Would you rather curl up in your onesie and have an early night than go out with your other half and spend the night talking? Maybe you are fighting all the time or your sex life has gone off the boil? Does your idea of double date involve a Game of Thrones box set and Dominos pizza? Everyone moves past the obsessive phase of a relationship when you can’t get enough of the other person and moves towards an altogether more comfortable stage – and this is perfectly normal, but how can you recognise that your relationship is suffering and you are falling down a relationship hole that you might never climb out of again? Relationship ruts are frustrating but perfectly fixable. Here is how you can spot the signs of a stalled relationship and what you can do about it.
Long-term love according to science
Love is one of the most studied but still least understood areas of psychology. According to studies, people’s long-term happiness in a relationship is down to a number of key factors. Rather than killing off love, in one recent US conducted by Stony Brook University psychologist O’Leary study a huge 40 per cent people who had been together for a over nine years said they were “very intensely in love” – the highest rating to choose from, to show that passion doesn’t necessarily fall off the scale as time passes. The important factors in close romantic relationships are: Thinking positively about the other person; being happy in your individual life; as well as your shared life; thinking about your partner when you are not together; enjoying novel and challenging activities together; expressing affection and having sex; and having a passion for life.
Recognising the signs
Here are some clear signs that your relationship is stuck in a rut and you need to act. The main thing is communication: Do you feel you have nothing left to say to one another? There is, of course, a big difference between being silent and comfortable with that but if you and your partner sit around next to each other and fail to communicate, this is a bad sign. When you do talk, do you genuinely listen to what the other person is saying? Do you find yourself talking to him about your stressful day while he watches the footie? Or do you find yourself chatting to her about a work issue and she is looking at her phone or iPad? The key to relationships is feeling loved and respected and listening to what the other person is vital.
Psychologists talk about the way couples solve arguments being an important factor in their relationship happiness, so another sign that things are not great is if you fail to resolve the reason for arguments or you find yourself going over the same gripe time and time again. If you find your partner discussing their worries or fears with another person, like a friend, it is clear their focus has shifted away from you.
Do you have fun, exciting times together? Do you challenge each other? Do you make special plans to do fun things together? Again, if the answer is no, it’s time to take action.
The couple’s “bucket list” and other ways to get back on track
There are many things you can do to sustain and reinvigorate your romance, even when you’ve got a million and one other things going on in your life. Feeling a bit ‘meh’ about things? This is not something to ignore. It is well documented that doing the same things over and over again leads to decreased relationship satisfaction and in one key study in Psychological Science reported that those people who were bored with their relationships reported less happiness nine years down the line. Whatever it is you’ve wanted to have a go at, be it sky diving, a weekend mini-break, dance classes or checking out a local site – give it a whirl. New things make us feel good and stimulate the “reward centres” in our brains that are associated with pleasure.
Another good action point is to recreate the way it was when you were first together – think back to your early dates and look at pictures: what did you do together? How did you spend your time? Do these things again or write a new couple’s “bucket list” about the things you want to do together. Start by writing a separate list and then compare them and enjoy crossing things off as you complete them. If you are simply too busy to take long tripe away, then make sure your list involves plenty of activities close to home and make mini date nights, where you clear the diary, out away your phone and talk to each other without any distractions.
In terms of communication, studies show that poor communication leads to unhappy couples more than anything else. Make sure you share your feelings, thoughts and worries with your partner and don’t bottle them up. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind or harp on about pointless issues and try to learn to argue better. Good communication can take hard work, practice and effort, but it is always worth it in the end. As you’d expect, a number of studies shows that couples that have a good sex life are happier and while it might seem silly to schedule time to be intimate, it is important to have an open conversation about your sex life and dedicate time to be together. Shake things up if necessary and don’t forget that hugs, massages and handholding can boost feelings of affection.
The perfect relationship?
Everyone is different. Sometimes relationships just aren’t worth saving and people aren’t compatible. Perhaps you need to work on your own happiness first and you need to make your own life great before relying on a partner.
Ultimately there is no such thing as the perfect relationship and there is no formula to making romance work but these reminders should help things along should you find yourself stalled in your relationship. Good luck!
Author: Brett Harding is the director of Lovestruck, a website dedicated to online dating and bringing people together.