We have acknowledged in relationships that the passion can often die down in a relationship. We have pointed out that the relationship itself may not be a negative relationship and that there is no reason to throw away a seemingly lack luster relationship because it’s currently missing the passion. Many people become disillusioned when they feel that their partner isn't their 'soul mate', and they become unhappy and what will often happen is one of two things; either they will live with that unhappiness and stubbornly refuse to fix it, or that they will neglect a potentially good relationship in favor of chasing down the spark with someone else.
Perhaps I'm a little bit cynical, but I've never bought into the whole soul mate idea. A soul mate generally implies that there is someone out there which completes us, this reinforces an idea that we are somehow incomplete without our soul mate, and its why couples, friends, and that annoying Aunt Mary will sometimes look at their single friend/family member with a touch of pity or despair. Many years ago when watching Sabrina The Teenage Witch, I watched the finale and scoffed at the literal metaphor of soul mates, how Sabrina had spent the entire series searching for the second half of her soul gem, only to find out in the last three minutes that Harvey had the second piece to the gem.
Whilst I love and adore romantic comedies, and chick flicks where, for the most part, the couple end up together, I understand that this is a construction to make us feel better in a way about being single, about being alone. But happiness is something that's so unique and individual to us – that not everyone understands it. That's why I'm off a second opinion in which a partner does not complete us, but rather, a partner complements us. They can offset our little quirks, balance out the crazy parts of us, and together we make a perfectly good team of two unique individuals.
Whilst I acknowledge that sometimes in life two people will drift apart, that doesn't necessarily mean that it’s the end of a relationship and that you should throw it all away. The thing is that when you sit down together and you're both saying things like
'our relationship just feels empty',
'We still love each other, it just feels flat',
then don't despair, there's still hope.
One of the main reasons that people often feel disinterested, or disconnected is through a lack of communication. Throughout this site, we have explored various ways of reigniting the spark of passion in a relationship. We have continually mentioned having conversations and talking, but what we haven't explored is that idea in depth, and considered the specifics of how to communicate, and talk to your partner. Sometimes, relationships are not easy fixes and sexual intimacy are little more than a band-aid to a relationship plagued with the absence of passion, and you need to reboot the relationship. That's where we come to this, how do we reboot that with communication and talking? For some people, they need that intimacy of talking, feeling close with their partner and their partner’s thoughts before they can engage with physical intimacy.
Talking is an important part of any relationship, and has the potential to deepen and strengthen the relationship. Contrary to popular belief, research suggests that small talk plays an important and integral part of a relationship. Indeed, John Gottman and Janice Driver, studied small talk and concluded that for the most part, small talk is actually a bid for an emotional connection. These bids have been categorized into varying aspects within the list below.
Bids for Attention: 'That's an adorable cat sitting in the window'.
Bids for interest: 'Doesn't your mother's cat look like that one there?'
Bids for enthusiastic engagement: 'We should think about getting a cat'
Bids for extended conversation: 'Have you heard from your brother recently? Last I heard they were moving for a new job'
Bids for play: (Tickling your partner or playfully poking them) 'I've been considering doing that all afternoon!'
Bids for humour: 'That cute cat we saw earlier reminded me of a joke. So a cat and a dog go into a bar'
Bids for Affection: (Reaching for partners hand, or holding on to their arm etc) 'It's been a rough day, I need a hug'
Bids for emotional support: 'You know, I've just been so worried about work recently. I really hope that I don't lose my job'
Bids for self-disclosure: 'What kind of pets did you have when growing up?'
For a conversation which involves any of the above, the listening partner can respond in three ways according to Gottman and Driver. The first way is by responding in the desired way through some form of acknowledgment. This can involve a verbal, or non-verbal response and can either be a short response, or an extended response. This is referred to as a 'turning towards' response and will result in a positive feeling for both parties. The second is referred to as 'turning away' responses, which includes ignoring the conversation prompt by their partner. The third and final option is to 'turn against' the conversation starter by reacting in an angry or irritated way. Gottman and Driver go on to suggest that reacting positively to small talk between partners will actually go a long way in the development of tools and communicative strategies that will assist couples when going through conflict.
By now you should understand the importance of small talk within a relationship. There is not the scope or room in this article to demonstrate small talk conversation starters – not only is that unique to your interests, and experiences as a couple, but in most cases it would be counter-productive to give you all the answers into establishing small talk. What we can tell you, is that even though it may seem mundane and small to you, simply talking about a particular moment during the day when you arrive home to your loved one, will demonstrate an ability to open up, and restart communication. If they reciprocate with their own story, even better! But sometimes, especially for people that aren't that articulate or struggle to share their thoughts, it may take a while for them to start sharing. So be patient.
Conversely, if you or your partner in talking, then the other partner will be considered to be listening, and there is a good way to listen, as well as ways of listening which can be detrimental to the process of talking and having one open up. On reflection during the research for this article, I came across a terrible thought. I'm an atrocious listener, and because I’m an atrocious listener it means that I am often unable to hear myself or partner communicate and what that communication actually means. Henning Mankell wrote in his article, The Art of Listening, that since humans have two ears and one mouth that we should spend time listening twice as much as what we speak. But it's something that not a lot of people do. Listening involves not only listening to your partner, but also listening to yourself.
The brain, interestingly, has the capacity to speak X amount of words per minute, but it has the capacity to listen to 5-10 times that number. As such, when 'listening' we often get distracted, focusing instead on plans for the next day, considering our surroundings, the weather anything really except actually being in the moment and actively listening. You might hear the concept of active listening being bandied about a lot, and it's the kind of concept that if you can master will have broad and far reaching implications not just within your relationship, but also in how you conduct yourself in, and go through, life.
Many people don't necessarily understand what listening is. Listening is simply an activity in which you listen, you're not simply waiting for your turn to speak, because what will happen in this situation is that you will hear key words, and tones, and your brain will be distracted by formulating a response to that. What it will miss is understanding the body language of the speaker, what it will miss is picking up the sub-text of the conversation.
The trick is not necessarily to respond to the speaker, ask yourself 'What is the speaker asking for with this conversation?' By having this question on your mind while they speak, means that you are making a conscious and deliberate effort in trying to understand what your partner is saying, and why. The why part is important here, and it directly relates to the idea of bids of emotional connection which we discussed earlier in the article. By exploring this concept, instead of focusing on 'your turn to speak', you will be able to more effectively understand the point of view being expressed and what thoughts, feelings and emotions are being conveyed to you.
By considering a conversation this way, if conflict is brought up, it will not resort into a counter-argument which is one of the least productive ways of communicating. This form of 'communication' will often dissolve into two separate conversations where each party is trying to get their point across to the other, it demonstrates that neither of you is listening to the other, nor the end of the argument will ultimately conclude on a negative note.
If you have listened effectively, you should be in a position to either paraphrase what they have said to you back to them through the lens of understanding – the first step in listening is to understand what your partner is saying. Understanding is the paramount thing, even before responding. If you're struggling to understand, paraphrase back to them and ask them if that is correct. If it is correct then the listener should let the speaker continue, if it is incorrect, ask a question in order to clarify the situation. From here you need to listen until the other person has expressed their ideas and opinions and then respond accordingly.
When people can actively demonstrate that they understand their partner, their partner will actively invest energy and time in trying to understand the other. If you don't feel understood, you will defensively argue that why should you try and understand them. That's why during conversations you need to have the ability to understand yourself, and be aware of your own listening. We'll refer to this as the evaluation of your conversation filters. Some people will enter conversations with a point and a purpose, or maybe you have already developed a predisposition towards the other person – the point you're trying to convey, or any judgments or predispositions that you have towards the other person is going to result in a filtering of the conversation.
What will happen when you're filtering a conversation is that you'll automatically decides something ahead of time. What this will result in, is that no matter what is said, heard or conveyed, will distort the words/message into what you are already feeling. This contortion of words will be in such a way that even the best communicator in the world will be unable to 'sway' you because in your mind you have already arrived at a position that fits in with your belief of the situation.
Through reading this you might find yourself in a state of reflection, wondering if you are a good listening and communicator. It will help if you simply follow these three questions
Are you giving your partner your complete attention?
Are you understanding what your partner is telling you?
Do you understand what your partner is wanting from you in this situation?
If you're answering yes to all three questions, then congratulations – you're well on your way to establishing yourself as a practiced and effective listener. By being a better listening, you will have the ability to be a better communicator, and by being a better communicator you will be in a position to more effectively deal with any issues within your relationship, develop the ability to open up within your relationship, and bring forth a level of intimacy and closeness which you may have been struggling to obtain. Through understanding each other you'll be able to focus on flaming the passion through physical closeness now that your minds are intimate. You'll find that when you're feeling close to your partner, when you're feeling understood and loved, that sexual activity will feel far more in the moment and it'll be a strong step to rekindling passion, or even developing passion in a new relationship. By utilizing the art of effective communication is an incredible way to kick start a relationship which you thought was on the verge of ending.