She Said, He Said: How to save our marriage that has gone stale
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
My wife and I have been married for four years. We met a little later in life and neither of us wanted kids. Like most couples, the first few years were great, but as time has passed, our relationship has become increasingly stale. We work, eat dinner, have the same “how was your day” conversation, watch our shows, occasionally have what I feel is routine sex, go to sleep and repeat. Even the weekends have begun to feel monotonous. We spend an afternoon together going for a hike, and maybe go out for dinner with friends and the rest of the time apart. Traveling together is still fun, but our marriage isn’t going to survive on a few trips a year. We’ve talked about getting a dog, but it seems like it would just be trying to fill the space that’s grown between us. I know I can’t go another four years like this, let alone the rest of my life. What can we do?
Lori and Jeff: Long-term couples can easily fall into a rut, or what we’ve coined the “Netflix marriage.” It would be easy for us to jump to quick solutions: take turns planning a weekly date night, find a class to take together, read one of the many books on the Kama Sutra. Ultimately, you may circle back around to concrete steps like this. However, in order to determine what tools or actions will actually make you feel energized and fulfilled for the long haul, you need to uncover what specific felt experience is missing.
Lori: When life feels stale, it’s easy to perceive your marriage as the source. For many of us, work, daily responsibilities and other family relationships provide little in terms of novelty. When we meet a partner, we’re drawn to the possibilities of how this person and the relationship will add new experiences, connections and inspiration into our lives. Over time, as you blend friendships, hobbies, interests and philosophies (as Dave Matthews poignantly points out) “all the colors mix together to gray.” Maintaining vitality in a relationship requires each partner to continuously add new tints and hues to your shared life.
If you were single, what would you do to break out of stagnation? You may be inclined to say “date,” and if so, perhaps you lean on others a little too much to create your joy. As children, we’re generally encouraged to play — fostering discovery about who we are, what we like, and who we want to be. But as adults, we tend to accept that we are who we are, and stop being curious about who else we could become. The true source of your staleness is not relationship routine, but rather an unaddressed need to evolve. What facets of your identity or life experience are you wanting to expand: physical, intellectual, social, spiritual, creative, purpose-based? Sometimes it’s helpful to reflect on parts of yourself from childhood or adolescence that were pushed aside as you grew up: the artist, explorer, musician, voracious reader or flag football team captain. While these are individual journeys for each partner to take, supporting, encouraging curiosity and sharing your experiences with each other is how you breathe new life into your relationship.
Jeff: We often echo one of my favorite writers on the topics of love, bell hooks, in saying that love is a verb, not a noun. Expanding on that idea, we believe couples need to learn how to love with conviction and not settle for a connection that is just “good enough.” After several years together, it’s easy to fall into a state of complacency where the highlight of the day is watching the latest binge-worthy show from opposite ends of the couch. A dynamic, growing, evolving relationship requires us to choose to be with our partners every day, just as they have to choose to be with us. When we forget to make this choice, we can lapse into relationships that are, in your words, stale, routine and monotonous where we try to fill space with external distractions instead of building the foundation for deeper love. By loving with conviction, driven by our personal values, we choose to show up fully in our relationships.
Being honest about what we authentically value isn’t always easy, but challenging our stories of the status quo can provide us with an opportunity to be curious about ourselves and our partners. If you don’t have a clear, concise sense of what your values are, or haven’t shared them with your partner, it might be time for a deeper dive into what really matters most to you. We offer a values exercise on our website: http://www.aspenrelationshipcoaching.com/values
Jeff and Lori: If you want to feel energized in your relationship, you have to be willing to put energy into your life and your connection. Stop waiting for your partner to ignite the spark. Make the choice to rediscover yourself and your values and commit to making loving with conviction the new norm in your marriage.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Visit http://www.aspenrelationshipcoaching.com/blog-1 for all previous She Said, He Said columns.