Long-term relationships can be incredibly fulfilling and meaningful. But they also evolve over time, for better or for worse, and it’s not uncommon to go through periods when you feel somewhat stuck in a rut.
“A relationship rut is when one or both partners feel disconnected emotionally and/or physically and when the relationship is no longer providing the same amount of fulfillment, excitement or safety as it once did,“ Elizabeth Fedrick, a licensed professional counselor based in Arizona, told HuffPost.
“It’s just a lull in a relationship where the chemistry or spark does not feel as strong and there is a fizzling in the connection between partners,” she added. “A relationship rut might show up as not spending as much time together, not prioritizing each other, or not feeling as excited or passionate about engaging in physical or emotional intimacy. A relationship rut can present as a sense of boredom in the relational dynamic and a feeling as though the relationship has become monotonous and unfulfilling.”
Ruts are often characterized by poor communication, unmet needs and expectations, a sense of distance and repeated conflict. Although these periods can be very challenging, they aren’t insurmountable. The key is to take action.
We asked Fedrick and other relationship experts to share what they believe is the first thing someone should do if they feel as if they’re stuck in a rut with their partner. Read on for their answers.
Call attention to it
“The first thing someone should do if they feel they’re stuck in a rut with their partner is to call attention to it. This does not mean aggressively confronting their partner. It would be healthier for a partner to point out what they have been ‘noticing’ and compassionately ask their partner for feedback on what they have been noticing. This is the first step to healthy communication, which is the foundation of repairing relationship ruts.” ― Steve Alexander, a licensed mental health counselor at NY Wellness
“First things first, don’t panic! Relationship ruts happen to the best of us. Take the temperature of the relationship, and get your partner’s feedback. They may be feeling similarly. Don’t take the rut too seriously. Allow you and your partner to inject some levity and fun into collaborating around how to get out of your rut. It takes two to co-create a relationship rut, so why not enlist the same creators to get yourselves out of the rut? Have fun with it. Maybe it’s time to take that trip you two have been dreaming of. Perhaps it’s time for a wild night on the town, or maybe it’s time to introduce toys and new sex positions into the bedroom? Your options are plentiful, varied and only require a little bit of imagination and effort.” ― Omar Torres, a psychotherapist in New York City
“The funny thing about relationship ruts is that it always seems like they’re the other person’s fault. So, the typical first thing people do when in a rut is to complain about it to their partners, asking them to fix it. That usually doesn’t work very well. That’s because relationship ruts are caused by two people. Even if one person is unmotivated or a stick-in-the-mud, how you approach this challenging person can make a big difference. So, the very first thing people should do is this: Ask themselves, ‘What have I been saying or doing over and over without good results?’ Once this more-of-the-same behavior has been identified, commit to doing something, anything entirely different.” ― Michele Weiner-Davis, a Boulder, Colorado, marriage therapist and author of “Divorce Busting”
“I’m a big believer that we should be honest with our partner about feeling disconnected. We may be surprised that they feel the same or maybe they had no idea and this sparks a conversation about how to enhance your intimacy again. We expect for partners to be mind readers, but in my personal and professional experience, this concept is absurd and backfires constantly.” ― Logan Levkoff, a sexuality and relationship educator in New York City
“Recognize that you and your partner are individuals separate from the partnership. One person has to break that frustration and identify that they feel like they are in a rut and, therefore, the relationship is in a rut. Identify your individual needs, traits and interests. This helps you see one another separate from the relationship and therefore able to recognize that your needs in the relationship are different as well. Little things have big impact. Start by doing the easy things first to build the momentum for the bigger things, such as spending more time together. Make the relationship a priority. Emphasize the positive aspects of the relationship.” ― Noorhayati Said, a New York City psychotherapist
Do regular check-ins
“In order to effectively work towards repairing this rut, couples must be willing to intentionally prioritize each other and their relationship, which includes setting aside daily and weekly time to connect. I encourage my couple clients to set aside a minimum of an hour or two each week to engage in a ‘check-in,’ where the couple asks each other specific questions, such as: ‘Are your needs getting met?’ ‘Is there anything I could be doing better to make you feel loved?’ ‘What are you most proud of this week?’ ‘What was your biggest struggle this week?’ ‘What do you think is going well for us?’ ‘Where could we improve?’” ― Fedrick
Try something new
“Take responsibility for ‘joining’ in the rut. ‘I feel like we have gotten in a rut,’ or better yet, ‘I want to feel closer to you,’ and then try something new in the relationship. If you don’t do the dishes, surprise the other and do the dishes that night; have sex at a random time of day; bring home flowers ― whatever is representative of your love language and what will light a flame in the relationship. Ruts that are not brought into light become death to the relationship, and relationships are meant to keep you alive and growing. Once the fire is relit, keep it going!” ― Diana Gasperoni, founder of Be.WELL. Psychotherapy Group in New York and New Jersey
Recognize the positives
“Begin to acknowledge everyday acts of kindness and thoughtfulness from your partner. When we get into these ruts, we tend to focus on everything our partner is doing that is frustrating or unsatisfactory. Instead, take time to recognize the small gestures and acts of kindness. A little appreciation goes a long way.” ― Amelia Flynn, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York
Use your listening skills
“Observing behavior that may not serve you and creating a strategy to change for the better is a crucial step in addressing relationship ruts. Once you have gone through this self discovery, share with your partner how you contributed to the problem. Then just listen to them. They may be irrational. They may be emotional. But something special happens when we admit fault. The other person is typically willing to admit fault also.” ― Dr. Seku Gathers, a mindset coach and physician based in New York
Focus on teamwork
“Learn to negotiate and solve problems together. Learning successful problem-solving ends fighting and power struggles, and therefore leads to more intimacy. Learn to focus on what will work rather than who’s right or wrong. The most powerful thing you can do to keep a relationship strong is form a partnership, a team, where both parties feel respected, cared about and needed. If you really want to restore the relationship, begin not by complaining but by seeking to understand your partner. Once the connection is there, you can begin to work out the issues.” ― Tina B. Tessina, a Long Beach, California, psychotherapist and author of “Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Relationship”
Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.