Relationship Rut: New Life for Old Routines

There aren’t too many things better than a peaceful sleep, right? You’re comfortable, you’re safe, you’re getting important needs met. But what happens when you’re sleeping so soundly that you inadvertently crush an arm for a while? The crimp in your circulation jolts you into wakefulness with the sensation of thousands of tiny needles. You’ve hit an overnight rut. Before you can enjoy slumber again, you have to massage life into the limb that was stifled by smothering stillness.

There’s not much better than a happy relationship, right? You feel comfortable and safe with each other, you’re getting important needs met. You have relied-upon routines that give structure and personality to the life you’ve created together. But what happens when, over time and initially without you even noticing it, some of your dual routines feel lifeless and still? What if they start to cut off the circulation to the rest of your relationship? What if, like that errant limb, part of your relationship has fallen asleep? You’ve hit a relationship rut. Getting over it might take a little more ingenuity and focus than rubbing a tingly arm or shaking pins and needles out of a leg, but it’s well worth it for the longevity of your union.

Undoubtedly, sleep is a good thing for your body. Even when you crush a limb because you’re in such a deep sleep, it’s still a good thing and you don’t decide to swear off sleep because that might happen again.

Likewise, relationship routines are good things. And rituals, as one facet of relationships, create a rhythm and predictability that allow for a sense of security. You don’t abandon rituals and resign yourself to an ever-shifting landscape of chaos because you found yourself in a rut.

Relationship Ruts

We all fall into relationship ruts. This doesn’t indicate anything about your relationship other than it is normal. It’s how you handle the ruts that might be a predictor of your relationship future. Do you shrug them off and accept boredom as the status quo? Or do you decide to bring back that mutual vitality you once thrived on?

A relationship rut occurs because one of your relationship routines is starting to squeeze the life-blood out of your marriage or relationship. It may be that a particular routine only affects a small portion of your relationship. But, like that newly numb arm, it may be all you notice for a while. You need to wake up that part of your relationship that has grown lifeless. If ignored for too long, the boredom and numbness is likely to spread to other parts of your relationship.

Is it really a rut?

The first step in shaking life back into your relationship is to locate ruts in your relationship. Just as feeling sad once in a while doesn’t mean you suffer from depression, being bored with your partner or with the things you do with your partner doesn’t mean you’re stuck in a rut with him/her. Boredom is something we all feel from time to time, and fleeting boredom with aspects of your relationship doesn’t signal a rut. Further, all relationships go through low points, especially if you and your partner are dealing with a great deal of stress.

A true rut usually grows slowly and will be experienced over an extended period of time. If you and your partner feel like you’ve had a boring few days, that doesn’t mean you’re in a rut. But if you’ve been bored silly each weekend for the last six months (and if you’re starting to dread time off from work), it is likely that your weekend routines have created a relationship rut.

Climb out of the rut

As long as you’re willing to find time, energy and creativity, relationship ruts are generally easy to fix.

With your partner, make a list of all the relationship routines that give both of you comfort and create a sense of safety. This list might include: eating dinner together each evening, going to the gym, renting movies every Sunday, visiting extended family…and so on. Discuss why these routines are special. What about them makes you feel safe and secure with your partner?

Then make a list of all the routines that you and your partner have grown tired of. These are the routines that are causing part of your relationship to fall asleep. When you identify routines that you both agree can and should be eliminated from your lives, do so. Unfortunately, some of the routines you identify as problematic might be necessary or fall under the category of “life maintenance tasks.” In that case, brainstorm ways in which you might make small changes to make them feel different on some level.

Remember: even small actual changes can make a big perceived difference.

For example, you and your husband visit your husband’s mother every Saturday. You don’t feel very close to his mother (she doesn’t seem to be fond of you), but, rather than insist your husband make these trips alone, you’ve accompanied him. However, these visits are contributing to what you’ve identified as a relationship rut. They mean too much to him to give up, though. Try shortening the visits by a half hour and institute a post-visit, playful, mutually satisfying routine. Perhaps there’s a restaurant or museum or miniature golf course on the way back that you both agree to try. And then the focus of the day isn’t just on your mother-in-law, but the time that you and your husband spend together in a shared activity.

Go back to your list. Now brainstorm a list of all the activities that you and your partner would like to add to the relationship. Choose something on this list and try it for several weeks. The activity should be fun and easy to execute. If it’s not mutually gratifying, it shouldn’t become part of your dual routine repertoire. Also, remember to mix things up a bit: rotating activities will imbue your relationship with the new life it needs and will help you avoid getting stuck in a future relationship rut.

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