One thing about relationships is that they’re never static.
At any point in time, a couple are either moving closer together or drifting apart.
And if at least one of them isn’t trying to make their connection stronger, the risk is that they are slowly but surely disconnecting and one day may have the tragic experience of waking up—literally or metaphorically—because sometimes the realisation comes out of the blue (like at the end of an argument) to the fact that they no longer have much in common with, or feel much love for, each other.
One big relationship error I’ve made in the past was thinking that when a difficult or painful feeling came up, it was a sign that my partner and I didn’t love each other as much anymore or that our relationship was breaking down.
But now I know that the opposite is true. It’s only when there is a genuinely intimate connection between people who buried hurts from the past—often going right back to childhood—will come to the surface. That’s because romantic love mirrors the original intimate connection we have experienced with our parents. Almost all of us carry some unhealed wounds from when we were young, and an intimate partner is like a kind of “pain magnet” who brings that old stuff up to the surface.
If we accept it when those difficult emotions show up, instead of hiding them out of shame that we’ve somehow fallen short as a partner, it will be much easier to share them, which can result in an even deeper level of intimacy.
There is also an inevitable period of disillusionment that comes in any relationship when we move from projecting a romantic ideal onto a partner to knowing more about the person they really are—still special but perhaps not as perfect as our imagination might have made them out to be. But, again, this process of adjustment should be welcomed; it means we’re moving toward a genuine knowing and loving of that person and them of us. (That’s the basis for a real and lasting love that is rooted in wonderful experience of feeling fully known and accepted for who we really are.)
All this means that in any relationship we have, there may well be instances when doubts arise as to whether the love we thought we had for each other is there anymore or we should think about going our separate ways. Luckily, there are two wonderfully simple questions that can bring an end to such doubts and ensure that even if the path of our love is rocky sometimes, we can keep moving forward together (or they may reveal that actually our relationship has run its course and it will be better to part before any more harm is done). But either outcome is better than being stuck with a pervasive feeling of doubt about what’s really going on.
The first question is to ask your lover what it is that you do, or could do, that helps them feel, or would help them feel, loved by you.
Once they share that, we know exactly what they need to feel more of the love we have for them. It’s like getting a nice set of instructions for how to make them happy—much more effective than trying to guess, which can have disastrous results.
We all have different preferences and needs when it comes to how we experience being loved, so that however affectionate our actions seem to us and however well-meant they are, if they don’t work for our partner it’s time to try something else. Then we can check back until we find what hits their emotional sweet spot—hopefully with delightful results for both of us.
The next and equally important question is whether there is anything you do that makes them feel unloved by you.
Once they tell us what those things are (if there are any), we can explain why we’ve been doing them, in case they’ve been misinterpreted. Or it may be that we’ve been distracted or thoughtless or didn’t realise how our words or actions (or lack of words and inactions!) were making them feel.
The important thing is with the information we now have, we can do things differently or explain to our partner if that’s not possible for any reason. Again, that inability might be a signal that our needs and preferences are just too different for us to ever feel at ease with each other.
Both these questions have to be two-way, of course, so that we’re both learning how to cultivate closeness with each other. I found it’s a good idea to do some preparation to create the kind of atmosphere of safety and openness in which they can be raised without either of us feeling threatened or defensive. And if it feels like it’s not a good time once we’ve started, it’s best to postpone and wait until we both feel ready and able to respond to each other kindly and openly. Because when the time and the mood is right, asking each other these two “special” questions can literally transform our relationship overnight from one where we feel distant to one where we have a renewed sense of closeness and understanding.
By the way, if either of you finds it hard to answer the love questions, that’s a strong signal that you need to do some inner reconnecting with yourself—because if you don’t know what things make you feel loved or unloved, perhaps you’re not letting yourself feel either of those things, which makes it almost impossible to create or feel intimacy with anyone else.
As a PS to the above, if you want to put some icing on that cake of connectedness that you’ve created with your questions, try asking each other what you really like (and if there’s anything you don’t like) in bed and both act on the responses. Sex is always much better when it’s rooted in emotional connectedness, and after this conversation, your love will be ready to bloom again in ways that you may not have believed would be possible.