Any relationship requires attention and will suffer if it does not get it! As humans are mostly programmed to live in intimate relationship with other humans, we naturally seek out and long for someone who feels like the right person. We spend effort and money finding the person, and impressing upon them how good a relationship we could have. We may even spend thousands of pounds marrying, throwing a big party, inviting everyone in our family and all our friends to celebrate with us. We may make public statements about how important this relationship is to us, and make promises to each other. So why do we find we have no time for it once we have established it and celebrated it so lovingly?
There are several answers to this question, and I am going to just mention 4. One answer is in our brain chemistry, another is in the family culture or tradition we were raised in, another lies in the expectations we had of an intimate relationship, and a fourth answer is in the way life changes our priorities if we don’t watch out.
- Once the newness and excitement of a relationship wears off, the chemicals that brought us together change. At first, the adrenaline and dopamine surges make us excited and pleased, they act as anti-depressants, and other chemicals, oxytocin and vasopressin, draw us into bonding and nurturing behaviour. After a while, the brain settles into a more steady chemical flow, and we need to take steps to maintain freshness and interest. We can do this by bringing each other surprises, sharing enjoyable activities, making love, playing together. Without these stimuli, that steady flow of brain chemicals can make the relationship feel routine and boring, so we are not very interested in giving it time, and without time and attention it withers a bit.
2. Those of us raised in a family will have learned about how an intimate relationship goes from the people who raised us. This learning is unique in each family, and we are unlikely to get into an intimate relationship with someone with exactly the same ideas. These differences can lead us into conflicts, as “our” way feels like the right one, and to complicate things we usually choose someone who manages conflicts differently from us. The person who like to talk it out often ends up with a person who likes to hide it. This can lead to distancing and discomfort, and over time we may start to avoid being with each other because it is uncomfortable and conflictual, and makes us angry.
3. Some of us enter an intimate relationship with a clear idea of how it should be, and inevitably the other person from time to time is going to disappoint us and not live up to our hopes. We then blame them for their failings and start to doubt the relationship. This is frightening, so we avoid being together to avoid having to face this fear. It is hard to realise that the disappointment is about our unrealistic expectations of the other, not about their failings.
4. The final answer I want to flag up today is that the activities of life take over our space and time. Activities such as having babies, going to the gym regularly, engaging in hobbies, watching sport, increased working hours, family commitments, can all seem to require our attention over the requirement of our intimate relationship. These are the subtle things that eat away at the time we used to have for relationship in its earlier days, and eventually we are left with “no time for us”.
Making time for each other is a fundamental underpinning to a nurturing, and fulfilling intimate relationship. There are other underpinnings I will come to in future posts.