So you’ve made it past the proverbial seven-year itch in your marriage. Congratulations! While we wish we could tell you it’s smooth sailing from here on out, unfortunately that’s just not so.
Once you’ve hit the 10-year mark and the honeymoon phase is but a distant memory, certain marital issues are more likely to crop up. We asked therapists to share the problems to look out for when you’re approaching a decade of marriage and how to deal with them:
1. You start feeling more like roommates than romantic partners.
Couples who are in it for the long haul will tell you that keeping the spark alive does, inevitably, require some effort. If both partners aren’t intentional about keeping their romantic connection strong ― whether that’s through habits like regular date nights, thoughtful little gestures or couples counseling ― they may end up drifting into roommate territory.
“After a decade together, turning into roommates becomes a big risk as partners can slowly over the years take their focus off of each other and give all of their attention to dealing with day-to-day life,” Kurt Smith, a therapist who specializes in counseling men, told HuffPost. “Couples can easily turn into partners in managing a family or life, rather than partners in love.”
2. You’ve become bored with your life together.
In marriage, it’s unrealistic to expect each day to be some sort of magical, butterfly-inducing fairy tale. That said, you shouldn’t just resign yourselves to a life full of blah either. Boredom in a marriage is usually a sign that you and your partner have started taking each other ― and the relationship ― for granted, said psychotherapist Tina Tessina.
“Perhaps your activities have become too routine or you are avoiding facing a problem,” she said. “Counter the boredom by taking necessary risks ― for example, have that scary discussion about sex, aging, your in-laws, or dare to suggest a change in your routine.”
If you feel like your normal routine is getting, well, too routine, the solution is easy: Shake things up.
“All you need to do is anything different,” Tessina said. “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s different and can be shared.”
3. Your sex life has faded.
A couple’s sex life may ebb and flow over the years for any number of reasons: physical or mental health issues, having kids, side effects of certain medications, stress, relationship problems and sleep issues, among many others. Sex therapists say those dips are totally normal. But if you’re not committed to getting back on track, the sexual dry spells can end up lasting longer and longer, leaving one or both partners feeling rejected and disconnected.
“Usually sexual intimacy doesn’t just suddenly stop but rather, like many things, over 10 years it just becomes less and less,” Smith said.
If you and your partner have found yourselves in a rut, sex therapists recommend honestly discussing the issue with your partner (however uncomfortable it may be), going to bed at the same time, as well as touching each other outside of the bedroom (hugging, kissing and cuddling, etc.). And when you’re ready to get back in the saddle, it’s OK if things feel a little awkward at first. Take it slowly and try to have realistic expectations ― not every sexual interaction has to be mind-blowing.
4. You feel dissatisfied because you think marriage has prevented you from accomplishing certain life goals.
When you get married, your priorities shift. It’s not all about you anymore. Your spouse (and your kids, if you decide to have them) become No. 1. As a result, that often means making personal sacrifices and compromises that may get in the way of certain career moves or other life goals, such as traveling, starting your own business or picking up a new hobby.
“Many couples sacrifice their dreams in order to maintain stability when initially building a relationship and family,” couples therapist Kari Carroll said. “But by 10 years, they are realizing that life is calling and they must negotiate how to help both themselves and their partner achieve greater fulfillment.”
5. Your tolerance for one another has dissipated.
In the first years of marriage, you’re more inclined to cut each other some slack. When your partner screws up or does something irritating, you give him or her the benefit of the doubt. But as time goes on, couples often become less and less patient and forgiving with one another. Things they once laughed off turn into simmering resentments.
“Early on in marriage, we can have a great amount of graciousness with each other as our love for each other makes up for all shortcomings or failures,” Smith said. “Sadly, as a marriage matures, the patience can fade.”
When this happens, try to remember that you and your partner are on the same team, not opposing teams. Don’t ascribe negative motives to their actions. Assume they’re doing their best, and hopefully they’ll extend the same courtesy to you.
6. You stop celebrating milestones, both big and small.
Early on in a relationship, you’ll find any excuse to celebrate: your eight-month anniversary, making it through a tough week of work or National Margarita Day. But as time goes on, those celebrations may become less and less frequent.
“Just as you used celebration as an important ingredient of your marriage ceremony, work promotions, your children’s birthdays and graduation, you and your spouse need to continue celebrating your love throughout your lives to keep your energy high and maintain your motivation,” Tessina said. “Frequent celebrations demonstrate your love and appreciation for each other.”
You can plan get-togethers with friends and family or take time to celebrate just the two of you. Whatever you decide, make it special. And it doesn’t need to be an expensive, over-the-top ordeal. Celebrating might just mean a picnic in your backyard, a free concert or an at-home spa night.
“Go away for the weekend to mark a special event or simply to celebrate the fact of your continuing love,” Tessina said. “Plan a special evening at home or at a restaurant; attend a concert or go to an amusement park together. In short, don’t stop dating because you’ve been together a long time.”
7. You forget how to be goofy and have fun.
As we get older and the stressors pile on, many of us fall into the trap of taking life way too seriously. We lose our child-like sense of wonder and goofy senses of humor. To counteract this, try incorporating some play into your marriage. Then make it a regular thing.
“Get over any reluctance you have to appear silly,” Tessina said. “Throw a Frisbee, blow bubbles, get on the swings at the park, play a cutthroat game of Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. Or just read silly jokes and funny stories to each other.”
8. You take on the stress of becoming a homeowner.
Ten years in, when finances (hopefully) become more secure, buying a house or condo may be on the table for some couples. And while homeownership is a big accomplishment, it comes with a host of stressors that can put a strain on your marriage.
“The weekends of brunch and socializing often have turned into building decks and mowing the lawn,” Carroll said. “Negotiating how to balance the greater responsibility of maintaining home projects along with raising a family and keeping your relationship strong requires teamwork and planning skills.”