Momentum is defined as:
“the strength or force that something has when it’s moving”
Looked at this way momentum is often thought of in terms of a physical object, but physical objects aren’t the only things that can have momentum.
Momentum is also found in the world of sports. Take basketball (since that’s what I know best):
Maybe a player hits a few shots, then makes a great defensive play. Next thing you know the game is coming easily and the player (or team) is “in a zone”, confidence builds and everything seems to be working. In this case momentum is more like a feeling or an energy; and this energy can be seen through body language. When things are going well players are loose, carefree, and seem to be having fun. It can’t really be quantified, but anyone who has felt it or even just witnessed it knows it real.
One thing about momentum though, you can’t always control it and it’s not always positive. Just as positive momentum can build, players or teams can go cold and the momentum can shift. Sometimes a team appears to have a game well in hand, and then something happens. Maybe they start missing a few shots, or have some defensive lapses. At first it’s not a big deal as they still have the lead. But as the game becomes closer the energy starts to shift, and instead of playing freely players start to tighten up. Doubt starts to creep in and they start to rush. The opponent senses the shift, as do the fans.
When this happens a coach will often call a timeout to give the team a bit of a pep talk and try to prevent the negative momentum from building any further. See, momentum in this sense comes down a lot to confidence and belief. It is a form of energy visible largely through body language.
Momentum in Relationships
Relationships also have momentum. The early days of a relationship are often generally marked by a sense of positive momentum. The couple may just be getting to know each other, but they are relaxed, comfortable with each other and having fun.
Unfortunately just as there is positive momentum, there can also be negative momentum. And when you find yourself getting caught in negative momentum you can feel powerless to stop it.
The problem with negative momentum in relationships is that there is no coach to call a timeout and try to get things under control. Instead, this negative momentum can feed off itself and build, potentially spiraling out of control.
The Downward Spiral
I recently read an article by couples therapists Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt talking about how negative energy impacts relationships.
The therapists were a couple themselves, and as their own marriage was struggling they made an interesting discovery. Their discovery was that this negative momentum makes it very difficult to get out because people start to guard themselves, misinterpret things and look for offense even where none is intended.
As a result, even when partners are making attempts to improve the relationship and “make things better”, it often doesn’t work. People can become unable to recognize genuine love.
Harville ticks off the ways we deflect what we secretly crave: by devaluing praise; by assuming the other person is insincere; by criticizing the sender of a positive message for not getting it right, not doing it on time, or not doing it often enough; by not listening; or by feeling embarrassed.
For instance, there was the wife who told her husband she needed him to express more affection—then resisted his kisses and kind words because, she said, they didn’t feel genuine. Another husband admitted that when his wife offered verbal support, he shut down and didn’t respond. And when a new father took time off from work to help his exhausted wife with their twins, she refused to let him do his share.
“The common wisdom,” they write, “is that romantic relationships would stay happy if people did a better job of giving to each other. But that’s not what we’ve discovered. We’ve found that many people need to do a better job of receiving the gifts their partners are already offering. It’s surprising how often the compliments, appreciation and encouragement of a well-intentioned partner make no dent in the armor of an unhappy partner.
When we are unhappy, we start to put up barriers, perpetuating our unhappiness and making it difficult for things to improve. One of the big problems is when we start looking for ulterior motives. If you are looking for hidden meanings and slights, you will always be able to find them.
This causes people to discount genuine attempts at improving and strengthening the relationship. People take the approach of “oh, he/she is only doing this because they want something”.
Yeah, they probably do want something. They want to make the relationship better. They want to see their partner smile again. They want to experience a loving relationship the way they once had. They want to be happy again as a couple. “Wanting something” doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
So they do their best to try to make things better, but they don’t know how. And when all their attempts at improving things are ignored or looked at suspiciously eventually they will give up.
That is when relationships die.
Loss of Hope
I’ve said before that I don’t think it’s ever too late. Sure, there are some cases where it’s best for everyone if a relationship ends. Often when relationships end I think that both people do still love each other. But that love is buried under layers of hurt and resentment, and it has gotten to the point where they don’t believe they will ever be happy again.
Consider the following:
It’s kind of a morbid thought, but I think the same thing happens in relationships. I don’t think anyone “wants” a divorce (alright, maybe some do but those are probably exceptions). They just want to be happy again, and they have lost hope that they will be able to.
Frequently when long term relationships fail, one or both members wish they could have made it work. And often long after the relationship has ended, people hold out hope that they will somehow be able to reconcile.
A buddy of mine ended up divorced after his wife walked out on him, and even after the divorce he wore his ring for 6 months hoping that somehow they could figure things out. Eventually he gave up and moved on with his life (only to have her come back wanting to patch things up after it was too late). Reading other blogs and comments sections, for the person who was dumped/scorned/left there is often a wish that things could be different, and they could be back together.
The failure of a long term relationship is not an easy thing, and the only people who seem to be unfazed by it are people who have already started a new relationship prior to ending the old one. Incidentally, those affair relationships are almost always doomed to failure. Stats say that 40-50% of first marriages fail (pretty depressing), but when you look at numbers on the affair relationships that cause marriages to end, the stats jump to around 80%.
I think people give up on their relationships too easily. Long term love isn’t always easy – you need to build it, and keep building it every day of your life.
Negative momentum can threaten to tear things down, so we need to find ways to recognize when it is happening, stop it and turn it around when it occurs.
We need to start opening ourselves up to genuine gestures of love, and stop looking for problems and issues. You will always be able to find things to be unhappy about if you are looking for them.
You get out of life what you put into it. It can be hard when you are unhappy, but you need to start focusing on the positive, and appreciating the things that are good. I’m sure there is a lot of good, but it can be hard to see when you are caught in negative momentum.
No matter what state your relationship is in, things can always get better. Things can always improve. But you need to open yourself up and allow love back in.
For any readers out there who have “been through the fires”, I would love to hear from you. What are some things that you have used to hold on and maintain your love when times were tough? Feel free to comment below or email me at email@example.com