By Christine Murray, PhD, LPC, LMFT, Director of the Healthy Relationships Initiative

Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on the form here.

Do you have any tips on giving my marriage some life? We’re not unhappy by any means, it just seems so boring! All we ever talk about is schedules, what’s for dinner, and how was work. ~ Getting Bored in Greensboro

Dear Getting Bored,

We’ve covered a similar question in an earlier blog post in this series, so I suggest you start out by reading that post first. Today’s post will dig a little deeper in looking at some of the common pitfalls that can lead couples to fall into a rut of boredom and routines. Look through the list below, see which one(s) may apply to you, and then consider the action steps that can help you start to break through each one.

Lack of time and energy for your relationship: Your marriage is likely one of the most important relationships in your life, but it’s also one that probably gets pushed to the bottom of your list in terms of how you spend your time and energy. If you’re a parent, your kids have many needs that they aren’t afraid to make known to you in loud and demanding ways! In addition to parenting, you probably face deadlines at work, with volunteer commitments, and in your other obligations. An overall healthy marriage can be easy to place on the backburner while you attend to all these other responsibilities, but a relationship that’s kept in the background for too long will eventually start to fall flat. Action Steps: If a lack of time and energy for your marriage is holding you back, it may be time to take a hard look at your schedule to see where you can cut back on your commitments and kids’ activities so you can carve out special time with your spouse. Research by Dr. John Gottman suggests that committing just 6 hours each week to your relationship can work wonders for keeping your marriage strong. Learn more about how to spend those 6 hours here.

Boredom with life in general: It’s normal to experience varying levels of excitement at different stages of life. Most of us crave some sense of stability and consistency in our lives, but then when we get it, we can start to feel a little restless because things aren’t as exciting as during times of greater change. When you’re feeling bored or unfulfilled with life in general, it’s tempting to make your partner a scapegoat and view them as a major source of your unfulfillment. However, blaming each other for feeling unfulfilled isn’t likely to fix the problem, and it will likely add more relationship problems to the mix. Action Steps: If you think boredom with life in general is seeping into boredom in your relationship, take some time for reflection on what’s missing from your life that’s got you feeling in a rut, such as feeling like you’re lacking a sense of adventure, being challenged, or meaning and purpose in life. Then, consider some big or small ways you could add these missing things to your life. Ideally, you can share these experiences with your partner so you can move forward together.

Unrealistic expectations and comparison: A common challenge for many couples is navigating the expectations they bring to the relationship. This can be exacerbated by comparing their own relationship to others, especially when they begin to think that others’ marriages are more exciting or romantic than their own. Expectations for marriage are especially tricky in today’s world of social media, when it’s easier than ever to see what other couples and families are up to, and it may seem like others’ lives and relationships are much more exciting than your own. Action Steps: Take a close look at the expectations you’re bringing to your relationship and if you’ve begun to compare your relationship to the relationships of others. Ask yourself if those expectations and comparisons are fair and realistic, especially since you don’t really know the truth about what’s happening in other people’s relationships beyond their social media posts. Also, consider that a little boredom in relationships is actually a good thing—it shows you’re comfortable with your partner and have a stable foundation for your marriage. Gottman, the same researcher who suggests that 6 hours a week goes a long way toward building a healthy relationship, also recommends that couples strive for a “good enough” relationship. In other words, the relationship is healthy and stable, but it may not be exciting, romantic, and butterfly-producing at all times.

Unresolved conflict and/or a disengaged partner: Although some boredom is normal and can even be healthy in relationships, sometimes it’s a sign of deeper problems that may be cause for greater concern. In these cases, boredom can stem from unresolved conflicts that have led couples to start to disconnect from one another. This can happen for couples who aren’t able to manage a difficult issue between them, and it becomes a challenge to go deeper in their relationship, so conversations can start to stay at the surface level. Unresolved conflict is especially challenging when one or both partners withdraw from the relationship and become unwilling to engage in conversations and actions that help the relationship grow. Action Steps: If unresolved conflict or withdrawal by one or both of you is contributing to boredom in your relationship, consider seeking help from a professional counselor to help you work through these concerns in a healthy, respectful manner. Also, visit our HRI E-Learning Center for our free on-line relationship education program on conflict management for couples.

Getting out of a rut in your marriage can take some effort, but remember that boredom can be a natural part of relationships at times. While you’re taking steps to introduce more excitement and address any underlying concerns that may be contributing to a sense of unfulfillment in your relationship, try and appreciate the level of comfort you have in your marriage in its current form. That comfort can be a great foundation for a more exciting—and less boring—future for your marriage!

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