A woman might be feeling neglected in her relationship. She says, “You never do anything to tell me you love me!” He replies, “What are you talking about? I took you to Europe just last year for your birthday!” The disconnect here is in how they view these gestures.
You may have been dating the same person for the last 15 years, may be in a 7 year marriage or had children last year. Whatever the story, you’re reading this because you’re in a relationship rut.
Everything seems so scripted, so predictable. You’re longing for some excitement and some attention but you just can’t seem to shake things up. Is your relationship over?
People get into these ruts regularly. Many think that as soon as the excitement phase of their relationship is over, the relationship itself is done. Not at all.
You’re likely in what I call the “familiar phase” of your relationship. Let me explain.
I see relationships go through three phases:
Phase 1: The Excitement Phase
We all know this one! It’s where you can’t wait to see your new boy or girlfriend. You get excited just thinking about them. You count the minutes until you’re back in their arms. This phase can last anywhere from 3 months to up to a year but is very unlikely to last longer than that.
This is when the relationship evolves to:
Phase 2: The Bonding Phase
Now, your relationship is taking a different turn. You no longer have to make plans to be together for holidays and birthdays; it’s already assume you’ll be together. You are in something of a regular pattern with your relationship too. You see each other a certain number of times a week, plan for fun things to do but also spend time at home watching a movie or just catching up on some work from the office.
This phase can go anywhere from 3 months up to a couple of years. After this, you enter:
Phase 3: The Familiar Phase
Now, you’re completing each other’s sentences. You have a very well-established pattern of being together and your friends never have to ask if your partner will be your “+1” as they already know. Very little about your partner ever surprises you now. You are comfortable, but maybe somewhat bored as well.
When I talk to couples in Phase 3; the most common complaints come out: money, sex, boredom, etc. This is where people start feeling like they’re in a rut with their relationship – mostly because they are! Arguments become more frequent, sex dwindles and when it happens, it’s often just “maintenance sex.”
There’s a lot of comfort in a Phase 3 relationship because you no longer have to work as hard as you did before, but there’s also a lot of longing – especially when you see your friends or even strangers in Phase 1 and 2 relationships.
So, what can be done to fix this?
When couples have spent years in this rut with the same old patterns and arguments it gets more difficult to change. Old habits become ingrained so deeply that the people forget any other way to be. They stop dressing up for each other. They stop doing a lot of the little things that speak volumes. They may say “I love you” – and even mean it, but it just has a hollow ring to it.
Ideally, the couple needs to go back to the things that brought them together in the first place. They need to start using all the different communication systems and skills they once used in order to connect.
Think about that for a minute.
When you first meet someone and you start dating them seriously, you often do lots of things – in different ways – to show them how you feel. You tell them. You touch them. You get them little gifts. You remember things they say they like, etc. In short, you try to speak your feelings to them in every way you can think of.
However, as things progress (especially after the arguments!) we tend to revert back to the systems that are most comfortable and familiar to us. If we’re more tied to words, we say and expect to hear “I love you’s”. If we are more visually-oriented, we tend to want to “see” the other person’s love (sometimes through gifts or little gestures) as well as “show them” our love in our own ways.
That’s a great thing if the individuals happen to speak the same language, but in reality most don’t. We more often speak in different ways and it’s those differences that created attraction in the first place.
Another challenge for couples is to understand the communication needs of the other. For instance, a woman might be feeling neglected in her relationship. She says, “You never do anything to tell me you love me!” He replies, “What are you talking about? I took you to Europe just last year for your birthday!”
The disconnect here is in how they view these gestures.
He thinks that by doing one huge thing for her, he’s said his piece. In his mind the message was “I love you … until further notice”. What she wants however are little gestures spread out over time.
European vacations are great, but if he had just dropped a little note in her briefcase before she left for work or had left a note beside her pillow, it’d have gone a long way. Working to remember these little gestures can go a long way to breaking that rut.
The Couple’s Hobby
One of the best techniques to get out of a relationship rut is to start doing something new. I like to introduce the “couple’s hobby”. It’s actually very simple.
The couple sits down to look at all the interesting, fun things there are to do in the world. The only rules are that when they pick something, it has to be something that they are both interested in and that neither of them already does. It has to be totally “fresh” to both.
If you think about it, there are thousands – probably hundreds of thousands – of fun, interesting hobbies to explore. Everything from hiking to jet-skiing to wine tasting to gardening to scuba diving; the list is almost endless.
Once the couple decides on something they figure out how to get started. If they need special training (as with scuba diving) they organize to get it. If they need gear, they explore the shops together to find it, etc.
They also can find organizations dedicated to an interest in the hobby. This gives them access to new friends, new ideas, chances to travel and explore the hobby, etc.
By making just a simple change like this, the relationship can get right back on track because the couple starts working together as a team. In the process they start growing again – together.