I’ve been to a lot of conferences and workshops over the years. They’ve all been the same in one regard: folks get fired up while we’re there, then they go home and the glow fades. Familiarity takes over and before we know it, all those inspired intentions have been swept away by our normal routine.
How do we maintain that energy and excitement and commitment? I’m not only talking about conference getaways here—relationships follow the same arc. We fall in love and for a time inhabit an emotional ecosystem that’s full of love and excitement and togetherness (and lots of other good stuff too, like hot sex). Then we get used to each other … we become familiar to each other (in other words, like family) … and before we know it we’ve ridden a slippery slope down to a place where the mundane rules.
There s/he goes, not changing the toilet paper again!
This has brought me to a sort of thought experiment. When can a long-term couple do to lively up their time together? Are there simple, do-able strategies that can bring them to the same state of heightened awareness that people get into when things are new and different, not boringly the same?
My partner Sheri Winston and I pretend that we’re in a relationship workshop.
We begin our day by reminding each other that we’re ‘playing the relationship workshop game.’ Every night before we go to sleep, we check in with each other about how successful we were, or not. Did we behave towards each other as we resolved to do? Did we even remember to play the game?
Our goal is always the same—to be as kind and loving toward our partner as we can be that day. We customize this intention with a phrase that captures what feels especially right for that day. Sometimes we choose to imagine that this is the last day we’ll ever be together. How would we treat each other? Or sometimes we identify specific behaviors that would please our partner—more physical touching, perhaps, or more terms of endearment, or more words of praise.
The goal is to help the partners wake up and be more present to their desire to have an actively great relationship, today and every day. The strategy involves generalized desire into focused intention and from there into love-in-action.
All of us live torn between our desire for habit and our desire for novelty. Both have their rewards, both have their costs. Long-term relationships tend to become routine and this is often experienced as a trap. The relationship-as-workshop game undoes this. It calls on us to pay attention.
Being human, we won’t always accept the invitation.
But it’s a great place to begin.