Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, announced they were separating after nearly 30 years in an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday. Their story begins with an “aha” moment in the middle of what the article calls yet another “stale Saturday night of binge-watching TV” together.
“Why aren’t you a girlfriend anymore?” Mr. de Blasio reportedly asked his wife, a question that probably felt familiar to anyone in a long-term relationship who has felt the slow fading of lust and excitement.
Certainly the couple – who are not divorcing, and will continue to share the Brooklyn townhouse where they raised their children – faced other complicating factors that extend far beyond the mundane weekend plans, among them the hectic pace of electoral politics and the failure of Mr. Blasio presidential bid.
However, for those who see a core of themselves in the couple’s story, experts say there are simple but helpful questions to ask yourself and your partner before it’s too late.
Am I honest about what I want?
Falling into comfortable patterns isn’t inherently a problem, nor is it necessarily a red flag if you’re not as physically affectionate with your partner as you once were, said Megan Murphy, a licensed mental health counselor and co-founder of Expansive Therapy, an LGBT-focused psychotherapy group.
“I think it’s fabulous to screw something up with a loved one on the couch!” she said laughing. But what the article about their breakup describes is that moment or scenario where a couple realizes, “Oh, I think we want something more,” Ms. Murphy said.
Ms. Murphy encourages those in relationships to ask themselves: What do I want from my relationship? And do I get it?
“Can you be honest with yourself about that, and then you can bring that honesty to the relationship?” she said.
Of course, those are big, often thorny questions to explore, and Ms. Murphy emphasized that therapy could help. Sometimes, it can be helpful to start with individual therapy rather than couples therapy, she added, because it offers a safe environment in which to say what you want out loud.
Do things between us feel stale?
Elizabeth Earnshaw, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of the book “I Want This to Work,” often counsels couples who are concerned about patterns they may have fallen into.
In the case of a couple who spends a lot of time watching TV, for example, she encourages thinking about questions like: Is this a way to distract you both from connecting?
“Be honest and direct about what you notice and ask what they noticed too,” Ms Earnshaw said. “Something like, ‘Hey, baby, things felt stale. Did you notice that?’ Then ask what your partner might need to feel re-engaged in the relationship with you.”
Galena Rhoades, a clinical psychologist and research professor at the University of Denver, said it might be helpful for couples to have “mini-assessments” or “check-ins” in which they ask themselves things like: Are we happy with how things are going. ?
Experts sometimes recommend having check-ins as often as daily, but the general idea is to have them often enough so you can “make those smaller adjustments down the road,” Dr. Rhoades said.
Are we bringing enough energy to our relationship?
The relationship experts who spoke to The Times did not work with Mr. de Blasio and Ms. McCray and did not want to speculate on what contributed to the end of their relationship. However, Ms Earnshaw noted that the partners both described how external pressures and demands on their time had taken them away from each other.
It may sound obvious, but sometimes couples need to be reminded that it takes energy to make romantic relationships feel romantic, Ms Earnshaw said – although she acknowledged how difficult it was for anyone dealing with the myriad pressures of work, parenting and others. tensions of modern. life (Dr. Rhoades also noted that Mr. de Blasio and Ms. McCray were in a privileged situation, financially and in terms of community support and resources, which can make separation easier.)
However, couples should strive to “continually assess” what is important to them and do what they can to set limits and boundaries around the daily tasks that drain the energy of their relationship, Ms Earnshaw said. She added that it might help to start asking yourself: What role do stress and busyness play in your life together?
“When couples stay in the low-energy state of the relationship,” Ms. Earnshaw said, “it becomes harder and harder to get out.”