Feeling exhausted, disconnected, or bored in your relationship? You could be experiencing burnout.
Perhaps you’ve been with your partner for a while, and things have fallen into a rut. Maybe time together isn’t as enjoyable as it once was, the spark feels like it’s dwindling, or, as a pair, you’re treading water rather than making a splash.
Yet the love between you might still be there, and you don’t want to end the relationship. It’s just that everything seems … flat.
Welcome to relationship burnout.
Couples can experience emotional burnout, physical burnout, or a combination of both. Here are some signs and behaviors of such issues.
1. Feeling unmotivated
For burnt-out couples, venturing out for dinner or initiating time between the sheets seems more like a chore than fun.
“You might feel complacent — like the relationship isn’t bad, but it doesn’t excite you anymore,” says Kaylin Zabienski, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Corona Del Mar, California. You may feel like you’re not “wanting to put any effort into it.”
2. You feel hopeless
We all have thoughts about the direction we’d like our relationship to take. However, rather than being optimistic about your days ahead, “you might feel hopeless or depressed within your relationship or about the relationship’s future,” Zabienski shares.
You might also be concerned that this sense of despair will persist for the rest of your relationship, she adds.
3. There’s a disconnect
The disconnect could be emotional or physical, reveals Roma Williams, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Houston and founder of Unload It Therapy. Perhaps you glaze over when they talk, or sex is becoming more infrequent.
4. Doubts are creeping in
Think the grass might be greener elsewhere? Another sign of relationship burnout can be feeling “anxiety about if this is the right person for you,” Zabienski notes.
5. Patience has dwindled
You find yourself far more easily irritated or frustrated, shares Williams. Perhaps your partner’s habits and quirks are no longer quite so endearing.
This shift in temperament can also lead to more frequent arguments or cause one of you to start “taking on the ‘nagging’ role,” adds Zabienski.
6. One of you cheats
At its worst, relationship burnout can drive one (or both) partners to consider cheating or doing so. Cheating can occur “if there isn’t an open line of communication,” Zabienski explains, or in an attempt to feel excitement and change.
No one factor causes a relationship to fizzle, and reasonings vary between couples.
For example, maybe things have become one-sided: You give lots to your partner and the relationship but receive little in return.
“I like to think about relationships like bank accounts: Even the smallest deposits can add up and prevent an overdraft or burnout,” explains Williams. A healthy relationship is about balance, so maintaining equilibrium is vital.
Early in a relationship, little gestures to convey how much you like someone are a frequent occurrence. But, as you become more comfortable and secure, these typically fall by the wayside — which can spell trouble.
“When one or both partners stop showing appreciation and stop trying to do special things for the other, it can lead to burnout,” Zabienski shares.
Not spending enough time together can lead to feelings of unappreciation and frustration.
Yet, being in constant contact 24/7 is also not an ideal approach, notes Zabienski. “When we spend all of our time with another person, we begin to think we know their thoughts inside and out, and it isn’t very fun to be around them anymore.”
Finally, Zabienski explains that if one person is burnt out in another area of their life — such as work — this can impact their romantic relationship, as they have less time and energy to dedicate to their partner.
Burnout doesn’t automatically signal the death of a relationship. However, kicking things back into gear “may take some work and consistency,” says Williams. “Sometimes we have to fight for our relationships, which is not negative.”
Communication is everything: You can both share your feelings and how you want to move forward. Conversations allow couples to “identify what is missing in their relationship,” reveals Zabienski, after which it is “much easier to take steps to feel engaged and excited again.”
A quick way to incite enthusiasm is to plan fun things to do together — perhaps dinner at your favorite restaurant, a night of board games, or, if you’re sans kids for the weekend, a mini getaway.
On the flip side, if spending much time together is tiring your relationship, you might start doing some things apart.
“Making plans with friends can be helpful to create the anticipation of coming home to your significant other,” explains Zabienski, as well as providing “things to talk about when you’re together.”
If you’ve been getting snappier and more argumentative, take a moment to pause.
“Controlling your emotions and responses when your expectations aren’t met can be the difference between having a happy relationship that will last and an unhappy one that’s doomed to end,” Williams says.
“It is essential to decide what expectations are most important to you and communicate them to your partner properly and lovingly.”
Last but not least, 2017 research suggests that attending couples therapy can benefit. As Zabienski notes: “Getting a neutral third party to help the couple talk through any issues they’re having in a safe space can help overcome burnout and feel reinvigorated about their future together.”
Relationship burnout doesn’t mean you no longer love each other or want to call it quits.
It can present in various ways, such as lack of physical intimacy, feeling emotionally exhausted, arguing more frequently, and cheating.
While some couples will decide the relationship has run its course, burnout doesn’t mean things have to end.
Steps that can help breathe life back into your partnership include:
- showing little signs of appreciation and affection
- purposing to spend time together
- opening lines of communication
All that’s needed is a dose of optimism and willingness to put in the effort.