Relationships naturally fall into ruts over time, especially as couples experience the different stages of development in their relationship.
Many factors contribute to the development of a “relationship rut,” and there are some things you can do to get yourself out of them.
In a study by John Gottman at the Love Lab, in Seattle, more than 2,000 couples were asked to rate their marital happiness. He discovered that couples that reported being happily married spent a minimum of 5.5 hours a week of quality time together, defined as intentional playtime—not discussing issues, watching TV or entertaining the neighbors.
Why do we get into a relationship rut in the first place?
When a couple first meets, there is a driving force of passion that makes them want to spend every waking moment together. A couple, newly in love, can live almost exclusively on sunshine and air. They spend countless hours on the phone, talking about nothing and everything. They are willing to experience each other’s interests, such as going to a hockey game and antique shopping, for example, or sharing a ride to run errands. They stay up late, talking into the night, and merge themselves together energetically. They beg, borrow, and steal time to be with one another.
Sooner or later, life has a way of intruding upon this exclusivity, and usually for good reasons.
The couple becomes engaged and includes their families in their activities and happiness. Then, she gets a promotion or he starts a softball season. At this point, though, there is still plenty of time left for intimacy.
Eventually, they are blessed with a child, and then everything changes. All the time she lavished on him and on herself now goes to the baby. He might work overtime due to her maternity leave, which makes their income suffer. If they both work, they feel guilty not being at home with the baby enough, so they don’t feel comfortable getting a sitter to go on a date together. Worse, they work opposite shifts and get plenty of baby time, but no couple time.
Relationships have their own “connection account,” which works very much like a checking account. The times spent together enjoying each other’s company and being kind and thoughtful are like deposits. Time spent apart, arguing, or thinking negatively about their partner are withdrawals. Once life’s stressors have helped push them into “bankruptcy,” they can no longer draw on the energy of the past to help them sort through the problems of today. This leads to a longer period of time between the conflict and the resolution, and the more time spent in conflict with their partner, the more likely they are to see their partner as a villain.
So, what do you do if you find your relationship bank account in the red?
1. Temporarily avoid all conversations that are emotionally charged whenever possible. The bond is too weak to effectively handle the conflict, and they just add to the distance between each other.
2. Commit to spending time doing something fun that neither one of you has done before. When we are in a new environment, having a new experience, it changes the way we interact. In essence, it gets you out of your rut.
3. Take turns interviewing each other (but not about emotionally charged topics). The point is to rediscover your partner by asking questions about things you do not know: their dream vacation or favorite childhood experiences, for example.
4. At the end of each day, verbalize two positive things you noticed about each other. What we focus on grows, and when you’re in a rut, it is hard to see the positive in each other.
5. Surprise, surprise, surprise. Any thoughtful surprise or unexpected treat or kindness will let your partner know that you’re thinking about them.
These simple steps are not a cure, but they will get your relationship back on the right track and will disrupt the rut your relationship may have fallen into.
All-in-all, couples must be cognizant of the state of their relationship and put in the time and investment to overcome the natural distractions that accompany their relationships. It is possible, over time, to be able to avert the ruts altogether and enjoy the rewards of creating a healthy connection with your partner.
Author: Alice Foster
Editor: Emily Bartran
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