By Dr. Richard Nicastro
Why is it that we have no problem lounging around in our favorite sweatpants (with the hole in the knee) and our favorite threadbare T-shirt (with the rip in the sleeve) in front of our spouse/partner, but if our friends/co-workers were on the way over, we’d change into something “decent” in a quick hurry? Now I’m not suggesting we throw away our comfortable clothes (I love those sweatpants!), but I am suggesting we look at the curious differences between how hard we try to get most people to like us, and how many of us in long-term relationships have stopped trying that hard where our spouse/partner is concerned.
Part of the reason we might be comfortable “any old way” in front of our spouse/partner is due to that feeling of comfort we build after knowing that other person for a while, after feeling secure that they love us, “warts and all.” That’s a good thing, and should be celebrated. But let’s look at another reason we may not care so much about putting our best foot forward for our mate: we don’t feel we need to anymore.
Marriage help: Does your spouse/partner still like you?
When you were first dating, you weren’t only aware of desire for that special someone—you were aware of whether or not you liked him/her (and whether those feelings of like were returned). Like is a grossly overlooked aspect of long-term romantic relationships, and the missing ingredient for many couples who report they’ve “fallen out of love” with their partners or that they love their mate, but are no longer “in love” with them.
You have no trouble making sure your friends like you and want to hang out with you. Now how about maintaining that for your most important relationship, your intimate relationship?
When you stop liking your spouse/partner
When a marriage/relationship becomes distressed, it can feel as if you still love your spouse or partner but that you’re not “in love” with him/her any longer. I’ve observed a pattern for some of these couples that might be summarized as:
“While I still may love you, I’m pretty sure I don’t like you anymore.”
Falling out of like with your spouse/partner can pose a significant challenge to your relationship. When you like someone, you want to be around that person and spend as much time as possible with him/her—and the opposite is true when you no longer like someone.
Couples who no longer like one another:
1. Avoid each other whenever possible;
2. Experience more negative emotions when together;
3. Become less tolerant of each other’s foibles;
4. Pull back emotionally and stop sharing the deepest parts of themselves with one another;
5. Can begin to feel trapped in the marriage or relationship.
Commit to increasing your likability quotient
For many couples, continuing to act in ways that will keep like alive doesn’t fall under the commitment umbrella. This should change: after all, don’t you want your partner to continue to like you?
For a moment, think back to when you first starting dating your spouse/partner. In this “wooing” stage, you probably acted in ways to make your new love-interest like you (with the goal of capturing her/his love). You understood the importance and power of getting your partner to like you.
Now it’s time to set up a Maintenance Likeability Plan.
Your plan should be to keep the likeability factor alive and well. This doesn’t have to be a complicated, exhausting process. In fact, the simpler, the better. To create a personalized likeability plan for your marriage or relationship, ask yourself the following:
What did you do early on in the relationship that helped you woo your partner?
What is your partner drawn to about you and does s/he still find these traits appealing? (If you’re uncertain about this, ask him/her).
Reflect on these questions—your responses will give you important information that can guide you. For instance, if one of the things your partner was drawn to was your sense of humor (and over the years of domesticity, this has been lost), then you can take necessary steps to bring humor back into the relationship mix.