Relationships Don’t Fall Apart; They Fade Away Slowly Like This
My partner and I have been handling a lot of administrative tasks lately because we’ve been in the process of purchasing our first home together. It’s funny because, we went into the process so excited about building our lives together and the whole thing—the calls with lenders and meetings with our realtor—has just caused us to feel a bit distant. I became adamant that we have a proper date night—no distractions, no inviting other people to hang out, no cutting it short due to other obligations—or else I feared our relationship would fall apart. “Hey, we’re fine” my partner assured me, “It’s not like anything bad has happened.” He was right. Nothing outright bad had happened. Nobody had cheated or betrayed the other in some horrible way. Really all that had happened was that we’d been so wrapped up in the mortgage process, that all of our free time was spent speaking to each other like business associates rather than boyfriend and girlfriend and the playfulness had just…left the building. But that’s the thing: that’s how relationships fall apart. It’s rarely due to some unforeseen, earth-shattering event that turned the whole relationship upside down. Relationships don’t actually even really fall apart, in one fell swoop. Instead, they fade away slowly. My boyfriend believed we’ll always be fine so long as nothing bad happens, but I had to explain to him that, that’s not the case. Relationships expire when the people involved stop doing the many good things that must occur to keep the bond strong and the excitement alive. It’s this very idea—that so long as nothing bad happens, you’ll be fine—that makes couples so fragile. It puts them at risk for taking the relationship for granted and believing everything is fine, simply because it isn’t bad. But relationships don’t abruptly end: they fade away slowly, like this.
You only talk house stuff
The home takes over your life, and all of the little tasks and errands and problems that come with it. All those conversations about who researched plumbers and what rate they got and are they sure that’s the best one and also we’re out of toilet paper I asked you to buy some twice already and I can’t wait here for the Internet person tomorrow I have an appointment why can’t you wait here? Then it’s bedtime, and that’s all you spoke about.
Or money stuff
Money talk can also consume your conversations. You have to talk about money because it’s a pretty big part of life, but you talk about it too much. Which account to invest that money in, how to ask for that raise, how to negotiate the rent increase with the landlord, higher deductibles versus lower monthly payments etc., etc. You can start to feel like you’re the payroll department of a business rather than lovers.
You treat date night as a nuisance
You can get turned around about your priorities. The rest of your life demands your time—your friend is asking you to come to the play she’s producing, and you missed the last one, and your boss is strongly encouraging you make that networking happy hour hint hint you’d better—so when your partner asks, “When are we having date night?” You groan. You roll your eyes. You see your partner as one more person demanding your time. You stop realizing he’s your partner and this is the point of life. It’s the other stuff that’s getting in the way of date night: not the other way around.
You stop surprising your partner
Remember when your partner was always on your mind? Anywhere you went, you had your eyes peeled for something that would make him happy. A bottle of wine. His favorite candy. A poster of his favorite movie. But life takes over, and menial tasks take over our thoughts. We feel we have no room in our brains to think of ways to surprise our partner. But the thing is, you have to make the room.
You expect date night to just happen
Many couples don’t want to stop having date night, but they don’t realize just how hard they’ll have to work to make it happen. They take a backseat to their love life, allowing all other obligations to take over their calendars, and just hoping an opening for date night will drop into their laps. And it doesn’t. For months. Or years.
You stop catching up
Remember how excited you used to be to tell each other everything about your days? You couldn’t wait to share every story about your coworkers or your neighbors, or how this or that goal was going. But now, you’re tired. When you get home from work, you want to turn the TV on and your brain off. You don’t want to revisit the day by telling someone else about it. So you stop having proper catch-up sessions with your partner.
And stop planning vacations together
Slowly but surely, you let the other areas of your life chip away at your vacation days together. You used to make a point of planning a big trip together, every year. You’d go somewhere for even a full week together. Now, you cut the trip down a day because of a friend’s birthday party happening around that time. And a work project that it’d be best to be on site for. You cut the trip down by another day. Screw it, your vacation has been demoted to having dinner together.
The kids get all of your affection
If you have children, it’s especially easy to just let the romance fade away. You’re not really in the mood to cuddle or kiss anyone when you get home, but you muster up the strength to give your children affection, because that’s important. And that’s it. That’s all you had left in the tank. When your partner wants some affection (or sex) you are tapped out and you just want to stare at the TV.
And all of your attention
The children also get all of the attention you had left. They want to tell you about their soccer game and how their quiz went and a fight they had with a friend and you have to listen, because having conversations with you is important for their development. But then, after that, you and your partner don’t have it in you to share your updates with each other.
You obsess over working to provide for your family
It’s easy to get turned around in life—to forget what you’re really working for. You love your partner and, if you have kids, you love your family. When you work hard, stay for that late meeting, and take on that extra project, it’s with your loved ones in mind. You want to provide for them—a nice house, vacations, and everything they want. But while you’re doing that, you aren’t providing the thing they really need, right now, which is your time and attention. In the pursuit of building a good life for your loved ones, you can fail to nurture those relationships today.
You work on yourself, alone
It’s important to keep working on yourself, even when you’re in a relationship. But you are still in a relationship, so when you work on yourself, it’s something you can share in with your partner. If you’re taking an evening class or joining a book club or traveling to a place you’ve never been, include your partner. Many people make the mistake of keeping their self-improvement to themselves, and being quite private about it. But that leaves their partner feeling left out and isolated.
You’re always on your phones or laptops
Those damn devices. They’re always calling for your attention. You’ve got them all linked up to each other, such that every notification your phone gets, your smart watch, tablet, and laptop all get it, too. It’s like the outside world is trying to break into your home. It won’t cut you a break. Or, perhaps you don’t take a break from screen time. Either way, you and your partner say you’ll watch a movie together, but you’re both on your phones. So you aren’t experiencing the film together, and experiencing new stimuli together is actually good for your bond.
You stop telling each other sweet things
You know how much your partner means to you. And you assume he knows it, too. You know what? He probably does. But that doesn’t mean you can stop telling him, every day, how much he means to you. The act of telling your partner how much you adore him isn’t so much about making sure he knows, but showing him that it’s important to you that he knows.
You socialize separately
You have separate social circles. You also have common social circles, but you have some separate ones. When you’re both very social people, you’ll have conflicting invitations, all of the time. So you decide it’s easiest that you go your way and see your friends, and he go his way, and see his friends. However, that’s not what’s best for the two of you. You feel close by experiencing things together. Sometimes, it’s worth it to pick one friend group—one event—and go to that together.
You don’t do check-ins
You know, check-ins. You sit down, maybe a couple times a year and ask, “How are we doing? Are we good?” Many couples feel like, they know they aren’t great anymore, but they just assume that’s what happens to every couple. They don’t see a point in talking about it. But even if there isn’t much you can do to change things, the very act of wanting to check in and see if there’s anything you can do to improve things makes you feel closer.