More relationships die by ice than by fire – John Gottman

One of the most common complaints I hear from couples is that one or both of the partners feel lonely, or they are not important, or that the relationship itself is not important – it’s pushed aside by work, childcare, housework, social media, family, or friends. 

Others feel like things are fine, there is no conflict which can sometimes mean there is not passion or deep connection. The absence of conflict is not necessarily a good thing.

In this blog post, I will explore the idea that relationships often deteriorate slowly over time, much like ice gradually melting, rather than ending abruptly or in an explosive way like a fire. This concept, as suggested by renowned couples therapist John Gottman, highlights the importance of addressing the subtle issues that can erode a relationship.

Many couples find themselves in a situation where they feel distant and unimportant, or that their relationship is taking a backseat to other life priorities. This feeling of emotional neglect can stem from the busyness of daily life, whether it’s work, childcare, household chores, or the distractions of social media, family, and friends.

It’s common for couples to experience a lack of passion and deep connection, even in the absence of overt conflicts.

Let’s take a look at a fictional couple, Sarah and David. When they first met they would go on weekends away, camping, to music festivals, to the movies and stay up late talking and laughing together. They loved their life together, they worked, had fun and made time for each other. 

5 years later. they, like many others, have become entangled in the demands of their careers and the responsibilities of raising children.  Now their days are consumed by work and household tasks, leaving little time for each other. Their relationship started to resemble “ice,” slowly encroaching on their connection. At the end of the day after a long day of work and wrangling kids to bed, they plonk on the couch, exhausted scrolling through their phones or falling asleep to reruns of old TV shows. While they rarely argued, they also failed to engage in meaningful conversations beyond practical matters. They were essentially living parallel lives. They both love their family, yet slowly they’ve been feeling more and more disconnected and lonely. They haven’t spent time together without the kids in months and they can’t even remember the last time they had sex.

One common misconception among couples in similar situations is the belief that date nights are the sole solution to reconnecting. However, it’s essential to recognise that revitalising a relationship requires more than occasional outings. Here are some practical tips for couples seeking to rekindle their connection:

Check-in with Each Other: Dedicate at least 15 minutes each evening to genuinely connect with your partner. Ask open-ended questions to understand their feelings and experiences.

Practice Non-Defensive Responding: When your partner raises concerns, avoid defensive reactions and instead respond with understanding and empathy.

Avoid Counter-Attacks: Instead of launching counter-attacks when issues arise, focus on addressing one problem at a time.

Schedule Couple Time: Plan positive shared experiences, such as date nights, to infuse excitement into your relationship and create lasting memories.

Treat Each Other with Courtesy and Respect: How you treat each other forms the foundation of conflict resolution and a healthy relationship.

State of the Union Meetings: Allocate time each week to discuss your relationship openly, expressing positive feelings and desires.

Talk About Your Sex Lives: Have open and honest discussions about your sex life and needs to ensure both partners are satisfied.

Remember, the key to a successful relationship is ongoing communication about every aspect of your partnership. If you have further questions or need additional advice, please feel free to ask. Your relationship matters, and there is always a path to reconnect and strengthen the bond you share.

Other resources to try to get a conversation going

Download the Gottman love deck and work your way through the cards

Emotional conversation cards 

Pillow Talk 

Is it too late for couples therapy?


By Marie Vakakis