Let’s Talk Relationships: Tips to combat the ‘seven year itch’: How to transform boredom into more closeness and fun in the new year
|Published: 12-01-2023 11:50 AM
Committed relationships usually start with the exciting promise of a well-lived life together. Each partner is filled with anticipation, dreams and plans, and overall positive expectancy.
Over time, one or both partners may feel disillusioned and aching for more, beyond their daily responsibilities and routines. Work, parenting, household tasks, and caregiving of an older parent may absorb so much time that we lose track of nurturing our most significant relationship and paying attention to each other in meaningful ways.
The slow-burning embers of stability and security have tremendous positive benefits; yet if boredom crops up, we might fear that it has become the status quo. Every day can feel the same. There may not be a lot to talk about. Stressors from our work day can get carried over into our home life. Our sex life can dwindle. We might even come to think that we are with the wrong partner.
However, there is no need to panic. Boredom tends to happen at some point in any committed relationship. It is often a signal that it’s time to make positive changes — a springboard to something better and exciting.
Here are some tips to help you do just that:
Many of us look to our partner/spouse to provide stimulation and excitement. We may have put our own personal growth on the back burner and ended up neglecting our own self-expansion. If we shift to living more in alignment with our own interests, aspirations and passions, we can contribute more to keeping the flame of love alive. Seeking out new opportunities for personal growth on an ongoing basis helps us to expand and enrich our sense of self, and to have more positive energy to give. When partners support each other’s autonomy to follow their heart’s desires and engage in activities that are enriching and enlivening, fulfillment naturally seeps into the relationship. We can ask ourselves: “What might enable me to grow more into my fuller self? What brings me joy? Is there a class I can take, a group I can join, a skill I can learn?”
When problems are avoided and not talked about, a relationship can become stale. It is normal to have differences in opinions, feelings and needs. Conflict is unavoidable. When talked through, with each partner truly listening to each other without any blame or judgment, conflict can actually result in renewed closeness. As difficult as it might be to tolerate the other’s feelings, needs and inner experience that are different from our own, responding to them with acceptance will foster more emotional connection. When both partners feel heard and valued, needs can be aired and met. Suffering in silence never works, because resentment inevitably builds up and causes distance. When problems get worked through, it invigorates the relationship, often leading to more fun!
Boredom often stems from a lack of novelty and variety. Engaging in new activities together can help cut through boredom and rekindle the spark. Going to a new restaurant, taking ballroom dancing lessons for the first time, exploring new places, and surprising each other with spontaneous, out-of-the-ordinary activities can enhance your shared pleasure.
No matter how long you have known each other, you can always learn more about your partner. Carving out some relaxing time to ask each other questions can create more closeness, and even deepen romantic connection. Examples of questions are: Who did you most admire growing up? What is something you always wanted to do but haven’t? What gets in your way? How can I support you? What has been a life dream of yours? There are fun card games for couples (available online) with interesting questions such as these.
It’s important that we don’t take our partner for granted. We can make the conscious choice to consistently express gratitude for who they are and the impact they have on our life and happiness. Prominent relationship researcher John Gottman states: “Appreciation can be defined as telling your partner what you love about them.” He recommends starting a brief but powerful daily appreciation ritual of sharing something you appreciate about each other, before going to bed.
When partners share positive experiences, accomplishments and good news with each other, this can amplify the connection between them. Over dinner, each can take turns (even kids too) sharing a highlight from the day.
Having unhurried moments of enjoyment, such as date nights, can be a weekly occurrence. Planning ahead for these provides an opportunity to regularly get away from distractions and focus on just being together.
Last month, I wrote about how essential and powerful physical touch is. Taking time to hold hands, hug, kiss or exchange back rubs can go a long way towards increasing your bond. Skin-to-skin contact remarkably releases the “bonding” hormone oxytocin, and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. (Click here to read last month’s column.)
If you sense that feelings of boredom might have to do with how you are feeling overall in your life, it could be important to get that assessed. Talking with a therapist or a primary care provider (PCP) can help you clarify if you might be experiencing something like depression. If you’re having issues that are impacting your interactions with your partner, those would be important to address.
Technology is something many of us rely on in our everyday lives. It can absorb so much of our time and energy that we miss out on opportunities for face-to-face interactions. Integrate tech-free time every day into your home life, in order to connect more in the moment. For example, put all technology aside during dinner. Keeping it out of the bedroom at least a few times a week can also be beneficial.
Moving toward joint goals helps solidify a relationship, creates a shared focus, and ultimately increases connection between the two of you. There are always new goals to discover.
Boredom can be a symptom of challenges within the relationship that have not yet been addressed. A trained professional can help you unpack the issues that are difficult to work through on your own, such as understanding one’s own needs, a breakdown in communication, financial struggles, or co-parenting. Every couple could use some guidance at times to identify exactly what is needing attention.
I am cheering you on to be more deliberate about giving your partnership the care and attention it deserves and needs. When recognized as a sign that it’s time to try something new, boredom can be used as inspiration to boost relational happiness. The tips above can help you do just that.
Amy Newshore is a couples therapist/coach who earned her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Antioch New England University and went on to train in the Developmental Model for Couples Therapy along with NonViolent Communication which serve as the foundation of her work as a Relationship Coach. For more information visit her website at www.coachingbyamy.com.