…because 50 years flies by!
When you’re planning a wedding, it can be hard to see beyond the big day. Your brain becomes a giddy, chaotic jumble of guest lists, prenup clauses, seating arrangements, and fantasies about your partner magically becoming a decent dancer. But what next? What haAppens 40 years after the couples in movies ride off into the sunset on oddly shiny white horses? You likely have some semblance of five-year and perhaps even twenty-year plans..but it is also important to look far into the distant future and consider how the passing of time will transform you, your partner, and your relationship.
Couples in their 50s and above actually cheat more frequently than younger couples (Applebury, 2021). It seems that although many couples manage to keep the spark alive for 20 or 30 years, a large number find that they eventually lose the passion or grow apart later in life. It’s ok to grow and change, and sometimes relationship breakdown could be an inevitable part of that process. However, there are also plenty of ways to approach your relationship such that it grows stronger with time, not weaker. One of the biggest contributors to late-stage relationship breakdown is the normal but avoidable tendency to begin to take a relationship for granted and stop being intentional and enthusiastic about it.
It’s easy to dole out the oft-repeated advice “don’t take each other for granted” and even fairly easy to sustain enthusiasm and novelty for quite some years, but as time continues to go by, no one can blame many the couples who slowly and imperceptibly slide into a normalcy that can give rise to boredom.
The sheen on every shiny new toy eventually wears off; we can’t control that. However, what we can control is our own perception. We can control how we see something. If we commit to seeing our partners with fresh eyes every day, it becomes impossible to take them for granted. But what does it mean to see someone with fresh eyes?
When we look at another person (especially our partners), we usually see them primarily through the lens of our past conditioning and memories. Our perception of them is colored by what they said last week, by a hard time we have lived through together, and by our own projections. Over time, we begin to think we know what to expect from them, and this sense of expectation stops us from seeing them in a dynamic way. We see them as a static, fixed thing, instead of a dynamic being who is changing and evolving from moment to moment. To see someone with fresh eyes is to turn down your conditioned responses and see them as the dynamic, evolving person that they are.
Here are 3 short daily rituals to practice in order to see your partner with fresh eyes, retain your enthusiasm, and not take your partnership for granted. Bonus: You can also use these to infuse your prenup-writing process with extra ease and sweetness!
Related content: 5 things to remember when you bring up a prenup.
1. Ritualize your greeting and stick to it
Most couples are not consistent in the way they greet each other. One day they may come home from work and affectionately rub noses; another day the door might close with a “what’s for dinner?” followed by a disheartened retreat to the bedroom.
Marriage researcher Bill Doherty asserts that the most important moments in a relationship are those moments when you reunite with one another, whether at the end of a work day or at the end of a trip out of town (McFadden, 2015). Being intentional and affectionate about this moment builds connection and sets the mood for more positive interactions later on. Marriage preparation teacher Peter McFadden, for example, dances with his wife every time he greets her; he believes that this small, sweet ritual makes a huge difference in their marriage.
Even if you’re not much of a dancer, the point is to ritualize your greeting and do it the same way every time…with full attention. It doesn’t need to take long, but let it be a moment in which you drop everything else to be present with each other. It can be as elaborate as a secret handshake or as simple as clasping hands and giving a kiss on the cheek.
2. Practice observing each other without judgment
When we observe something in nature, like a tree or a mountain or a rock, we don’t usually think “I with this rock were a little bit rounder and less jagged” or “this tree would be better if it were more symmetrical”. We are more likely to see beauty in natural objects exactly as they are, without thinking of how they could be improved if only they were different in this or that way. We accept them however they are. However, we don’t apply the same impartiality when we observe people…especially our partners. Especially when we have already been together for some time. We judge their decisions, the way they talk, and that annoying noise they make with their mouth when they’re trying to concentrate on something tedious.
Try this: Even if just for one minute every day, practice observing your partner as though they were a leaf or a tree. In other words, experience them exactly as they are. Just watch them without judging them and without pondering whether it might be more pleasing to you if they were different in some way. Just notice how they are, without needing to react emotionally to it.
This can be really difficult and feel impossible the first few times you try it, but with a little bit of practice it becomes a habit you can step into anytime you feel yourself becoming frustrated with a small annoyance.
3. Build a daily appreciation ritual!
As you build a routine with your partner, it’s easy to stop noticing all of the little things they do for you and for the relationship, and vice versa. It’s even easier to get hung up on one another’s failings and shortcomings. If you set aside two to five minutes every day to actively notice what you have done for each other that day, you’ll flex your gratitude muscles and actively combat any tendency to take one another for granted. McFadden (2015), for example, does this with his wife at the end of every evening before they go to sleep. They shut off all their devices and sit with each other and say thank you for all the big and small things they have done that have helped one another, from tidying up the sofa cushions to making dinner or giving a quick unsolicited shoulder rub. Many of us actually have the opposite ritual–we think that what needs to be consistently pointed out and talked about is whatever went wrong. After awhile, all we can remember is the bad things. An appreciation ritual helps us to remember all of the good things about our relationship, and elevate them in our minds.
Rituals and Prenups
All of these rituals set the stage for a rewarding prenup-writing process. Although ultimately rewarding, the decision to get a prenuptial agreement can be quite emotionally and technically involved. On top of all the other wedding planning, it can seem like another big thing to take care of that demands a lot of energy. However, you can also use these rituals to make the process sweet as can be.
Whenever you sit down to discuss your prenup, start each conversation with your greeting ritual. It will set the tone of the conversation and the skin-to-skin contact with one another will help to calm down your nervous systems in case either of you is feeling apprehensive. As your partner is sharing their vision and needs in the premarital agreement, this is an excellent time to practice stepping back and observing them with impartiality, without bringing in your own emotional reactions. (If you have already been practicing this regularly in small, ordinary moments, it will be much easier to bring it into a high-stakes discussion.) The ability to observe and experience in this way does wonders for a couple’s ability to understand one another and then to build agreements and arrangements that work for both of them. If you reach an impasse in which your needs seem to be in opposition to one another or in which you feel tension or lack of connection, take a 20-minute break and then take five minutes to do an appreciation ritual. However, instead of focusing on what your partner has done that day that you appreciate, focus on sharing what you appreciate about them in general as a person. Then, try again to revisit whatever part of the conversation felt contentious before. You might be able to reach a more creative solution, or you might find that you have a greater understanding of one another’s’ needs.
All of these rituals can be adapted for use in any crucial conversation. Practicing them daily not only infuses your relationship with love and positivity, it also gives you actionable skills that you can pull out of your toolkit and use like a pro anytime conflict or disconnection pops up.
Applebury, G. 2021. Infidelity Statistics on Men, Women, and Relationships. Retrieved from: https://divorce.lovetoknow.com/Rates_of_Divorce_for_Adultery_and_Infidelity
MdFadden, P. 2015. Three Daily Rituals that Stop Spouses from Taking Each Other for Granted. Retrieved from: https://verilymag.com/2015/07/relationship-advice-keeping-marriage-strong-appreciating-your-spouse