“I guess I’m bored with the whole marriage…We no longer try anything fun together.” ~Claretta, married twelve years
“Our relationship problems center around the fact that we no longer excite each other.” ~Jonathan, dating his partner for almost five years
The above issues are not exclusive to troubled couples. No matter how much we love and admire and respect our spouse/partner, long-term relationships/marriages are vulnerable to growing stale. It’s an unshakable relationship truth that over time novelty dwindles and excitement fades. And as years pass, the mystery and thrill of mutual discovery is edged out by the familiarity and comfort of knowing each other fully.
Relationship Trouble: The Double-Edged Sword of Familiarity
There is an inherent excitement to discovering more and more about the person you’ve fallen in love with. And it doesn’t matter whether the discovered information is shared (“You like Quentin Tarantino movies? So do I!) or not (“That’s great that you like to cook–I never could get into it”) — transparency about each other allows for a greater sense of predictability and emotional security (unless, of course, you discover something about your partner that conflicts with or violates something you need or value).
At some level, we all yearn for relationship stability: the familiarity and predictability of our spouse/partner that accompanies routine over time. Such predictability has the power to emotionally ground us; it allows us to feel safe, emotionally connected, and can make us feel sane when we fear we’re losing it. It is a vital part of a healthy relationship foundation and helps to build a security that allows us to share the deepest parts of ourself (the parts no one else get to see).
But can too much of a good thing have a downside?
As the quotes at the beginning of this article suggest, familiarity and predictability can also feel tedious and lead to a sense of boredom for some of us. And in fact, many couples complain of having a humdrum relationship (“We never do anything fun…”; “We do the same thing every weekend; I’m sick of it!”; “The sex is fine, I guess, it’s just that it’s so predictable…”). What these complaints suggest is that familiarity and predictability devoid of any variety (repetitive sameness without a dose or two of change or novelty) can lead us straight into the arms of a relationship rut.
Shake It Up a Little (Without Losing the Security that Grounds the Relationship)
“Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all it’s flavour.” ~William Cowper
We all get caught in ruts at times (in our marriage/relationship, creatively, at work, spiritually). And one of the defining features of a rut is the emotional experience of drabness—the vibrant emotional colors that infuse our life and relationship are muted by the tedious mundaneness of life. And there is no way to avoid the mundane–it is a part of life and every relationship (to think otherwise is to be unrealistic about long-term relationships).
While there are different reasons for why a couple may struggle with relationship boredom, it’s important for you and your partner to assess whether your relationship has staled within the comfort and confines of the familiar (for instance, the same routines day and night). If so, you do not have to drastically turn your marriage/relationship upside-down. Instead, communicate with your partner about the issue and the importance of familiarity and predictability. And discuss the importance of being open to some type of change or adventure, one that may be needed to infuse your relationship with vibrancy (an emotional, intellectual, sexual, creative or spiritual charge).
Remember, any novelty or change that is introduced into the relationship does not have to be earth-shattering (grand gestures can overwhelm couples and are often unrealistic to maintain on an ongoing basis). So keep it small, keep it safe, keep it fun, and see what happens. Some trial and error may be needed as well as a mindset that welcomes something new (while still valuing the importance of the old and familiar).