This is a question couples ask themselves amidst a tragic separation. It’s a question you arrive at when you’ve hit the end of a road and don’t know how you got there and where to go. It’s what happens when gradually, over time, your relationship erodes and then suddenly, you realize it’s in real trouble.
The problem is, too many couples arrive at the end of their relationship without understanding how they got there.
Relationships aren’t automatic or automated. You don’t get to have one big conversation and then coast for decades. You must keep feeding your relationship, nurturing it, and growing it.
And to feed your relationship so that it flourishes, you must talk to each other.
You must have conversations! And not just any conversations, fierce conversations. (Learn more about Fierce Conversations here.)
Because if you don’t have the conversations, then suddenly you’ll wake up to: How did we get here?
And let me tell you, that’s not a great place to finally open your eyes.
To stop your relationship from getting there, you have to be more aware.
Remember, our relationships flourish, flatline or fail gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time. The end of your relationship might have come as a shock to you because you stopped paying attention to the “gradually” (which is where most of our relationship lives). Instead, you woke up when a negative “suddenly” finally hit, usually because you’ve stopped having conversations and failed to say how you’re really feeling.
If you can pay attention to what you’re saying (or not saying) now, you won’t wake up after it’s too late.
Keep reading to learn how you can wake up your relationship.
So, how did you end up here? If you can reflect on that question honestly, you’ll probably realize that there may have been pivotal moments or turning points in your relationship that set things in motion downhill. But, for the most part, it’s things that didn’t happen that caused the spiral.
Oftentimes, you’ve hit the “suddenly” because you stopped paying attention to the “gradually”. We live most of our lives in the gradually. We live in the mundane. We live in the conversations we’re having. In fact, the conversations is the relationship.
So what happens when you stop paying attention to the most important part of your relationship? It flat lines. Your relationship fails because you’ve starved it from the nourishment of conversation.
It’s usually the conversations we’re not having, the conversations we’ve been avoiding for weeks, months, or even years that cause a total and final collapse. It can be subtle, which is why it can be so devastating.
If we wake up and pay attention, though, we can pick up on the clues. We can see clearly that our relationship is headed for doom and we can course-correct, re-adjust, and learn the tools we need so that we can be an active participant in our relationship moving forward.
I’ve conducted more than ten thousand hours of conversations with industry leaders all over the world. And the turning point, for me, was all thanks to the great Ernest Hemingway. In his book, The Sun Also Rises, a banker sits at a bar and is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?” The character responds, “gradually and then… suddenly.”
This is when I realized, our relationships (and our lives), succeed or fail gradually and then suddenly, one conversation at a time.
A relationship doesn’t truly fail “all of a sudden” because if you look at how you got to the end, you’ll see it was a series of missed connections, failed attempts, and frustrated feelings that got you there.
Take an achievement you’ve accomplished at work for example. How did you do it? I’ll bet it wasn’t from being complacent, quiet, or passive. It was probably because you took consistent action and over time, you achieved your result.
It’s the same for relationships. We must show up consistently and ready to take action (aka have the conversations) if we want to achieve a love relationship that is connected and healthy.
Take these “suddenly” statements for example.
If these statements come as a surprise, then you’ve been asleep for the ride. Statements like these don’t come from nowhere and they take a while to build up.
So, are you going to wake up your relationship now… before the “suddenly” comes?
One of the biggest reasons couples arrive at “suddenly” is because their “gradually” was long and silent.
If you’re at the point of questioning how you got to the end of your relationship and upon further reflection you find that there were no real tragic moments or turning points that you can remember. That’s when you know the problem was the silence.
What conversations were you not having? What feelings did you have that you didn’t speak? When did your communication turn into complacency? At what point did you stop trying?
These are all pivotal moments that got you to your point of “suddenly.”
When we stop being open in our communication and become closed off to important conversations, we slowly start shoving our relationship further into a rut. And, over time, we’ve dug ourselves so deep that it feels much better to stay asleep than to wake up and try to fix things.
But if you don’t wake up and pay attention to the problems, then you’ll find yourself at the end of the road trying to figure out what checkpoints you missed.
It’s pretty simple. When your conversations end, so does your marriage or relationship.
The good news is, not all relationships have to end this way. It is completely possible for you to wake up your relationship right now.
It all starts with a conversation.
If you ask yourself, “How do I get from where I am today to where I want to be?” you’ll realize that you do that the same way you got to where you are now… gradually, and then suddenly, one conversation at a time.
You can start finding love with your partner right now by beginning to have conversations with intention. And it’s important to be aware of common roadblocks in your communication. Remember, the intention is not to be clever, cute or interesting. The intention is to put yourself out there and see where the conversation wants to go. It’s about listening deeply, using empathy, and asking sincere heart-felt questions. You may be surprised how quickly this approach can get to the heart of your relationship.
If you open communication by starting with deeply intentional and truthful conversations, you’ll be surprised to see that it probably won’t require as many conversations as you might think.
There is no one road map to relationships and often our cues and clues that our reality is changing are extremely subtle. It is these subtle moments that we must train ourselves to notice, be alert and responsive to because these subtleties are the secrets to a re-igniting the spark in your relationship.
So wake up, pay attention, and begin noticing moments where you can intervene so that you can find love with your partner. Otherwise, your relationship might be headed for a crash that only a clean-up crew can handle.