Familiarity…some solutions

Okay…where were we? Oh yes, we were talking about “familiarity,” a concept both good and bad for a relationship; and how, after a number of years, couples&#151having learned just about everything there is to know about each other&#151often find they’re left with the only thing(s) that remains forever fresh, the things that unfortunately never get old: the other’s irritating quirks and habits.

New relationships are great, because in the beginning the newness of the relationship far outweighs whatever differences there are between you and your partner. Together, the new, exciting and unfamiliar things, plus those differences and idiosyncrasies are that other person. They’re why you love them! It’s the proverbial Yin and Yang. Ya gotta have ‘em both.

Over time, however, the newness in a relationship wanes&#151sometimes a little, sometimes a lot; it’s only natural. And, as it does, one finds oneself left with only the differences. Our irritation about those irksome habits and quirks never seems to wane; in fact, our annoyance seems to grow, doesn’t it. Of course, this isn’t so; it’s just that with the new and interesting parts having faded (familiarity), the quirks and habits are all that are left, so they seem bigger than they were when the relationship was new. They actually aren’t; they’re just more in your face.

Dr. Jeremy Sherman, an epistemologist, in his blog entitled Ambigamy…Insights for the Deeply Romantic and Deeply Skeptical, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ambigamy/201105/the-counterintuitive-secret-glorious-relationship points out that negative feelings are felt more than good ones. He believes that to be in balance, one should endeavor to at least rub the other in a good way five times more than he or she rubs the other the wrong way. The ratio in a new, romantic relationship is probably more like, rubbing in a good way: 1,000…rubbing in a bad way: 2. Hence, the saying “love is blind.”

In the beginning, this is easy; you have (it seems) a limitless supply of patience, tons of new and exciting things to talk about, and loads of interesting anecdotes and stories to share. “Rubbing your partner in a good way five times a day is a no-brainer. But, let’s face it, once you’ve heard the same story a few dozen times, it’s hard to feign interest. Left with nothing new&#151the good noise, if you will, a person only hears the bad noise. As the good to bad ratio deteriorates, so does the relationship.

So, let’s talk about options:

Try to change your partner. Maybe you decide to change those irritating habits and quirks into something you can better deal with. In other words, make that person more like you. Believe me; you won’t like you. It’s doubtful you’d have ever gotten involved with the other person if, when you first met, he or she was just like you. Wayne Dyer, renowned self-help advocate, lecturer, and author of many books, including Your Erroneous Zones, writes that oftentimes in relationships we fall into thinking, “If only you were more like me, then I wouldn’t have to be upset right now.” Come on…you don’t really want that. You’re probably stuck with whatever quirks and habits your partner has…and that’s what makes them them. Stop focusing on your ideals and noticing how many others fall short. Practice being more tolerant and understanding the other. Save your anger for those times when it really counts.

Withdraw and focus more on yourself. Maybe you start spending more time at work, or in the basement working on a project, or you join a group (ladies’ night/men’s night) of people with like interests. You sort of pretend you’re a loner; you don’t need the other, don’t need to put up with the irritation. Mmmmm…that’ll work for a bit. The problem is you’re not a loner&#151you’re in a relationship because you want to be. If not, shut down your computer and go on your merry way. Separate, get a divorce, move on. Your problem is fixed. You are alone.

Find another partner. This, unfortunately, is one option too often chosen; though, in a way, it does make sense. With a new partner comes that newness&#151new stories, new anecdotes, experiences you have not yet heard. Your new partner’s childhood, hobby, likes and dislike, and listening to them for the first time, is a welcome rush, right? So, maybe we should get involved with someone new for the newness of it and stay “married” for the comfort and dependability. You’ve probably met people that live that way. Guess what…it’ll take little time for that other person to become familiar. Now you have two problem relationships.

Work on making your relationship new again. I probably don’t have to tell you, this is, in most cases, the way to go. If you can get that newness back to where the good noise is at least a couple of times greater than the bad noise (figuring a 5-to-1 ratio is likely next to impossible without changing partners), then, hopefully, the affection you have for the other (the love) will tip the scales in your favor.

Does this sound pretty much impossible to you? How can you pretend your loved one is “new?” I mean, let’s face it…they’re not.

Well, first&#151and I know there are examples of how this has worked for some couples&#151I don’t subscribe to pretending that you have never met, arranging meetings in singles bars, or “picking-up” each other. Admittedly, I don’t watch Green Lantern, I don’t believe in Santa Claus, or put my teeth under the pillow in hopes of a twenty-five cent reward, so pretending isn’t something at which I am very good. Still, I can’t imagine a relationship’s renewal based on make-believe or having to pretend you don’t know each other. If that works for you, great.

Here are some of my ideas for renewing the pizazz you felt when your relationship was new:

• Spend the next week watching/taking note of how many things you and your partner do automatically. Don’t do anything about it for now…just watch and take notes. For instance, in the morning do you get up and fix coffee for you both? Sounds like a nice thing to do, right? Well, when you first did it, it probably was to be nice. But, doing it every time&#151because it’s habit&#151isn’t being nice…it’s just routine, that’s all. And, even if for you the newness is still there, you can bet that it’s so routine for the other they probably don’t even notice anymore…or appreciate it. Routine is comfortable, it’s warm, it’s fuzzy. It’s also death to a relationship. As you plan your relationship renewal, why not plan a day where, instead of fixing both coffees&#151when your partner comes down&#151suggest to him or her that you go to “that neat little coffee shop” (try to find someplace unique, not the local Starbucks). Once there, stand in line together and chat about the place, the interesting people&#151remark or make fun of someone, like you used to when you were trying to be clever or funny&#151then order something good to eat and split it. To hell with the diet. Would you have fretted about carbs on a date, or newly married? Hell, no. Just splitting something with that new person was a trip in itself. So do it. Be new. Get a scone, split it. Keep it on one plate. Take turns taking bites. Feed the other a bite. Corny? Maybe, but it works. That’s what you’d have done when your relationship was new. Now make this one new.

• Okay, so maybe you don’t drink coffee. How ‘bout this? Let’s say you are both exercise nuts; you like to jog/run in the morning. Typically, the female runs more slowly (please don’t write me to complain that I’m sexist; I already know I am and am very comfortable in my sexist skin). If you (I’m addressing the male now) usually run separately, next time tell your partner that you’ll run with her for the first mile or so. She’ll probably say ask you why. Tell her you just want to spend some more time with her, that’s all. She can’t slight you for that, right? I’ll bet it’ll mean a lot to her. Try to finds ways to share your exercise time. Make it a time you spend together. Maybe find some new exercise routine you both can enjoy. Bike riding, rowing, kayaking, tennis (tennis lessons together), walking, hiking…the list goes on. Pretend you just met; you’d have found plenty of exercise things to do together then.

I’m sure you’re getting the idea. Find ways to spend more time together. And, while you do, forget the little (and most are little) differences. Get out of that frame of mind that thinks the other is being different to piss you off. They aren’t. They’re human. We humans make extra effort to impress when we meet, but tend to let our guard down when we get comfortable. We stop being careful to please, thinking we’re all set. We aren’t. Believe me, we aren’t.

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