Adapting to Transition as a Couple
“You must be formless, shapeless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” –Bruce Lee
Even though we’ve been together for 5 years, we feel like our relationship is new because we’re constantly adapting to life’s transitions. Having to adapt to changes has been useful because it's led us to define and re-define our relationship and has kept us from stagnating.
According to Schlossberg’s (1984) theory of transition, a transition is an event or nonevent resulting in changed roles, relationships, routines, and assumptions. Common life transitions include moving, deaths, illnesses, changes to one’s state of financial well-being, employment changes, and so on.
In our short time together, we’ve changed student statuses twice, job statuses multiple times, family relationships have shifted, and health and well-being has had its twists. Each time, we’ve had to navigate through these transitions.
Using the example of our latest transition – getting a place together – this post is about how we try to mindfully adapt to life’s transitions together.
Since winter of last year, we’ve been in transition: we got engaged, we got a house together, and we got new jobs or new job responsibilities.
As you may imagine, going from living apart and seeing each other only two or three times a week to being with each other every morning, evening, and night and being responsible for a home can call for changes in each person’s roles, responsibilities, assumptions, and routines.
If you approach a transition with the same mindset prior to transition, there will be a point where you’ll hit a roadblock and have to adapt. A few weeks ago, we hit that roadblock.
Don’t get us wrong, we got along very well and established some great routines regarding our responsibilities in the house and enjoyed the increased amount of time together. However, something was a little off the last few months and we weren’t sure how to approach it – we didn’t even really know what the issue was.
All we knew was that we were exhibiting some symptoms of emotional disconnection. We could tell because we were sometimes slightly insensitive toward each other in situations that called for sensitivity and we were sometimes slightly too sensitive in situations that usually left us appropriately unphased.
You know when you just feel like the spark could be brighter? Though the issues were relatively minor, we don’t like to settle for less than a simple, fulfilling, and happy relationship.
We eventually realized that we had to change something about ourselves if we wanted to continue to share the same beautiful path.
Step 1: Self-Reflection
Step 1 is about understanding what you think has changed and how that makes you feel.
It can be tempting to ignore that something has changed; it’s sometimes more comfortable to avoid tackling change. But the quicker we can be mindful about the change, the better for our relationship and for our own happiness.
Lindsey was away for a few weekends in a row, so this gave us the perfect opportunity to reflect on how we felt about ourselves in relation to the relationship and to fine tune our individual mindsets and emotional states. In other words, the physical separation allowed us the space to gain perspective and to acknowledge that we were, in fact, in transition.
You could do the same with your relationships and ask: Is the relationship fulfilling? Is there an opportunity to feel more connected to my partner? Am I happy? What may have changed? How can I improve my thinking, attitudes, and behaviours to support a healthier relationship? What are my needs? What are my partner’s core needs? Are they being met? You may want to talk it out with a trusted friend.
Develop a few potential answers, but don’t attach yourself to any of them because none of them may be addressing the root cause of the issue. We also have to be careful not to fall into victim’s thinking, which typically involves blaming others or external events for your circumstances.
An example of victim’s thinking is: “I’m not happy because he/she is always surfing the net instead of spending quality time with me.” You are responsible for your happiness.
When it came down to it, we noticed that we were a little distracted when we were “supposed” to be spending time with one another. Distraction weakens active listening, emotional connection, and ultimately, presence.
We knew that we needed to be more present with one another, even when we had a lot going on individually. But how could we bring about change?
Step 2: Come Together to Support Each Other
Come together to lay out the issues in a supportive and consensual manner. Again, it’s not comfortable, but it’s worth it. Even more difficult is to approach this conversation in a loving way rather than in a judgmental or egotistical way.
Sometimes, the more profound the transition and the longer it’s gone without being addressed, the more emotional and difficult the conversation can be because there’s more “stuff” to uncover. It was for us, but it was worth it!
As always, proceed with a spirit of inquiry and understanding. Seek to understand the core needs of the other individual using effective questioning and active listening. Mind your tone.
Also be sure to communicate your own needs clearly and give them full disclosure of your context. Don’t expect your partner to know what you’re thinking or why you’re thinking it, and don’t take things personally.
If you end up becoming defensive or aggressive, just apologize and take time to reset the conversation. Try your best not to bring your ego to this conversation. It can take a few conversations to iron this out. Our conversation lasted almost 2 hours and it was on the way home from being out of town.
It’s helpful to choose the mindset of being grateful that you and your partner are having such an important conversation.
Our conversation started with one of us expressing that we should have a talk about our relationship. Throughout our conversation, we tried to get to the root cause of the issue. We realized that after moving in together we spent very few hours alone (individually). We were either at work, at our hobbies, together, with friends, or with family.
However, when we lived apart from one another, we had more personal time since we’d only see each other 2-3 days a week and were otherwise left to our own networks, commitments, and personal pursuits.
When we moved in together, we were naturally in each other’s space more often and we hadn’t had an explicit conversation about how to create individual time each evening.
On average, we only had 3 or 4 hours before bed when we got home, so we felt that we had to spend as much of that with each other when we weren’t preparing for dinner, preparing for bed, working on personal things, or out with friends/family.
Step 3: Develop a Sustainable Strategy Together
Once you’ve allowed the emotions to come out and spent time on root cause analysis, you might be ready to work on solutions together. We find it helpful to spend lots of time on Steps 1 and 2 to ensure that everything is “out in the open”. This is important so that the plan can address most, if not all, of the needs.
Develop a plan together and keep each other accountable to working through it for a few weeks. Adapt as necessary, but do so intentionally. Also, remember that small steps lead to big wins.
Since we get home from work late, we decided to make a type of “informal evening schedule” so we could be more intentional with our short time together in the evenings, while still making time for ourselves and each other.
The new guidelines:
Arrive, prepare for dinner and learn about each other’s day;
Have deeper chats over dinner time;
Personal time (new!);
Team things like working out, wedding planning, etc.; and
Prepare for bed, talk about Relationship Zen, and do our joint partner appreciation exercises before or after individual nighttime protocols/journaling/routines.
In this schedule, we’re valuing team time as well as recognizing the importance of personal time. It’s so much better for us! We use that hour or so to work on our personal interests and serve our personal needs.
Essentially, we learned that our lifestyles were incongruent with one of our own core Relationship Zen principles: we’re not two halves, we’re two wholes sharing a path. This new schedule reflects that principle better because it enables us to work on ourselves as well as on our third self: the shared path!
What kind of transitions have you been through in your relationships? How did the transition affect your routines, roles, relationships, and assumptions? How did you respond? Let us know in the comment section below or on our Facebook group!
Sending you positive vibes,
“The key is not to prioritize your schedule but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey