Couples often fall into marital or relationship ruts.
This doesn’t indicate anything about your relationship other than it is normal. It’s how you handle these inevitable ruts that might be a predictor of your relationship future. Do you shrug them off and accept boredom as the status quo? Or do you and your spouse/partner take action to bring back that relationship vitality that’s so important?
How Relationship Ruts Start
A relationship rut occurs because one (or more) of your marital/relationship routines has squeezed the life-blood out of your marriage or relationship. It may be that a particular routine only affects a small portion of your relationship. But, like a numb arm that’s been slept on, it may be all you notice for a while. You need to wake up that part of your relationship that has grown lifeless. If ignored for too long, the boredom and numbness is likely to spread to other parts of your marriage or relationship.
Is it really a rut?
The first step in shaking life back into your relationship is to determine if a relationship rut really exists. Just as feeling sad once in a while doesn’t mean you suffer from depression, being bored with your spouse/partner or with the things you do together doesn’t mean you’re stuck in a rut.
It’s important to remember that boredom is something we all feel from time to time, and fleeting boredom with aspects of your relationship doesn’t signal the start of a marital/relationship problem. Further, all relationships go through low points, especially if you and your partner are dealing with a great deal of stress.
A true marriage or relationship rut usually grows slowly and will be experienced over an extended period of time. If you and your mate feel like you’ve had a boring few days, that doesn’t mean you’re in a rut—but if you’ve been bored silly each weekend for the last six months (and if you’re starting to dread time off from work), it is likely that your weekend routines have created a relationship rut.
Relationship Help: How to climb out of the rut
As long as you’re willing to find time, energy and creativity, relationship ruts are generally easy to fix.
With your spouse/partner, make a list of your joint routines that give you comfort and create a sense of safety. This list might include: eating dinner together each evening, going to the gym, renting movies every Sunday, visiting extended family…and so on.
Discuss why these routines are special. What about them makes you feel safe and secure in your marriage/relationship?
Now make a list of all the routines that you and your partner have grown tired of. These are the routines that are causing part of your marriage/relationship to fall asleep. When you identify routines that you both agree should be altered or even eliminated from your lives, do so.
Unfortunately, some of the routines you identify as problematic might be necessary or fall under the category of “life maintenance tasks.” In that case, brainstorm ways in which you might make small changes to make them feel different on some level.
Remember: even small actual changes can make a big perceived difference.
For example, you and your husband visit your husband’s mother every Saturday. You don’t feel very close to his mother (she doesn’t seem to be fond of you), but, rather than insist your husband make these trips alone, you’ve accompanied him. However, these visits are contributing to what you’ve identified as a relationship rut. They mean too much to him to give up, though. Try shortening the visits by a half hour and institute a post-visit, playful, mutually satisfying routine. Perhaps there’s a restaurant or museum or miniature golf course on the way back that you both agree to try. And then the focus of the day isn’t just on your mother-in-law, but the time that you and your husband spend together in a shared activity.
Now it’s time for some mutual creativity: Brainstorm a list of all the activities that you and your spouse/partner would like to add to the relationship. Choose something on this list and try it for several weeks. The activity should be new, hopefully fun and easy to execute.
In trying something new it’s important to give it enough time to see if the activity is helping or not. If it’s not mutually gratifying, it shouldn’t become part of your routine—don’t force something that is clearly now working for one of you.
Also, remember to mix things up a bit: rotating activities will infuse your relationship with the new life it needs and will help you avoid getting stuck in a future relationship rut.
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Until next time,
Dr. Richard Nicastro