New romantic partners want to care for each other in every way they can. Ever watchful for any overt or covert expression of desire, they are attuned to their lover’s needs without resentment or obligation.
As they become committed to a long-term relationship, many of those same partners tend to give each other less of the exquisite attentiveness they had experienced when their love was new. And the priorities that they put aside to make one another center stage gradually re-emerge.
Initially, devoted partners don’t intend to lose the focused caring they once so easily gave to each other. They anticipated that their initial levels of passion and romantic connection would somewhat diminish as the relationship matured, but they welcomed the comfort and security that came with creating mutual experiences and significant memories.
Sadly, as most people feel more secure together, many intimate partners forget that a level of treasuring must be maintained. Those sacred and intimate moments that were central to their new love require recognition and regeneration to remain available. But as intimate partners relax into the comfort of a committed relationship, they can too easily forget how they once were the center of each other’s lives.
That process is further complicated when each partner doesn’t experience the lessened availability in the same way. What is important to one may not mean as much to the other. There are countless examples: Some men feel that their long-term partners are not as sexually interested as they continue to be; some women equally miss the emotional connection they once could count on. If both partners have careers, they may need to resurrect work obligations they put aside when the relationship was new. Similarly, family obligations, kept submerged while the partners were focused on each other, may now raise demands.
Whatever the causes, one or both partners have actually become less automatically available to each other. They were once each other’s first priority, easily entitled to ask for whatever was desired. Now, they may have to ask for what was once offered freely. Time, affection, attention, support, interest, energy, and priority, once bountiful, now may need to be negotiated.
These changes can happen very slowly and may go unnoticed by even the most devoted partners. They still cherish their relationship and are readily available in a crisis. That assumption can lure a couple into believing that they can still count on those sweet spots of automatic and complete availability whenever they might need them. Sadly, that is not true. Unless a couple's depth of devotion and caring is continually regenerated, it can quietly diminish, leaving one or both partners bereft at a time of need.
How Couples Keep Their Sweet Spots Alive
1. Stay Current
Many people who leave relationships later regret the decision, wishing they had tried harder before quitting. In the heat of battles that seemed unavoidable and unending, or unable to regenerate discovery, they could not stop the disintegration in time.
Life’s requirements intervene in all relationships. Legitimate unexpected challenges, chosen obligations, unresolved differences, and postponement of important interpersonal issues can easily combine to keep a couple too busy to focus on each other’s needs.
As a couple moves from intertwined to parallel, many individuals begin to do the relationship in their own heads and forget to check out whether or not their partners still think and feel the same way. They have forgotten who they were when every detail of their lives was mutually experienced, and all their resources were combined and mutually allocated. It doesn’t take long before their initial deep connection can become a memory, replaced by a pretense of intimacy that they believe is more alive and available than it is.
2. Balance Resources With Demands
All long-term relationships are subject to changing requirements and the need to redistribute resources. Some of those resources are subjective, and others are objective. Both are important. Subjective resources include time, energy, compassion, availability, or emotional support. Objective resources might include allocation of finances, shifting of responsibilities, new means to increase resources, more efficiency in resolving problems, or sacrificing personal needs.
In spontaneously generous relationships, couples decide which partner’s needs should claim the relationship’s resources at any one time, and how that decision best benefits the relationship, both in the short and long run.
What is essential is that both partners feel heard, seen, appreciated, and cared for, because those decisions are made together. They have a clear sense of their mutual values and ethics, and they talk openly about what each needs to make things work. They also understand that desires and needs will not always feel justified to either in the moment, but that both trust the fairness of the other to compensate when time allows.
3. Agree on Priorities
When lovers are new to each other, they diligently search for ways to agree on the major aspects of life. That includes how they behave with each other and also how they see the world. As partners share their journey, some thoughts and feelings will be consciously or unconsciously suppressed to ensure that harmony prevails. Understandably, as a relationship matures, those submerged thoughts and feelings will emerge and may create friction that were not previously part of the relationship.
Successful couples are ever ready to face those new disagreements and to remold their relationship together in the process. They are well aware of the current emotional, physical, financial, and life crisis demands on their resources, and maintain flexibility to rearrange them in the most relationship-effective way they can.
Often, one partner may want more of those resources or may make new demands on the other. The commitment to fairness, openness, negotiation, and compromise is evident in couples that love each other and want to keep their connection alive and regenerating. They trust that an imbalance in specific situations, or at certain times, will be compensated in another. They know how to rate priorities and to do everything they can to reach agreement in those decisions.
4. Be Available During Crises
New lovers are each other’s first priorities whenever and however they can be. Whenever either reaches out for help, sustenance, reassurance, or support, the other does everything he or she can to provide what is asked.
As the partners re-enter the world outside of their treasured intimacy, they realize that other priorities will limit the automatic availability they had. In quality relationships, both partners consistently re-evaluate their needs and availability to make sure they stay close to each other along the way.
A couple’s ability to update one another as changes in their individual needs emerge is crucial for this agreement to work. They also know that there might be situations in which one may inadvertently let the other down. Both partners understand that there will be unexpected events that cannot be changed.
In short, couples that stay in mutually generous relationships have each other’s backs. They are careful to not take advantage of each other, and they trust the other partner’s good intentions, even if he or she cannot give what is asked.
5. Remember Automatic Love and Generosity
New love is a sacred and beautiful time. The sweetness and non-judgmental acceptance creates a sanctuary of comfort and confidence. Though it cannot last, per se, it can be remembered and saved as the treasure it was, and brought back when times are hard.
Couples that don’t want to slip into the trap of apathy and parallel lives feel the alarm of losing each other early in the game. When that emotional trumpet sounds, one or both call the other back to remember and recreate those original “sweet spots,” where irritation and impatience were slow to come, and compassion and forgiveness were abundant. They search for the place in themselves where they recognize how empty life would be without each other, and how important it is to protect their connection.
No person can be generous, available, caring, and willing to sacrifice for the other at all times — all intimate partners, no matter how devoted, must choose self over the other at points in time.
Successful partners forgive each other during stressful times, and trust that their partner will do the same for them. They trust each other’s thoughts, feelings, and reasons when those times arise. That helps them to return as soon as possible to their shared commitment of generosity and devotion.