A lot of people believe it’s the big things that kill a relationship, such as an affair or abuse. Others figure relationships that fail suffer the “death of a thousand cuts” demise, crumbling beneath the weight of multiple small offenses and betrayals accumulated over time. Often, however, a slow drift apart is often the culprit and couples fail to notice before the gap between them is too great or troublesome to overcome. Then the big betrayals or series of small cuts begin that signal the end of love.
In our last article, Salvaging the Police Marriage we began looking at how drifting apart is one of the biggest threats long-term relationships face, and also how the best way to combat it is to rethink the idea of what it means to love. Specifically, we stressed that, contrary to how most people like to think of love as a noun - as simply an emotion we feel – instead it is a verb, or something we continuously do. Here, we are going to give some direct, but general (you can fill in your own details of how you go about accomplishing them), steps you can begin today to defeat the threat of drifting apart.
Acknowledge the problem
The first step in fixing any problem is always the same, whether it’s that strange noise coming from under your car’s hood or that you and your spouse are becoming little more than cordial roommates. We must first acknowledge that the problem exists. Unfortunately, too many of us prefer turning a blind eye to the difficult or inconvenient issues that spring up, hoping they just go away. A little less easy-listening and a little more Black Sabbath, played very loudly, and maybe that noise will just go away! All couples go through times like these, right? We’ve always been best friends as well as lovers, so this will straighten itself out, won’t it?
Okay, just keep telling yourself that.
No, you have to acknowledge the problem. Admit it. Confront it. Vow to beat it and come out stronger on the other side!
Practice talking to each other
You’ve been together for years so what could be so hard about talking to each other? Sounds too simple? Well, maybe not so much when talking to each other about the problem of drifting apart, or when initiating the talk precedes making difficult relationship decisions and changes.
Have you ever noticed that we, as cops, are perfectly happy and confident to dig in and confront the maladaptive behavior of others, to the point of tossing their silly butts in jail for very long stretches of time, if it happens to fall within the scope of our job? Or to get in the grill of a stranger or neighbor who doesn’t play well with others, in order to stick up for other folks who are less bold or assertive, despite being just as happy to stick our heads in the sand if confronting a personal problem means we will experience personal discomfort? I have. We need to practice bringing up the hard conversations with the ones we love and care for the most, even when doing so might hurt. We need to be able to say, Honey, I think we have a problem. I feel like we’re growing apart in order to reverse the current dynamic.
Start dating again
One of the things we have always encouraged couples to do is to never stop dating, no matter how far into the relationship you are or how long you have been married. The problem for most people is they think dating is something reserved exclusively for the early stages of a relationship. They become satisfied with the comfort and safety – and sometimes the resultant low expectations – of a long-term relationship. What happens is the long-term couple falls into a rut with nothing new or exciting to look forward to, no expectations of nights out or special occasions, and that comfortable (but often boring and predictable) old married couple routine. It does not help when one or both of you are cops, with strange and sometimes unpredictable hours, and the idea of home as a knowable refuge is so comforting. Home becomes a cave – a hideout from the capriciousness of work – in which to recharge.