Reviving a long-term relationship by Alan Heeks

Taken from from Alan Heek’s  book

The joys of all that shared time together, the richness of the family network, the many corners you knocked off each other: there’s a lot to value in a really long-term relationship.  I know several couples in their 60s and 70s with the sweetness of fully matured wine.  And I also see couples whose relationship seems dead, bitter and grumpy.  There’s no one right answer: what is pretty certain is that your relationship will have to face the same process of shipwreck and reinvention as you do.

Don’t jump the red light

Basic advice, if you realise your relationship is in trouble, is slow down, face it, explore the issues together.  This is often hard to do.  Maybe your problems on other fronts feel overwhelming, maybe you doubt your skills to handle this, maybe you’re high with love and adrenaline from a new amour, maybe you and your partner are already sulking in silence at opposite ends of the house.

Whether you eventually continue or split, your current partner deserves care and respect.  Even if one of you is behaving outrageously, in hindsight you’ll feel better if you do the right thing.  Which typically means a cease-fire, a period when both of you stop behaviour which could kill the relationship, like an affair, and when you seek some outside help.

Whilst it may be hard amid such intensity, a relationship crisis is a great time to deepen your self-understanding.  You will certainly have masses of data, and scope for major choices, so try to take some time out for reflection.  Take an honest look at what’s really going on for you, what is pressing your buttons or which parts of you are driving your car.  Even if your relationship is not in crisis, it’s likely that after all these years, any long-term relationship needs some maintenance and overhaul.  Look at the behaviour you have got into as a couple (the pitfalls of co-dependency) and try to understand the habits and patterns you may need to change.

For instance, one of the commonest problems in renewing a long-term relationship is where one partner is ready for change, and the other is resisting strenuously.  Start with patience and gentle persuasion, but you may have to give an ultimatum.  Ask for the changes you want, constructively and without blame, and set a deadline.  Suggest processes that could help you both, such as couples counselling, but be clear about your bottom line.  It’s actually fair to you and your partner to say, for example, that if they are unwilling to explore change over the next six months, you would consider a time apart or separation. Deeper intimacy skills will almost certainly be crucial to go through this kind of loving and caring process together, learning to not just renegotiate the territory, but even be prepared sometimes to consider a move to a completely new part of the map altogether.