Those times when we are in the ‘flow’ with our partner is just so very precious! Which can make the inevitable ‘ebbs’ just plain yukky.

While I don’t particularly like them either, it helps when I remember that so much of our world has a natural ebb and flow to it, that we take for granted: our breath, the tides, the seasons, even the cycle of day and night, activity and slumber. If there is an easy rhythm to your relational ebbs and flows, don’t fret it. Savor the flows! And think of the ebbs as an out-breath, a resting period, not unlike how trees go dormant in the cold weather—gathering their resources, readying themselves, to burst forth green and vibrant in the spring.

Ebbs are normal

We can’t be in a sweet groove every moment of every day; there has to be those lesser-than-high moments in life. This is certainly true in our love relationships. Sometimes ebbs are short and light and pass relatively quickly. But there will be those times—in every relationship—when the ebb is deeper and may last longer than we wish.

Every long-term relationship goes through strain or crises. Relationship ebbs and flows are normal. These crises can be personal—like a breach of some sort in the relationship, a serious illness or accident, or a shift in what one partner wants or values—or they can be global, like the Coronavirus pandemic that’s currently affecting us all. When the good will between you is high, then you will be able to ride these periods of distance fairly well, using whatever communication tools you have available to you.

When to be concerned

When to be concerned is when the ‘ebb’ becomes a ‘chasm’: the distance between the two of you feels deep, wide and perhaps not traversable. Don’t let these periods go on and on—that can be damaging. Consider first approaching your partner using the ‘sandwich’ style approach: The ‘bread’ is love and appreciation, with the ‘meat’ is the gentle expression of your fears, your concerns.  

For example:  
Sweetheart, I’m feeling kind of scared.  I know how delicious our connection can be and how much it means to me. And I know you’re under a ton of stress right now.  And yet, it feels to me like we’ve grown really far apart in the past two months, and it scares me. All I really need is for you to hear my concerns. And I’d really like to know if there’s anything I can do to bridge this gap I’m feeling, please let me know. You mean the world to me.

You get the idea.

When that doesn’t work or feel like enough: I would suggest you seek couple’s counseling. It isn’t uncommon for someone in a relationship to be struggling with an internal conflict that they aren’t sure how to articulate. They may minimize their feelings; they don’t want to hurt their partner, so they say nothing. Often they aren’t sure how to say it. But the reality of our human emotions is, they live within us until we address them. We—all of us who are clinicians—are here to help you with that.  So, reach out.

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