After moving in with her boyfriend Eric one year ago, following their college graduation, Emily, who is 25 years-old and working as a film editor’s assistant, plopped herself down on my couch and complained of boredom. She wondered if she was in the wrong relationship because she didn’t feel that spark of excitement anymore when she saw Eric after work.
She also felt taken for granted because he didn’t leave her small notes anymore on the pillow or on her desk telling her he loved her or planning unexpected weekends away. “It sounds like you are really craving more connection,” I told her. “But I’m also wondering when the last time was that you took the initiative to plan a surprise romantic weekend away somewhere? Or the last time you left him a love note on his pillow?”
Emily shrugged. “I can’t even remember. Why bother if he isn’t doing it anymore either?” “Now there is a great way to run a relationship.” I said, smiling teasingly. “Perhaps you should each have a pair of measuring spoons and always wait to dole out a little bit of love at a time depending on how much you’re getting back. A teaspoon for a teaspoon?”
“What do you feel at the end of the day when you see him?” I asked her. “Tired,” responded Emily. “Tired of the same conversations, tired of doing the same things. I feel like we know everything there is already to know about each other and we’ve only been together two years.”
“Do you ever share these thoughts and feelings with him?” I asked. “I shouldn’t have to,” she replied. “When you love someone, they should just know.” Perhaps looking for commiseration, she added, “Well, shouldn’t they?” “Are you really asking me?” I asked, “Or are you just looking for someone to agree with you?”
As a therapist, I always find this fertile ground. Often, when people feel bored in their relationship, I find at least one of the following patterns I’ll describe below happening. If one is willing to really explore and own the deeper truth underneath the feelings of boredom, one can usually reconnect to a sense of aliveness again and the relationship can take on new life and possibilities. However, if you place all the responsibility on your partner for the static state of things, nothing will change. And nothing sounds more boring than that!
So, if you find yourself feeling like Emily in your own relationship, here are three tips to consider that can make a real difference:
1. Stop complaining. If you want things to be different, you have to actually do something different. Complaining to friends or your partner about the same things is likely making you a bore and even more bored.
Make a short list of the top things that you need to be different in order for this relationship to feel healthy again. Share these respectfully and calmly with your significant other. Don’t place the blame nor all the responsibility on his or her shoulders.
If you want a more romantic relationship, first try becoming a more romantic partner. Start by modeling the change you long for.
2. Start talking. After all, what you don’t talk about will eventually define your relationship. When we enter into a committed relationship, this commitment should include an obligation to air grievances respectfully rather than to hoard our resentments privately.
When Emily wanted me to agree with her, that if her boyfriend truly loved her he would already know her feelings and needs, she was demanding that her boyfriend be telepathic. Don’t make that same mistake. It is your responsibility to voice openly and honestly your feelings and requests.
Never assume your partner knows, nor should know, what you are feeling and needing. Instead, speak up respectfully and directly.
3. Look outside your relationship for other sources of your boredom. Often, boredom in one’s relationship can be a mask for boredom or disappointment in other areas of one’s life. In Emily’s case, her dream had been to write and direct her own short films after college. As a student, she had created almost half a dozen shorts she was thrilled and passionate about every step of the way.
Now, she found herself in a position where she was helping her boss make his dreams come true and investing very little time and energy into her own. As she began to recognize this, she recommitted to her own projects and shuffled her schedule around to honor her own passions. Not surprisingly, she came in two weeks later much happier with the state of her relationship as well.
Is there a dream, hobby or goal that you have found yourself letting go of with time? Putting your relationship aside, do you find yourself bored in other areas of your life or in relationships with others? Take some time to consider your answers, and start making a list of areas and small steps you will take to feel invigorated and inspired again. If you give up, you will truly be bored for a long time to come – relationship or no relationship.
In closing, none of this is to say you might just be the most fascinating, alive, and inspired person you can imagine and you may well be with a truly boring partner, someone whom is non-curious in nature and unwilling to grow along with you.
In that case, if you have considered all of the above and tried everything you can, some relationships clearly are not meant to last forever. This does of course happen but I find far more often than not, boredom is a feeling that if probed and challenged more deeply and honestly, can lead to a new chapter in your relationship that doesn’t have to include ending it.
How have you dealt with the boredom factor in your relationships?
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