Everyone knows by now that communication is essential to a healthy relationship. Yet how good is the communication in yours? What’s keeping you from improving it? How much do you and your partner actually engage in interesting conversation? There are a plethora of issues working against sustained stimulating conversation in a long-term relationship. But there are things you can do to sustain or bring back the engrossing conversation that existed in the beginning.
In the beginning of the relationship, partners often find each other captivating. Each wants to know as much about their partner as possible. This is part of the normal mating ritual. Some say people send their “representative” in the beginning of a relationship. This is interpreted as a better version of oneself, putting forth a phony front to accomplish the goal of entrapping a partner. I disagree, and have a more optimistic theory. Perhaps there is something about the beginning of a relationship, possibly the neurochemical charge, which allows one to be a better version of oneself.
The discussion is interesting. As time progresses, you get to know your partner. You’ve heard many of the stories that your partner believes contributes to who she is. You’re partnered now, and your relationship has moved into the next stages, where you build a life together. Perhaps there is cohabitation, marriage planning, children, or maybe none of these but the relationship has plateaued. Conversation tends to center around these former topics, or the day to day, or what might be termed the “business” of the relationship (who needs to do what to keep the house functioning).
There are theories that explain this. Evolutionary theory discusses how men are unconsciously focused on spreading their seed. When the partnership has been established, the energy can be focused elsewhere (whether that means new partners or a focus on more civilized needs). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs supports this. In this psychological theory, once biological needs are met, the individual moves to safety needs. If these are met, love and belonging needs are next. If the partner believes these needs are fulfilled at least partly by his partner, he moves to self-esteem needs, which might reflect career goals. Most can probably relate to one’s work interfering (unconsciously because the lower needs are taken for granted) with meeting relationship needs. These other needs take precedence because the relationship needs are met, and the relationship becomes less pressing, and quite possibly, taken for granted and ignored.
At this point depth conversation can dissipate. The couple, feeling this is normal and being preoccupied with new personal and relational goals, might not even worry about this trend. This repetition of communiqué can continue for years without concern, creating well-worn patterns of communication. There may be jokes about not listening, about “zoning out” when one partner is talking about something interesting to him. But overall it is considered normal, and often no lasting concern is realized. Although it seems harmless, these patterns form neural pathways that become difficult to work against.
There are a number of things that can be done to prevent or reverse this trend:
These suggestions are a good start to changing your conversations and deepening the intimacy in your relationship. Though simple in writing, as with most change, the difficulty is in regular application. There are unconscious powers working against this type of improvement. As I wrote in “Consciously Creating Your Relationship”, you can choose who you will be in your relationship. With effort and a conscious mind, new neural pathways and ways of behaving can be reinforced and become more natural and easily executed.
Copyright William Berry, 2015