By Darren Wilk, MA, RCC Certified Gottman Therapist/trainer and co-owner of Best Marriages
Just like in the song You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, often in relationships unintentional damage is done over a long period of time and one partner is feeling more of the damage than the other. By the time the damage is discovered it seems too late to fix; the more love you pour on to make up the distance, the more the other person feels pushed away. This is the classic psychological dance of pursue and withdraw. There is a huge trust gap and the skeptical distant party is scared to love again and let their now attentive partner in. What do you do when all the efforts to fix the love are not working?
Two things are important to know:
World renowned couples expert, Dr. Sue Johnson says we are built for love and all of our neurons are working to that end. This means that if we can take a risk to love again our body is naturally built to respond to that love. The panic one feels around taking that risk is huge because of the potential for rejection once again. The hurt partner is hesitant because they risked loving once already, and it wasn’t reciprocated. Now there is fear associated with letting someone in.
The main question being asked throughout a long-term relationship is “are you there for me when I need you?”-
When this trust building question goes unanswered the person either becomes demanding or avoidant. The pursuing partner must keep this in mind when they are trying to woo their partner back. Be patient and remember that trust is built slowly over time by being there when your partner needs you. It’s like sneaking up on an animal to get a cool picture; you go slowly as to not spook the animal because it has an internal signal that is very alert to danger. In your partner’s case love has spelled danger. The positive in all of this is that the yearning to be loved and belong is also strong.
The second reason to go slowly is that while the fire of love has almost gone out, often there is a small ember still hot enough to start burning again. If the right amount of fuel is put on it—with tenderness and care—it can grow. Imagine waking up in the morning on a camping trip and there is still a hot coal in the fire pit. As anyone who has built a fire knows, you can’t just throw a big log on it because it doesn’t have enough heat to burn that log. Impatient people might throw some gas on it, but that has a short-lived effect before it dies out. The best approach is to slowly add some dry fuel in small portions (pine needles, small twigs and then larger twigs, then sticks and then cut logs) and then, when the fire is really hot, it can burn through a whole log. So many people try to rekindle the fire of love with a log, when the fragile ember can only combust some dry needles. Love is best built in small portions, as your partner’s trust grows; the heat within their coal can only handle so much without being extinguished.
The log I’m talking about is the act of pressuring your partner to return your love with the same intensity that you may feel for them. Large expressions of love such as wanting to do everything together, or have wild, passionate sex may be overwhelming to your partner at this stage. All of that is like throwing a big log on a fire that can’t handle it yet.
Go slow and have patience. Nurture the flame with small sticks first. Ask your partner what those are. For some it’s becoming aware of your partner’s bids for connection. Bids are anything they do to get your attention, positive or negative. Any positive response or acknowledgement of those bids is a turning toward your partner and builds trust. Over time, this will be enough to start that big log. The Gottman’s research has discovered that small things (not big gestures) over time, turn into big results.
If you want to rekindle your love, do exactly that—rekindle it, fan it into flame, and don’t throw a log on too soon. Nothing says, “I am there for you” more than listening to your partner and meeting the needs THEY want met—not the needs you think they want met.
So if you want to have that loving feeling once again, slow down, be patient. Remember, you didn’t get here overnight and it’s not going to change overnight either.