A Complete Guide to Maintaining Relationships (Even After the Spark is Gone)
The Four Uncertain Phases of Love and How to Maintain a Happy and Healthy Relationship After the Spark
Have you ever heard the expression "love is like a firework?" Maybe you've heard that one hit song by Katy Perry? You know, the one that says, "Baby, you're a firework!" Well, surprisingly, there is a lot more truth to this statement than we realize.
There are four, uncertain phases of love before we get to the real stuff. That real, unequivocal I'm in love with you feeling. These four phases are the ones that all of us, even the ones who haven't found the one, get to experience. Unfortunately, in today's day and age, thing's don't get the chance to progress much further than these. These phases are the spark, the flight, the explosion, and the Drift.
The spark is that one moment when you both capture each other's attention. You may get those butterflies in your stomach that make you feel ecstatically, or uncomfortably, queasy. Or, maybe you flush bright red like an overripe tomato.
The spark (much like the initial spark when lighting a firework) normally lasts between the first eight months to the first year. You see your partner's good qualities and those alone (like rose-colored glasses). You are too enamored to think about anything other than, "Where have you been all my life?"
I'm not saying that there is no chance for a relationship to work at this stage, or even to remain this way in a lot of aspects; so if you've got a long-lasting relationship where you are still as obsessed with one another as the first day you met, kudos! However, it's important to note that these feelings aren't going to last forever, especially at this intensity.
There will be times where you fight and squabble over little things at this stage, but usually nothing seriously major.
Now your firework is in motion, rising higher and higher into the sky as it grows and morphs, preparing and harnessing its potential energy for that spectacular, explosive, display. This is the part of your relationship where you maybe start to see a few, seriously annoying qualities about your partner.
Your relationship is fueled by erratic passion. One minute, you're passionately fighting about the movie you two are going to go see. The next, you're passionately making out in the theater parking lot and missing the awesome fight scene between Thor and the Hulk. Was it worth it? Probably.
This stage usually appears between the one year and 18-month mark, but can be as fashionably late as two years.
Your firework has reached its peak and blown into a spectacular show of colored sparks and a loud crack. You are probably feeling like there's no place rather than this moment. Or, maybe you two have been fighting so much that you can't stop thinking that you'd rather be anywhere but where you're at.
Unfortunately, this is the make-or-break for most relationships. Which is unfortunate because the last phase is the most gratifying and solidifying of all.
The drift is the fall after the explosion. Your once spectacular firework is now contentedly drifting down to the ground as thousands of burnt embers and ash. Its purpose is now over, right? Wrong! But, that's how many people see it.
Fireworks are beautiful...until they explode and there's nothing left except singed grass and scattered shreds of paper.
Fun Fact: Did you know that professional-grade fireworks are made from biodegradable paper and materials? Therefore, in theory, the firework is still there. It's simply changing into something new.
Embracing the Drift
As much as we all dread the day the drift comes, it's purely psychological. Why? Because we see it as an end. An end to our relationship as we know it because it is no longer the same. It is no longer filled with excitement and passion. Instead, it has become a sturdy foundation for us to lean on. And, quite frankly, I think that scares the hell out of most people.
Luckily, there is a way to shift our thinking, giving us the unique opportunity to delve deeper into the depths of love, and our partner, setting the stage for a healthy, happy, and long-lasting relationship.
Enjoy learning your partner...every day.
Learning about your partner is an essential part of creating a healthy relationship. Learn their personality. Learn how they deal with different emotions and situations. Learn their facial expressions and body language.
Knowing someone on this level creates an unbreakable bond because you've both put in the effort to learn everything you can about the other person. And, effort is much more appreciated in relationships than assumptions.
With this knowledge, the possibilities for growing your relationship, and the boundaries of it, open up even wider than they were before. Who knows, maybe you'll learn each other so well that you guys will learn to communicate telepathically!
Get out of your own head.
Remember this, not everyone deals with stress and emotions in the same way. Everyone's emotional needs are different, and it's important for both of you to understand what the others' emotional needs are when they need it.
For example, maybe when you have a bad day it helps you to talk about it. There's nothing wrong with that, and your partner should know this and be available for you to talk to when needed. However, we all must understand that everyone's mind works differently, and what works for one person may not work for another.
Now, let's say your partner is less than willing to talk about their stress. That's perfectly normal and okay, too! Don't take offense when your partner handles things differently.
Maybe they get a harsh tone to their voice when they are immeasurably upset or near tears. Understanding your partner at this level will allow you to best meet their emotional needs—whether they need some alone time and space, a simple hug or squeeze of the shoulders, or a kiss on the forehead and a favorite joke that always makes them laugh.
If you don't know or understand something that your partner is saying or doing, ask them! Relationships are about understanding, support, and compromise. Asking questions will allow you to learn more about your partner, learn what they need from you, and help you to understand the way that their mind works.
Because that's what love essentially is. Falling in love with the way someone's mind works.
Maybe set up a schedule to tell your partner something new or provide them with constructive criticism.
For example, "I really liked the way you gave me some space while I was upset yesterday. Sometimes, I need some thinking space before I react, and you gave me exactly what I needed." Alternately, if the relationship is still relatively new and your partner may not know you at this level yet, you could say, "I appreciated yesterday when you were trying to make me feel better, even though I didn't seem like it. Sometimes, I need some thinking space and I wasn't mad at you. If you ever feel like I am, ask and I'll tell you, okay?" Communicating in this effective manner not only prevents unnecessary arguments and stress, but it provides a nurturing environment built upon communication, understanding, and the appreciation of one another's needs.
Banish the negatives.
Maybe he breathes really loud when he eats and it irks you. Maybe she checks her phone one-gazillion times a day, even during conversations, and it drives you nuts. These things happen and are perfectly normal. You won't find anyone in this world that doesn't have habits that occasionally get under your skin. However, if there are enough "little bothers," they can start to add up.
People don't want to point these things out. No one wants to look at their partner over a romantic, candle-lit dinner and say, "Can you please eat with your nostrils plugged?"
The solution? Don't focus on the negatives, but don't keep quiet about them, either. Maybe that romantic dinner isn't the best time to point out his obnoxious eat-breathing. So, make a mental note to mention it later. Allow yourself time to mull it over to decide if it's even worth mentioning.
Maybe you were just having a bad day, so that breathing was extra bothersome that day.
If the problem is big enough to deserve attention, try to schedule the conversation so that it doesn't come across as an attack. After all, it's easier to point out these things during an argument. It's harder to point them out gently.
However, no one ever said maintaining a relationship was easy, and pointing annoying things about your partner out during a fight is just downright hurtful (and, if they did, it probably wasn't a relationship worth mentioning).
Relationships take boundless amounts of work. Maybe that's why, a lot of times, people don't make it past the explosion. It's a never-ending process of growth, respect, learning and endurance. If you want it to work, you have to put in the work.
Learn about your partner and enjoy the experience of getting to know them better each and every day. Remind yourself that everyone is different, and celebrate your differences as you would celebrate your similarities. Fall in love with the negatives you can't change, or learn to tolerate them, and work on being a better you for yourself and your partner.
Obviously, not every relationship is meant to work out. I won't promise that this will save your relationship from doom. Some relationships are doomed from the start, like a poorly made firework that turns out to be a dud and never has the chance to rise off the ground.
Sometimes, we think we love someone, but then realize that we don't. Don't apologize for natural selection. Don't allow yourself to be the only one trying to be better for the relationship. Everyone deserves to have someone in their life that is as dedicated to the relationship as them and willing, and excited, to learn everything they can about their partner during the course of their lifetime. Someone who is willing to work on and better themselves for the relationship. Don't settle for the explosion. Aim for the drift.