A Therapist Gives 3 Pieces Of Advice To Fix 'Marriage Malaise'
Marital boredom can serve as a compelling catalyst for renewal and rediscovery. Here's how.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | November 11, 2023
Many couples come to therapy worried about having gotten “too close for comfort.” They might express their concern saying things like:
- “I’m just not as excited to come home from work anymore. We love each other, but we live the exact same day over and over again.”
- “We used to have so much fun together, but we’re both so tired now that we just stay at home.”
- “Our sex life has really changed over the years, I can’t remember the last time we really enjoyed ourselves.”
These statements are reminiscent of the “intimacy paradox,” whereby increased closeness in a relationship coexists with a lack of intimacy. As couples become more emotionally connected, they often settle into repetitive routines, inadvertently creating boredom or reduced intimacy.
It is important to acknowledge these lulls in a relationship. Marital boredom has been linked to lower levels of relationship satisfaction and a 2023 study found that it can lead to an increase in frustration, negative exchanges, diminished mood and impaired judgment. It may also have repercussions for individual and relational well-being by eroding intimacy and commitment and raising the likelihood of infidelity and divorce.
To successfully navigate the “intimacy paradox” of marital boredom, consider these three questions.
1. Are You Playing It Too Safe?
A 2010 study found that relationship boredom is usually a function of not meeting one’s psychological need for novelty and variety.
A 2020 study also highlighted that lower levels of “self-expansion” in a relationship were linked to lower relationship satisfaction. Self-expansion refers to the inclination to seek out new experiences, relationships and opportunities for personal growth that help individuals expand and enrich their sense of self. Romantic relationships allow for self-expansion as individuals can learn from, adapt to and be influenced by their partners.
However, if one is stuck in a monotonous routine with their partner, they are likely neither growing individually nor together. In new relationships, partners have greater opportunities to learn from each other, but in long-term relationships, as self-concepts become increasingly intertwined, seeking individual growth is crucial.
Contrary to popular belief, research shows that boredom can be positive, serving as a motivator for change and positive risk-taking in relationships. Engaging in new activities, both separately and together, can help rekindle the spark by creating opportunities for self-expansion. Being dynamic allows partners to see each other in a new light, sharing new experiences and perspectives that cut through boredom.
A 2021 study highlights how sometimes, to cope with relationship boredom, partners respond with more inaction or choose shared experiences that are safe, comfortable and familiar, that have earlier guaranteed excitement or intimacy for both partners. While relationship safety is essential, researchers suggest that when one experiences lesser growth or self-expansion than expected, boredom sets in.
Growth expectations can evolve over time and developing a habit to check in with your partner about their goals, interests and dreams can keep the relationship exciting.
2. Are You Avoiding The Problem?
The intimacy paradox persists when partners try to sweep it under the rug instead of addressing what might be causing the slump proactively through communication.
Research shows that solely trying to preserve intimacy while entirely avoiding conflict only creates more relationship problems and leads to coping poorly with stress as a couple. This affects individual and relationship well-being and is often a result of fearing rejection or abandonment by a partner. However, it is necessary to tolerate the discomfort of addressing both your feelings, as it allows you to have your needs met and brings you closer to a resolution.
Further, individuals may also be avoiding dissatisfaction stemming from other areas of their lives, with feelings of boredom or stagnancy spilling over into the relationship instead. There could also be areas of a partner's life that are avoided or going unnoticed in conversation, creating communication blocks and repetitive conversations. Cultivating more curiosity about a partner, no matter how long you have known them, can deepen romantic connection.
3. Are You Taking Your Partner For Granted?
The value of a relationship is sometimes overshadowed by its monotony. Making a conscious choice to prioritize one’s partner daily and shifting one’s mindset from “I have to work on my relationship” to “I get to be with my partner” is a fundamental step in reigniting a sense of excitement and appreciation for the privilege of being together.
Further, being responsive to a partner's needs, emotions and desires fosters a resilient emotional connection where both partners feel heard and valued, combatting feelings of boredom and disconnection.
Engaging in capitalization or the act of sharing positive events, accomplishments and good news with a partner also amplifies your relationship experience. Celebrating each other's successes can create a sense of mutual appreciation.
Lastly, plan positive events like vacations or date nights to show appreciation. While planning might seem to counter the spontaneity of exciting activities, it actually creates a more conducive environment where couples can organically explore and have unhurried moments of enjoyment. Conscious planning allows them to engage in the self-expanding experiences that bring them back to each other.
Addressing boredom in your marriage requires self-reflection, a willingness to embrace novelty and mutual proactive efforts to strengthen one’s connection. If treated as an opportunity for growth, boredom acts as a catalyst for deeper intimacy, where both partners feel cherished and energized, helping to dispel the monotony that creeps into long-term relationships and instead creating a renewed sense of joy.