you that you are not alone. It is quite common for romantic relationships to go through phases where there seems to be very little, if any, romance or feeling of connection. It is also common that, during these phases, connecting with your partner may be more difficult.
First, I want to validate that feeling disconnected from your partner is often a lonely and painful place to be. The fact that you are reading this means that you are aware that there is a problem in your relationship and want things to change. This is great! Even if your partner is not on board yet with making changes, you can still focus on making some changes yourself. Keep reading to learn why periods of disconnection can happen and learn three steps you can take today to begin feeling more connected to your partner.
Why Does Disconnection Happen?
There can be a number of reasons why you may be feeling disconnected from your partner or feel like you are roommates or co-parents. Certain life stages, like having and raising kids, transitioning to being empty-nesters, or caring for aging parents can result in feelings of loneliness and isolation in general, and sometimes even with your partner. These stages often require a lot of energy or a different kind of energy than previous stages, and normal routines and patterns often get shaken up during these times.
During these transitional periods, it is pretty common for couples to feel more strain on their relationship. Some couples are able to more easily adapt to these changes and remain relatively connected through them. However, many couples may go into “survival mode” during these times and end up dealing with the stress on their own. Because of this, the relationship can suffer and couples may feel more disconnected from each other.
In addition to life stage transitions, some life events can also add additional stress to a relationship. Some examples include getting diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, experiencing a pregnancy loss or loss of a child, losing a job, financial strain, being deployed, or going through another traumatic event. These types of life events also bring disruption to the relationship and couples often experience a change in relationship roles. Disconnection then happens when each partner deals with the stress independently instead of facing it together.
Going through life stage changes or difficult life events can be really difficult and lonely. It can be even more disheartening and painful when you feel like you are going through it on your own. Take a minute to reflect on things that have been happening in your life that may be contributing to the disconnection from your partner, then continue reading below for three tips on how to reconnect with your partner and begin to feel less lonely.
3 Tips to Connect with Your Partner & Rebuild Intimacy
1.) Put Down Your Device
Although social media can be a great way to connect with other people, it may be getting in the way of your relationship with your partner. Take a look at your daily life. How much time are you spending on your phone, computer, tablet, etc.? Are you de-stressing by mindlessly scrolling Instagram or TikTok in the evenings? Does your evening look like dinner in front of the TV, putting the kids to bed, watching a show with your partner while scrolling Facebook and answering some emails, then watching Reels until you fall asleep? This constant screen time may be getting in the way of you being able to connect with your partner.
If being on a device or social media has become a habit for you or a way for you to disconnect from the stresses of life, it may be time to examine your social media use and schedule some time away from your devices. If you are using social media to zone out, spend some time reflecting on what is influencing your need to zone out. Unsure if social media is a problem for you? Check out some of our other posts on being addicted to the internet and how to keep social media from hurting your relationship. Or schedule a session with one of our therapists.
Need some ideas on how to do this? Here are four practical suggestions to help you put down your device:
- Designate the bedroom as a “no-device zone”.
- Schedule a specific day or time of day without social media.
- If you are tempted to mindlessly scroll on social media, challenge yourself to do something else first. It may be helpful to create a list of activities to choose from.
- Connect with someone in real life – like your partner.
2.) Get Curious
When you and your partner first got together, you probably spent lots of time together – talking, learning about each other, asking each other questions, having deep conversations, and having fun together. Then, over time as you fell into a routine, this curiosity about each other may have happened less and less. Or maybe the busyness of life began to get in the way of the amount of time you could spend with each other.
As we get into a routine in a relationship, sometimes we begin to make assumptions about the other person based on our previous experiences with them or previous experiences in relationships. It is not necessarily bad or harmful to respond based on assumptions – it may just mean that you know your partner. However, it can become a problem if you are reacting to your partner based on outdated information you have about them or based on past experiences in relationships. When you respond based on assumptions about your partner or based on past experiences, your partner may feel misunderstood or get defensive. Take a look at the example below.
Let’s say that you and your partner have been together for 5 years and just had your first child together. Before baby, you would talk about all kinds of topics, from work to family to hopes and dreams. You and your partner felt very close. After baby, most of your time as a couple is spent caring for baby, and the two of you are lucky to spend 2 minutes at the end of the day checking in. One day when baby is about 1 year old, your partner says to you, “Well, that wasn’t so bad. Ready to try for another?” You are immediately furious because, for you, the last year was extremely hard and the two of you had agreed early on in the relationship that you both only wanted one child.
What may have happened here? It sounds like you and your partner had very different experiences of how the first year after baby went. Somewhere along the way, your partner decided that, based on their experience, they would be interested in having another child. You, on the other hand, may be feeling relieved that the first year is over and view the difficulty of the first year as confirmation to only have one child. In the example above, your response of anger and frustration may partly be due to the fact that you had no idea that your partner had changed their mind about having another child. This response of anger may partly be because you were responding to your partner based on outdated information you had about their opinion on having kids.
So, what does it look like to be curious? One way to start is by asking open-ended questions. Here are a few examples to get you started:
- What is your favorite way to spend the day?
- If we could go anywhere, where would you want to go?
- What are your thoughts on _____?
- What is one thing I could do that would help you feel more connected to me?
Interested in more conversation starters? Check out one of the card games available for couples, like “Couple Reconnect.” Or for a more in-depth way to improve communication, check out our Ultimate Communication Toolkit e-book!
3.) Be Intentional
Have you ever heard the phrase “What you feed grows”? Closeness in relationships does not just happen on its own. Closeness and intimacy take intentional effort and willingness to be vulnerable and open to each other. In other words, love is much more than the instant chemistry seen in Hollywood. Love can actually be created by intentionally creating time and space to be open and vulnerable with one another (Johnson, 2013).
Being intentional means moving away from being on auto-pilot and engaging deliberately. It is easy to slip into auto-pilot mode when you have young kids or when other areas of life are stressful. Auto-pilot can be a survival mechanism to help you make it through difficult times. However, staying in this mode for too long without addressing the underlying causes or intentionally engaging in the present can result in burnout, dissatisfaction with life, feeling unfulfilled, and emotional disengagement.
What does it look like to be intentional? It may look like scheduling a weekly or monthly relationship check-in where you focus exclusively on your relationship and identify areas where you are doing well and areas for growth. Intentionality may also look like talking for 5 minutes before the kids get up in the morning, giving a hug or kiss each time you part ways and come back together, having a date night, going away for a weekend together, or simply putting down your devices in the evening, focusing on your partner, and reconnecting by being curious.
I encourage you to take some time to think about ways you can put some of these tips into practice in your own relationship. Be intentional about the time you spend with your partner. Invest in your relationship. Engage with your partner here in the present. If you find yourself stuck or would like additional support, please reach out to us at 619-558-0001! One of our therapists would love to support you on your journey to reconnect with your partner.
Johnson, S. (2013). Love sense: The revolutionary new science of romantic relationships. Little Brown and Company.