A frequent lament I hear from clients struggling to reconcile the reality of their relationship with the picture in their mind is ‘Why can’t they go back to being that great person from the beginning?’ or ‘Why can’t things go back to how they were at the start?’ The short answer: Because it’s not the beginning anymore.
In the beginning, everything is new, shiny and unknown. We wear our best underwear, put out the best version of ourselves, and maybe struggle to keep our hands off each other. There’s first after first. And then the real getting to know begins.
For many of us, this is a good thing, and our relationship deepens in intimacy as it progresses. Rather than panicking about knowing what to expect or knowing them ‘too well’, we lean into normality. Our focus is on co-creating a mutual relationship.
But for some of us, the more ‘normal’ and ‘predictable’ our relationship, the less interested or invested we are. Or, we treat it as evidence that something is wrong. In turn, we treat the post-honeymoon period like the death of the relationship or certainly the end of spontaneity. Fear of becoming bored might convince us that we’re losing our freedom.
Do our relationships need spontaneity all the time?
While every relationship needs an element of spontaneity to avoid turning into Groundhog Day, the expectation that a relationship should be spontaneous all the time is unrealistic. It can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You know, like when we decide that we have an illness and start to think we’re experiencing the symptoms. So we diagnose the relationship as having something “wrong” with it for not being spontaneous and then behave accordingly.
For a start, spontaneity can’t be that if it’s the status quo or the rigid expected.
Sometimes, though, what we call “spontaneity” is the feeling we miss from relationships where we rode the emotional unavailability rollercoaster. It’s destabilisation. Like when we’re not sure if or when we might see or hear from someone. Or when they periodically put the future of the relationship in jeopardy to manage down our expectations. To be clear, these aren’t examples of “spontaneity”; the person is messing us about. Same for when we don’t know which version of them we’re going to get or we walk on eggshells. In these situations, it’s possible that we’ve picked up the message that if we’re not suffering and fighting for a relationship or person’s affection and attention, then it’s not worth the effort.
Fear of being trapped and fear of predictability/becoming bored drive some of our least productive relationship habits. It’s also why we might struggle with commitment, whether that’s with relationships, jobs or following through. On the one hand, we might seek out relationships for meaning, purpose and security. On the other, we might associate them with losing ourselves, being stuck or monotony. Yep, rock and a hard place.
It’s vital to increase self-awareness of our relationship associations so that we don’t inadvertently sabotage ourselves or the relationship.
We might call our parents’ relationship “boring” because they didn’t do the things that we consider to be important. Or maybe we know that they stayed together despite not being able to stand each other. Still, we need to step back. Even though, for example, our parents didn’t go on weekends away or have a wild sex life, for all we know, they were content. And if they couldn’t stand each other, it’s worth acknowledging that their marriage/relationship was made of and in a different time. We don’t have to make their choices and our partner, for instance, getting on our nerves at times, doesn’t have to mean the same thing [as their relationship].
An honest conversation with ourselves always helps.
- Is it that the relationship has hit a plateau? Or is the lack of drama and worry weirding us out?
- Are we secretly worried that if we don’t keep things ‘fresh’ that they might get to know us ‘too well’ and leave?
- Is it that our partner isn’t spontaneous? Or… do they do the unexpected in smaller ways that we don’t necessarily appreciate them for?
- Has work, children, health or extended family overwhelmed us?
Acknowledging this helps to put things into perspective. That, and we can be more patient with ourselves and them, or endeavour to reconnect.
And in the end, it is about connection. Yes, the beginning of our relationship seems like such a different time. Still, if we insist that our relationships stay like the beginning, we’re saying that we don’t want to get to know our partner or for the relationship to progress. We’re disregarding the intimacy of the connection that our relationship symbolises to chase what will only be a shiny new object for a short time.
Freedom and spontaneity come in many guises, not just one package.
Sure, we can shake up our routine, sex life, do something new or take an impromptu trip. We can also, however, impulsively choose to be present to our relationship and enjoy what might be the small, unexpected joys.
Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to “please” or protect yourself from others? My new book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (HarperCollins/Harper Horizon), is out now.