It's normal for you relationship to change as it gets more serious over time. You get to know all your partner's tiny quirks — the way they laugh, their favorite shows on Netflix, and their go-to takeout order when they’re not in the mood to cook. These little details can make you feel secure and relaxed around each other, but what happens if you get so comfortable that you find yourself in a relationship rut? Does this mean that your love isn’t meant to last? The truth is that no romantic partnership will be a fairytale 100% of the time. Committed relationships take hard work, but this doesn’t mean they’re not worth fighting for.
A relationship rut can be physical or emotional, but it basically means you’re feeling disconnected from your partner in some way. Maybe their habits are starting to annoy you, or you’re craving sex less often, or you feel bored by the routine you’ve developed together. In the early stages of dating, most couples experience a honeymoon phase; those first few months and years when you can’t get enough of each other. It’s intoxicating, but it’s usually a short-term feeling. “Relationships are fluid,” explains Liz Higgins, LMFT and founder of Millennial Life Counseling. “We tend to think if it's hot and heavy up front, or if we make an instantly strong connection with our partner, that it should last forever, or for a long time.” But it just isn’t realistic to think that these all-consuming feelings will never go away. (And honestly, can you imagine if they stuck around forever? It would get exhausting!)
When you first fall in love, your brain releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin whenever you’re around your partner. These hormones mimic the feeling of being addicted to drugs. This explains why you think about the other person constantly, and why you might find it difficult to focus on other things. But after a period of time, these hormones start to return to their normal levels. The time it takes for this to happen varies by couple, but Higgins says she typically sees the honeymoon phase come to an end after the couple has been together for three to five years. “For some couples, it's sooner, for others, it's later. But it's normal,” she assures. “Physiologically, the love chemicals released in our brain begin to simmer over time, as we become more certain, comfortable, and relaxed in our relationship and know more about our partner. This is a 100% normal and natural experience to have in a relationship.” She reframes the question of whether you’ll experience a love slump to when it will happen, and how best to respond.
Ironically, the first big step toward working through your relationship rut might be simply accepting that it was bound to happen. “Once we are in a place of acceptance about it and about how normal it is to experience it, we can do something about it,” Higgins says. “This may be the point in your relationship where things go from feeling so easy to being a bit more intentional.” She suggests taking a vacation together or doing something to shake up your regular routine. “Couples should go on multiple honeymoons over the course of their relationship!” Higgins says. Schedule special dates for just the two of you to do fun things you might not regularly do together. You may also want to take a critical look at your relationship and think about what needs to improve. “Do you need more quality time together?” Higgins asks. “If you're struggling and feeling like the love slump is due to friction or very real issues in your relationship, prioritize seeing a couples' therapist.”
Talking with a professional can help you learn more about how your behavior is affecting each other, and it can equip you with communication strategies that will be crucial for success in the relationship moving forward. Above all, accept this tough phase together with openness and honesty. “Here's the reality: Feelings do change,” Higgins says. “Relationships are often a dance of closeness, separateness, attraction, distance, back and forth again.” On some days, you may feel like the luckiest person in the world to be with your partner. But other days, you may feel like you’re not on the same page with them at all. This is OK, and it doesn’t mean your relationship is headed for disaster. “The fact is that these are incredibly normal phases,” Higgins assures. “This is where being grounded in the values of your relationship, and why you decided to be in a long term relationship in the first place, will carry you through and remind you to revisit the intentional ways you can shift healthy energy back towards your relationship.”
That said, if you employ these strategies and still feel unhappy in your relationship, or if you realize you have real value or lifestyle differences that make you fundamentally incompatible with your partner, you might want to consider ending the relationship. But for the most part, a relationship rut just represents an inevitable challenge you can work through together, not a sign that things are falling apart.
Think back to what made you fall in love in the first place, and make an effort to replicate those feelings again by spending intentional time together. If you’re committed to working through this relationship rut as a team, you’ll come out of it feeling more connected with each other than you were before. While those early lovestruck butterflies may not last forever, they’re replaced by a feeling of deep love and lasting commitment to each other, which is just as beautiful in its own way.