Are you in a relationship that feels like it's not going anywhere? Maybe you stopped having fun or going on adventures, or, perhaps you feel like you and your partner take one another for granted. You are hardly alone. Many people feel this way at some point in their relationship, especially if you've been together for years. The good news is there are concrete steps you can take to get out of this place and help your relationship feel fresh and exciting once again.
For help, we turned to Lisa Morse, a clinical psychologist in New York. She taught us how to identify a relationship rut and gave advice on how to get out of it. She also shared signs to look out for that might signal you need professional help. Read on to learn more and take the first steps in getting your relationship back to the place you want.
Meet the Expert
Lisa Morse is a clinical psychologist in New York City who helps couples and individuals navigate their relationships.
What Is a Relationship Rut?
"You know you're in a rut when you feel stagnant or stuck with your partner," says Morse. "When in a rut you might feel bored, disconnected, have a lack of physical and/or emotional connection, and even loneliness." A rut will feel different to each person, but the bottom line is that things just don't feel as exciting or fresh with the relationship or the connection isn't what it used to be.
Relationship ruts can occur for a variety of reasons, adds Morse. "The single biggest reason ruts occur is a lack of communication. Typically, when a rut occurs people are experiencing disappointment and unmet or failed expectations, which are often out of their awareness. They're either not communicating them or communicating them aggressively so that the other person shuts down."
If nothing is done about it, a relationship rut can lead to other problems. "When a rut is not addressed it often leads to increased negativity and dysfunction," Morse reveals.
Ways to Get Out of a Relationship Rut
Take Responsibility For Your Own Actions
Morse explains that when people are in a relationship rut they tend to focus on what the other person is doing wrong. "It's very easy for people to focus on what their partner should be doing differently," she says. Doing that, however, can lead to anger and resentment.
Instead, focus on what you want and how you can help make that happen. "Think about how you would like things to be, what you would like to improve in your relationship, and then look at the role you play in whatever you are experiencing," offers Morse. It's not easy to take responsibility. "It's often more difficult for people to sit with the role that they play in their dissatisfaction." But it can leave you feeling energetic, hopeful, and empowered, which will also help breathe new life into your relationship.
Brainstorm Ways to Improve Your Relationship
It is also important to be imaginative and brainstorm ways your relationship can approve. You can do this by yourself or with your partner. "Ask yourself, 'Are there ways that you could be kinder and more supportive or more communicative? Are there ways that you could put your partner's needs in front of your own? Could you be more present and compassionate?'" she poses. "Could you be more spontaneous, explore something new together, suggest time together without screens? Could you come up with or revise shared goals?"
Shift Your Perspective
Sometimes changing the way you view your situation can be enough to feel better. Morse suggests focusing on the positive in your relationship to shift your perspective or lens. "Think about what you appreciate and what you're grateful for in your partner or relationship," she says. You might realize things are better than you imagine!
Connect With Your Partner on the Big Stuff
Morse recommends trying to connect with your partner, not just by going over the nitty-gritty of your days but by broaching high-level subjects, too. "Ask about how your partner is feeling, what's been worrying them, and what they've been dreaming about," she shares. That way, you can focus on larger goals and visions.
Pinpoint External Stressors
There are many different factors that can lead to a breakdown in communication. Maybe one partner is under a lot of stress at work? Or both of you are contending with a stressful family situation? If you are preoccupied with anxiety it can be hard to focus on one another and keeping your flame alive.
Morse said it's important to identify external factors that might be impacting your relationship and figure out how to make those things better. "The next step is to think about what your partner is doing or not doing that’s contributing to your feelings, and how external stressors might be contributing," she says. "Is work, family, political, physical, or financial stress impacting your dynamic?"
Communicate Your Feelings
"The last step is deciding how to effectively communicate what you’re feeling," adds Morse. "Think about communicating assertively, which means asking for your needs to be met without putting your significant other on the defensive. Be open, honest, and vulnerable. Think about the goal of the conversation and then respectfully communicate your wants and needs."
It's important to stay away from blaming one partner for the rut, she continues: "Try to stay away from placing blame. If you are holding onto the fact that you are right and your partner is wrong, the conversation will not go well."
Seek Professional Help
While it is possible to get out of a rut with effective communication, that can be hard to do, and you might need more help with it. Don't be afraid to see a relationship therapist or counselor, says Morse. "If you’re having difficulty taking any responsibility for the rut or dysfunctional dynamic, or you’re unable to let go of your anger to communicate calmly and effectively, it might be time to seek individual therapy. If you have engaged in conversations with your partner and you’re still not seeing improvement, it might make sense to reach out to a couples’ therapist."