So your relationship is in a rut. It happens, and you’re far from alone. Much like falling into a dry spell, falling into a rut is common — practically inevitable, if you’ve been together for years and years. Maybe you’re just going through the motions without finding any time to connect. Maybe you’re bored by the same-old routine of snacks and sitcoms after the kids are in bed. Maybe you feel like the fun and spontaneity have been sucked out of your marriage by the grind of parenting.
“Relationship ruts happen when we forget to carve out time to care for the needs of the relationship and begin to coast,” says Silvi Saxena, a licensed clinical social worker. If ruts are identified and addressed, they rarely turn into bigger problems. But, Saxena warns, if complacency sets in, and couples stop appreciating the small things and lose gratitude for the relationship, bigger issues can evolve.
It’s important to remind yourself that a relationship rut doesn’t mean that the relationship is in trouble. Very often, it is simply the byproduct of two people who are trying to balance out their relationship with their busy, day-to-day lives. Predictability and routine are natural byproducts of this, but they need to be kept in check.
If you find yourself in a relationship rut, an infusion of novelty and active participation from both partners are necessary. Here, according to experts, are a few simple things you can do to climb out of it.
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
It sounds easy, but it’s very surprising how many relationships fall into ruts because neither party is talking about the things that matter. A simple way to address this is to set weekly check-ins, the point of which is to ask each other, “How are you doing?” and have deeper conversations about issues that might be bothering you. If you’re concerned about rocking the boat by addressing uncomfortable topics, chances are you and your partner will slip into a rut. “Talking about the stressors in your relationship can prevent ruts, shaming, and blaming,” says Dr. Lee Phillips, a psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist. “Once a couple gets into the resentment stage, it can be difficult to reverse the ruts.”
2. Be A Bit More Spontaneous
Remember when you used to do things “just because”? It’s crucial to bring those moments back. Tell your partner that the kids are at their parents house and you’ve made reservations at their favorite restaurant. Surprise them with a weekend away. This also applies to small, intimate moments. A simple hug or a light touch to let your partner know that you care can mean a lot. “These little acts let your partner know that you value them, remember them, and are making an effort to make them happy,” says Sam Nabil, life coach and licensed therapist. “Ultimately, these also keep things interesting and exciting, battling monotony.”
3. Hang Out With Another Couple
It may seem counterintuitive when you and your partner are in a rut to spend time with other people versus each other. But spending time with other couples can help shake you both out of routine and provide some new perspectives from which you can both draw inspiration. “Being seen by others,” says Nabil, “will motivate you to treat each other better as a couple, hopefully causing you to apply those improvements when it's just the two of you.”
4. Plan Regular Date Nights
In addition to seeing other couples, make sure you set aside time for the two of you to connect. It can be an elaborate night out, or it can be as simple as setting the table at home, making a dish you both enjoy and turning your kitchen into a romantic bistro. Or, if it’s easier, plan a night to eat some edibles and play video games together. Whatever feels right. If you’re focused on the two of you, these little moments can be as impactful as a night on the town. “Feed your relationship the energy that it needs to come alive,” says Lee.
5. Address Your Issues
If you haven’t worked on addressing your own stress or frustrations, then there is no way you are going to be able to be present for your partner, despite even your best intentions. Take time to engage in your own passions, interests, and self-care, so that you feel fulfilled enough to give your partnership the attention it needs. “Knowing what you want as an individual and going after it independently improves your well-being and keeps you from being too comfortable and dependent on the relationship,” sys Nabil.
6. Develop Common Goals
This can be a trip you both want to take, an item for your home you want to purchase, or a difficult hike you both want to train to accomplish. Whatever it is, engage in it together and make it fun. It’s all about striving for a shared outcome. That solidarity is always helpful when it comes to livening things up and, in addition, having something to look forward to is a big ingredient for happiness.
7. Try Something New
Doing the same things and visiting the same places is a quick path to ending up in a rut. So, learn a new skill together. Take a class. Try a new recipe. Visit a place you’ve never been before. Just exit your comfort zones and do something new together. “This creates a stronger bond and the tendency to be there for each other to enjoy this new activity,” says Nabil. “Doing something new with your partner also creates a fun memory for them to remember — giving your relationship thrill and excitement.”