Couples get stuck. Marriages get stuck. Relationships get stuck.
I think it’s fair to say that at some point in the history of every relationship, some level of stuck-ness is to be expected. The possible reasons why a couple might get stuck vary, and it’s important to know that not all stuck-ness is alike. Sometimes all your relationship might need is a little push to get things moving in the right direction, while at other times, it might be a more serious issue that is causing your marriage or relationship to falter.
In either case, it’s important for couples to identify that they are indeed stuck (whether one or both partners feel this way) and to identify what changes might be needed to shake the relationship out of its inertia.
2 Levels of Relationship Stuck-ness
1) Benign Stuck-ness
Couples get stuck in this way when their relationship routines become so ingrained and rigid that there is little room for spontaneity, playfulness and mutual exploration. Under these conditions, the danger is that familiarity and a lack of variation move the relationship from the plane of comfort to the plane of boredom.
And while boredom is a part of life (and a part of any marriage/relationship), couples need to make sure that their relationship doesn’t sink into a lifelessness that ultimately leads to disconnection and a parallel existence.
With benign stuck-ness, identifying that the relationship is indeed stuck is half the battle. This will allow you and your partner to develop some type of plan to create a slight change in the course of your relationship routines. This is often enough to resuscitate the relationship’s pulse.
2) Malignant Stuck-ness
Couples in this level of stuck-ness are distressed.
Couples in distress are usually mired in defensive, attack-counter-attack and emotionally closed-off interactions. They feel hurt, helpless and angry. And depending on the extent of the problem, there may be little neutral communication ground where these couples can come together and freely talk without the expectation of something going terribly wrong.
This level of stuck-ness has the power to pull apart couples who feel deep love for one another. The problem is that negative interactions involving hurt and anger tend to grow like weeds that can overtake anything positive that might exist in your relationship garden.
Changing and reversing the course of negative patterns into positive, relationship-affirming connections takes perspective-taking and a willingness to change your behavior (even when you feel justified in your defensiveness). The ability to identify how you are triggering each other’s hurt and anger without blame is a good starting point. If you find yourself unable to extricate the relationship from these dysfunctional patterns, consulting with a marriage or couples counselor can give your relationship the shot in the arm it needs.
Remember, feeling stuck isn’t a sign that major marital or relationship problems are inevitable. But the stuck-ness you and/or your partner might be feeling (even if it’s benign stuck-ness) shouldn’t be ignored or minimized at the expense of your relationship’s health. Stuck-ness is a source of information that can help you and your spouse/partner come together and work for the good of the relationship.
Until next time,
Dr. Rich Nicastro