You've heard of being in a sex rut. But what exactly does a marriage rut look like? "A rut is a routine, or pattern of interacting, that is not igniting the spark that brought you together," describes Malibu-based licensed marriage therapist Alisa Ruby Bash. "Couples go into autopilot mode, take each other for granted, and forget that their marriage is a living, breathing entity that needs to be nurtured, fed, and cared for everyday."
If you fear you fall into the marriage rut category, here's how to pull yourself back out.
Have a heart-to-heart.
"Too often, people become tired, lazy, complacent, and believe that marriage means that the passion will die. That is not true," Bash says. "You do not have to settle for something mediocre in which your needs are not met." Lovingly express what you need and hope to change, then "commit to doing the work to change it," she says. "Although this step seems obvious, it is absolutely the hardest step. If you two believe that things can improve and you feel hope, then your marriage can break free from the rut."
Listen from a "place of presence."
When you were dating, you may have soaked in with interest — or incredible acting skills — everything your significant other said. Now that you're married? It can be "common to tune out what he's saying," says Janet Ong Zimmerman, founder of Love for Successful Women and the creator of the Woo Course: 9 Juicy Ways to Bring Out a Man's Desire to Woo You. "If you find yourself thinking about something else while he's talking to you, become present by focusing on him. Listen to the meaning behind his words and what's not being said. When your spouse feels heard, he'll be more likely to open up and in return, you'll share a deeper connection."
See More: 4 Mistakes Every Newlywed Couple Makes
Assume less and express yourself more.
Your partner doesn't always intuitively know what you need. "If you're assuming your partner should know how you're feeling or what you want, you're most likely not getting your needs met," Zimmerman says. So rather than go on unfulfilled, "allow yourself to be vulnerable by opening up and sharing your true thoughts, feelings, desires, and more. In doing so, you give your partner the opportunity to meet your needs and also open up and share his true self."
Have fun together.
It's time to bring date night back. "Try to envision an activity, class, event, concert, vacation, hobby, whatever, that sounds like the most fun you can imagine having with your spouse," says Bash. Then "get a babysitter, try something new, and let loose together — and try to forget about whatever tension, disagreements, or stresses you have felt together recently."
See your partner through fresh eyes.
"The longer you're together, the more likely unflattering qualities will show up from both individuals," says Zimmerman. That's when we start to wish our partners were different — or even different people. But "focusing on those unflattering qualities and wishing he was different will magnify those things and make you compare him with other men," she says. "Instead of focusing on qualities that get on your nerves, turn your attention to his wonderful qualities. The more you focus on his wonderful qualities, the more of them you'll get."
Do things you love.
Time spent apart to pursue your individual interests can bring excitement back into your relationship. "Doing the things you love brings positive energy into your marriage and may inspire your husband to do things he loves," Zimmerman says. "When you're both living a life you love and bring that into your marriage, you'll have a fresh outlook on life, love, and each other."