Are you quickly giving up hope in your relationship; do you sometimes feel that the only solution is to leave?
Maybe you have hope, but you can feel your partner slipping away—and you’re desperate to find something that will turn things around.
Over the past 40+ years, I’ve counseled many couples in your shoes. People who were so estranged, they could barely look at each other when they talked. Painfully, one or both of them feels that the situation is hopeless and that there’s no choice but to breakup or divorce.
In these fragile moments, I know that I have to do whatever I can in a short amount of time to get them back on track.
They may not have hope, and you might not, either.
But I do, because I’ve seen relationships like yours do a 180 and surprise both parties.
When you’re in this hopeless spot with your partner, all you can see is the darkness and the pain that is consuming you.
It’s the same for the couples who have come to me—some even as a last-ditch effort.
They’ve been focusing so long on what has gone wrong that it’s hard for them to imagine things could be any different in the future.
In order to make some progress—and all we need is just a little bit to get going—I need to get them to see beyond the pain.
The same goes for you.
And that’s why one of the most effective moves I can do with any couple is to ask them to stop focusing, for a moment, on what’s going on right now.
It’s called “Thinking Backwards,” and it works wonders.
Thinking backwards is a really powerful strategy for getting over the hump of hopelessness and jump-starting a flailing relationship.
Here’s how it works:
I’ll ask a couple what it would take to give them hope for their relationship.
Some will say:
“I don’t know.”
“We’ve been to therapy and tried everything.”
“I’m just hopeless.”
I’ll say, “Okay. If I had a magic wand I could wave, and it made you leave here with a sliver of hope, what would that look like?”
By introducing the fantasy element, I get them to expand their (up-to-now) contracted viewpoint.
From there, we create a vision for how we want the relationship to look. This gives us the positive outlook we need to make changes working toward that. So, even though things don’t look great now, we hold the vision we want and work backwards from that.
And one of the best places to look for inspiration is right where love started.
When I push strained couples to think about what would give them hope, one of them will often say, “Well, I’d like to feel how I did when we fell in love.”
This is magic, because the infatuation stage is a prototype for how to get the original connection back.
When you and your partner fell in love, you both acted in ways that made each other feel loved—even if they weren’t natural behaviors.
When people fall in love, non-touchers become touchers and non-talkers become talkers. It’s all happening because there are actual chemical changes happening in the body.
Love literally makes you “fall”—by lowering your defences. During this stage, you’re wired to look for what’s good in your partner and ignore what you don’t like. You also naturally do things that facilitate connection: you make time for each other, you listen closely, you try to understand.
What happens over time, as the relationship matures, is that both people revert back to their normal ways—the non-touchers go back to not touching as much, and the non-talkers seem to withdraw. Either way, they’re no longer engaging in the behaviors that established the relationship connection in the first place.
If you and your partner are feeling disconnected, looking closely at what you each did in courtship holds valuable clues for falling in love again.
That’s what I’m trying to do with couples in the thinking backwards exercises. I try to get them to re-imagine their relationship as it can be, and then pinpoint the behaviors from their past that helped them fall in love in the first place.
So I’ll ask the initially helpless couple what it felt like to fall in love.
I’ll often hear things like:
“She was always so attentive to me and receptive to my affection.”
“He always made me a top priority and planned fun things to do for us.”
Right away, I’m learning what this couple needs to get out of the dark despair and into lit-up love.
For the man who remembers the attentiveness and affection, his wife now has a specific action she can take to make him feel loved. For the woman who loved when he planned fun activities, he now gets a clue for a positive action he can take to bring them closer.
These specific, positive, and impactful ideas focus them on the solution, instead of the pain.
Up until now, they’ve only been focusing on what’s wrong, which only keeps them stuck in the problem. If I can get them to think about something other than the problem, and acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, something can help, then they’re out of the problem and into the solution. They have something tactical and positive to build on, and all that energy they were expending in being stuck in the problem can be redirected to creating something better.
Suddenly, we’re in brand-new territory. Before, things seemed dark and doomed for failure. Now, we’ve opened a window. Even just a crack will do to let some light in. This alone gets them to re-orient their thinking to possibility rather than hopelessness.
Then we can say, “Great. What else would give you hope?”
Once we’re thinking about what this new relationship would look like, we paint a clear picture. Together, each person brings their own needs and wants to the table about how they want to feel loved in the relationship.
With this as our vision, we take cues from the courtship stage to figure out what the couple needs to start doing now to recapture the magic. We work “backwards” from the vision until we get there.
We remember what the couple did with each other and for each other at the beginning—planning time together, listening closely, touching more. It’s these little things that added up to the magic they experienced before and that they’re craving now.
This is what I mean about thinking backwards—what kind of experience do I want to have, and what kind of attitude and behavior do I need to make it happen?
This joint relationship goal becomes your North Star, your guiding principle for how you relate to your mate.
Thinking backwards then helps keep your relationship on solid ground; by anchoring you to your common vision, you naturally do the behaviors to keep the connection alive.
So, what would give YOU hope for your relationship?
Imagine a relationship where you get choked up thinking of your spouse—happy tears as you reflect on what this person means in your life.
You go to bed at night and wake up knowing someone has your back.
You laugh with each other, and even at each other. But it’s all in loving fun. Your connection and sense of self never feel threatened.
Imagine enjoying adventures together, well into your later years.
All this despite the challenges, because they didn’t break you—they just made you stronger.
In Wake Up In A New Marriage, I’m going to teach you about “gateway activities”—specific techniques that open the door to a connected, loving relationship, even if you’re feeling hopeless about your partner.
Some of the exercises will feel awkward, but this is exactly what makes them work. You have to override the comfort zone in order to create something new—in this case, a new marriage.
Here’s a sneak peek: if you want to make a change, it’s easier to move towards something than away from something. In other words, it’s easier to start adding healthy foods to your diet than to expect you to remove the junk food all at once.
In the case of a relationship, we’re going to focus on looking at how we can add positive behaviors rather than eliminate negative ones. When couples take this approach, they find that the negative stuff starts dropping away, and because the couple is so much more connected, things that bothered them before don’t seem to bother them now. How they’re living and loving each other is just so much better!Falling In Love Again Is A Skill
Notice how all these strategies bring back the things you would naturally do for and with each other when you first fell in love? That’s thinking backwards in action, and it works beautifully to lift you out of hopelessness and into togetherness again:
May you have an extraordinary day,
P.S. People who overcome challenges to reach what I call vintage love wouldn’t trade it for the early lust stage. The kind of security, safety, and connection you get as love matures—and you stay the course for it—is truly precious.
Wake Up In A New Marriage is a prototype for true love, not just infatuation:A Love That Will Last Past Infatuation