When a Significant Relationship Gets Off Track

Reviewed Mar 22, 2017

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Summary

Incorporate "The Magic Five Hours":

  • Partings
  • Reunions
  • Admiration and appreciation
  • Affection
  • Weekly date

Rachael and Jeff married when they were in their early 20s. They delayed starting a family because both enjoyed demanding careers. “We would come home late from work and download to each other over a glass of wine. I really miss those days,” says Rachael. “Even though we have no regrets, honestly, since having kids, our marriage has somehow gotten off track.”

Empty nester Bob is feeling a similar sense of disconnect from his wife, Margaret, who recently went back to school to earn a college degree. Bob says he feels jealous and left out. “When the kids were around, together Margaret and I were immersed in scouting, soccer, and other activities. We always had something to talk about, plan, and enjoy. Now, she seems happy just doing her own thing,” says Bob.

Relationship drift

Every significant relationship has times of drift—when you and your loved one are moving away from rather than toward each other. A cycle of closeness and disconnection is normal and part of even the most healthy and happy of relationships.

External circumstances, life transitions, or internal feelings affecting one or both spouses can disrupt periods of closeness and lead to such drift. Rachael and Jeff have become inattentive to each other because work obligations and demands of childrearing take up all their time and energy. Margaret and Bob’s secure and comfortable marriage allowed Margaret to feel able to pursue something outside their relationship, yet Bob feels estranged. Other common circumstances that can prompt periods of drift (and conversely, sometimes serve to bring couples closer together) include:

  • Raising children
  • Becoming empty nesters
  • Individual growth through a new interest or project
  • Retirement
  • Unemployment
  • Career change
  • Return to work
  • Illness
  • Caregiving

Getting your relationship back on track

Often, this cycle of closeness and disconnect goes unnoticed, particularly over the short term. But when periods of drift bring about feelings that your relationship is off track, heed this intuitive alarm: It is alerting you to take action before any destructive relationship patterns or negative emotions like hurt feelings, resentment, or jealousy go unchecked and potentially derail your marriage. Sometimes, as in Bob’s case, feelings of disconnect are one-sided. In this case, it’s very important that you not let your spouse convince you that your feelings are unfounded and don’t require attention.

To renew a sense of closeness when you feel adrift—or to ensure that you will reconnect after normal (even predictable) periods of drift—you must set aside time to be together. Although a weekend away from the kids or life distractions is a good way to renew intimacy and open the lines of communication, incorporating “together” time into your everyday routine is much more effective. Doing so requires that you protect this time by not overcommitting yourself and your family members.

Psychologist and marriage coach John Gottman suggests an approach called “The Magic Five Hours,” which incorporates five hours of together time into the course of a week. Here’s how it adds up:

  • Partings: Before you say goodbye in the morning, find out at least one thing that is happening in your spouse’s life that day (two minutes per day, five days a week = 10 minutes).
  • Reunions: Engage in a stress-reducing conversation at the end of each workday (20 minutes per day, five days a week = one hour and 40 minutes).
  • Admiration and appreciation: Find some way every day to communicate genuine affection and appreciation toward your spouse (five minutes per day, seven days a week = 35 minutes).
  • Affection. Kiss, hold and touch each other (five minutes per day, 7 days a week = 35 minutes).
  • Weekly date (Two hours once a week).

Relationship enhancement programs and support groups

Relationship enhancement programs and support groups can help facilitate the renewal of communication and intimacy, as well as help you to build skills in resolving conflict when your marriage is strained. Religious and community-based programs offer free or low-cost weekend retreats, weekly meetings, and workshops that foster marriage building. Some mental health care practices also offer such programs. At-home programs are also available through relationship-enhancement program providers and self-help books.

Marriage counseling

Marital drift that goes unchecked can build momentum, essentially making a mountain out of a molehill. Couples counselors often can provide the direction and framework to help couples identify the core issues and resolve them. When seeking the advice of a therapist, however, make sure to ask if the therapist is oriented toward helping couples stay in the marriage.

Resource

Getting to Know You (second edition) by Jeanne McSweeney. World Leisure Corp, 2010. 

By Christine P. Martin
Source: Marriage in Motion: The Natural Ebb and Flow of Lasting Relationships by Richard Stanton Schwartz and Jacqueline Olds. Da Caop Press, 2002; The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman and Nan Silver. Three Rivers Press, 1999.

Summary

Incorporate "The Magic Five Hours":

  • Partings
  • Reunions
  • Admiration and appreciation
  • Affection
  • Weekly date

Rachael and Jeff married when they were in their early 20s. They delayed starting a family because both enjoyed demanding careers. “We would come home late from work and download to each other over a glass of wine. I really miss those days,” says Rachael. “Even though we have no regrets, honestly, since having kids, our marriage has somehow gotten off track.”

Empty nester Bob is feeling a similar sense of disconnect from his wife, Margaret, who recently went back to school to earn a college degree. Bob says he feels jealous and left out. “When the kids were around, together Margaret and I were immersed in scouting, soccer, and other activities. We always had something to talk about, plan, and enjoy. Now, she seems happy just doing her own thing,” says Bob.

Relationship drift

Every significant relationship has times of drift—when you and your loved one are moving away from rather than toward each other. A cycle of closeness and disconnection is normal and part of even the most healthy and happy of relationships.

External circumstances, life transitions, or internal feelings affecting one or both spouses can disrupt periods of closeness and lead to such drift. Rachael and Jeff have become inattentive to each other because work obligations and demands of childrearing take up all their time and energy. Margaret and Bob’s secure and comfortable marriage allowed Margaret to feel able to pursue something outside their relationship, yet Bob feels estranged. Other common circumstances that can prompt periods of drift (and conversely, sometimes serve to bring couples closer together) include:

  • Raising children
  • Becoming empty nesters
  • Individual growth through a new interest or project
  • Retirement
  • Unemployment
  • Career change
  • Return to work
  • Illness
  • Caregiving

Getting your relationship back on track

Often, this cycle of closeness and disconnect goes unnoticed, particularly over the short term. But when periods of drift bring about feelings that your relationship is off track, heed this intuitive alarm: It is alerting you to take action before any destructive relationship patterns or negative emotions like hurt feelings, resentment, or jealousy go unchecked and potentially derail your marriage. Sometimes, as in Bob’s case, feelings of disconnect are one-sided. In this case, it’s very important that you not let your spouse convince you that your feelings are unfounded and don’t require attention.

To renew a sense of closeness when you feel adrift—or to ensure that you will reconnect after normal (even predictable) periods of drift—you must set aside time to be together. Although a weekend away from the kids or life distractions is a good way to renew intimacy and open the lines of communication, incorporating “together” time into your everyday routine is much more effective. Doing so requires that you protect this time by not overcommitting yourself and your family members.

Psychologist and marriage coach John Gottman suggests an approach called “The Magic Five Hours,” which incorporates five hours of together time into the course of a week. Here’s how it adds up:

  • Partings: Before you say goodbye in the morning, find out at least one thing that is happening in your spouse’s life that day (two minutes per day, five days a week = 10 minutes).
  • Reunions: Engage in a stress-reducing conversation at the end of each workday (20 minutes per day, five days a week = one hour and 40 minutes).
  • Admiration and appreciation: Find some way every day to communicate genuine affection and appreciation toward your spouse (five minutes per day, seven days a week = 35 minutes).
  • Affection. Kiss, hold and touch each other (five minutes per day, 7 days a week = 35 minutes).
  • Weekly date (Two hours once a week).

Relationship enhancement programs and support groups

Relationship enhancement programs and support groups can help facilitate the renewal of communication and intimacy, as well as help you to build skills in resolving conflict when your marriage is strained. Religious and community-based programs offer free or low-cost weekend retreats, weekly meetings, and workshops that foster marriage building. Some mental health care practices also offer such programs. At-home programs are also available through relationship-enhancement program providers and self-help books.

Marriage counseling

Marital drift that goes unchecked can build momentum, essentially making a mountain out of a molehill. Couples counselors often can provide the direction and framework to help couples identify the core issues and resolve them. When seeking the advice of a therapist, however, make sure to ask if the therapist is oriented toward helping couples stay in the marriage.

Resource

Getting to Know You (second edition) by Jeanne McSweeney. World Leisure Corp, 2010. 

By Christine P. Martin
Source: Marriage in Motion: The Natural Ebb and Flow of Lasting Relationships by Richard Stanton Schwartz and Jacqueline Olds. Da Caop Press, 2002; The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman and Nan Silver. Three Rivers Press, 1999.

Summary

Incorporate "The Magic Five Hours":

  • Partings
  • Reunions
  • Admiration and appreciation
  • Affection
  • Weekly date

Rachael and Jeff married when they were in their early 20s. They delayed starting a family because both enjoyed demanding careers. “We would come home late from work and download to each other over a glass of wine. I really miss those days,” says Rachael. “Even though we have no regrets, honestly, since having kids, our marriage has somehow gotten off track.”

Empty nester Bob is feeling a similar sense of disconnect from his wife, Margaret, who recently went back to school to earn a college degree. Bob says he feels jealous and left out. “When the kids were around, together Margaret and I were immersed in scouting, soccer, and other activities. We always had something to talk about, plan, and enjoy. Now, she seems happy just doing her own thing,” says Bob.

Relationship drift

Every significant relationship has times of drift—when you and your loved one are moving away from rather than toward each other. A cycle of closeness and disconnection is normal and part of even the most healthy and happy of relationships.

External circumstances, life transitions, or internal feelings affecting one or both spouses can disrupt periods of closeness and lead to such drift. Rachael and Jeff have become inattentive to each other because work obligations and demands of childrearing take up all their time and energy. Margaret and Bob’s secure and comfortable marriage allowed Margaret to feel able to pursue something outside their relationship, yet Bob feels estranged. Other common circumstances that can prompt periods of drift (and conversely, sometimes serve to bring couples closer together) include:

  • Raising children
  • Becoming empty nesters
  • Individual growth through a new interest or project
  • Retirement
  • Unemployment
  • Career change
  • Return to work
  • Illness
  • Caregiving

Getting your relationship back on track

Often, this cycle of closeness and disconnect goes unnoticed, particularly over the short term. But when periods of drift bring about feelings that your relationship is off track, heed this intuitive alarm: It is alerting you to take action before any destructive relationship patterns or negative emotions like hurt feelings, resentment, or jealousy go unchecked and potentially derail your marriage. Sometimes, as in Bob’s case, feelings of disconnect are one-sided. In this case, it’s very important that you not let your spouse convince you that your feelings are unfounded and don’t require attention.

To renew a sense of closeness when you feel adrift—or to ensure that you will reconnect after normal (even predictable) periods of drift—you must set aside time to be together. Although a weekend away from the kids or life distractions is a good way to renew intimacy and open the lines of communication, incorporating “together” time into your everyday routine is much more effective. Doing so requires that you protect this time by not overcommitting yourself and your family members.

Psychologist and marriage coach John Gottman suggests an approach called “The Magic Five Hours,” which incorporates five hours of together time into the course of a week. Here’s how it adds up:

  • Partings: Before you say goodbye in the morning, find out at least one thing that is happening in your spouse’s life that day (two minutes per day, five days a week = 10 minutes).
  • Reunions: Engage in a stress-reducing conversation at the end of each workday (20 minutes per day, five days a week = one hour and 40 minutes).
  • Admiration and appreciation: Find some way every day to communicate genuine affection and appreciation toward your spouse (five minutes per day, seven days a week = 35 minutes).
  • Affection. Kiss, hold and touch each other (five minutes per day, 7 days a week = 35 minutes).
  • Weekly date (Two hours once a week).

Relationship enhancement programs and support groups

Relationship enhancement programs and support groups can help facilitate the renewal of communication and intimacy, as well as help you to build skills in resolving conflict when your marriage is strained. Religious and community-based programs offer free or low-cost weekend retreats, weekly meetings, and workshops that foster marriage building. Some mental health care practices also offer such programs. At-home programs are also available through relationship-enhancement program providers and self-help books.

Marriage counseling

Marital drift that goes unchecked can build momentum, essentially making a mountain out of a molehill. Couples counselors often can provide the direction and framework to help couples identify the core issues and resolve them. When seeking the advice of a therapist, however, make sure to ask if the therapist is oriented toward helping couples stay in the marriage.

Resource

Getting to Know You (second edition) by Jeanne McSweeney. World Leisure Corp, 2010. 

By Christine P. Martin
Source: Marriage in Motion: The Natural Ebb and Flow of Lasting Relationships by Richard Stanton Schwartz and Jacqueline Olds. Da Caop Press, 2002; The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman and Nan Silver. Three Rivers Press, 1999.

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