“The excitement’s gone”.
“She’s so predictable; I know exactly what she’ll do.”
Sound familiar? These statements are typical of how some of my clients describe their long-term relationships. Those of you who have never had one, pay attention: you may be able to avoid future problems coming your way.
In couple’s counseling, it used to be typical to believe that many couples start to unravel after about seven years. There’s even a movie about this: “The Seven Year Itch”, starring Marilyn Monroe. In the movie, the married man gets bored with his wife after seven years and looks to Marilyn for a new lease on life.
These days, for many of us, a more appropriate title to describe our challenges with relationship boredom may be: The three year itch”. As a couples therapist, I’ve noticed that after about three years’ together, many couples hit a wall called “boredom”. It often manifests in the following ways:
You become bored with yourself, your life, your job;
You let your social life (with your partner and on your own) fade away;
Your sex life with your partner becomes almost non-existent;
You let yourself go (gaining weight, not exercising, eating poorly); and
You take your partner for granted.
This is a time when couples may start to consider a separation/divorce or begin to develop fantasy lives that involve other people. Why? The glitter has worn off. You know too much about your partner to harbor any illusions. You’ve seen each other at your worst and probably had three years of ups and downs, stony silences and angry arguments.
While this is the cement of real intimacy, it is death to illusions of romantic love. Falling in love is easy; this is the Hollywood movie aspect of new love: the mystery of your new lover is enticing; everything’s new and sex is a great adventure. A few years later, all your illusions are gone, and you’re left with a relationship with a real person, warts and all.
Falling in love is just that: falling. Staying in love is about being with your partner through thick and thin, through anger, jealousy, mistrust and disappointment. It’s much easier to say “I’m bored” than it is to face down the problems of a long-term relationship and work through them.
Boredom is fear in disguise. What are we afraid of? That our lives aren’t enough, that we aren’t enough and neither is our partner. Boredom says, “You made a mistake, dump this loser, get someone better and you’ll be a lot happier.” It’s an interesting idea: this continual search for someone better (some people call it “the search for my soul mate”). How will we know when we find this perfect person? Will we ever meet him/her?
We can’t meet him/her because this person doesn’t exist, and neither does the perfect boredom-free relationship. Every new lover eventually becomes familiar. Newness masks fear. It’s like when you buy something new to cheer yourself up. And it works, right? For about five minutes. Relationships are the same. A new lover may make you happy for a while, but every man/woman will inevitably fall off their pedestal when the glitter wears off and their burps, farts and heavy baggage appear. Don’t scratch the Three Year Itch! Instead, see it for what it is – the fear beneath the boredom – and focus not only on your partner but also on yourself. When YOU are happy, fulfilled and excited about your life, you bring that to your relationship.
Every loving couple is a living creation of two people; every relationship needs time, energy and perseverance to survive. A loving, thriving relationship is a joy, a treasure, a real blessing. Perhaps there is nothing more worthwhile. Unlike the idea of “falling” easily and happily in love, you can’t just “fall” into a happy long-term relationship. It takes commitment and hard work, over time. And yet, the benefits of such a relationship are immeasurable, should you take up the challenge.
We get bored with our partners because we’re bored with ourselves. By growing, changing and thriving as individuals, we bring this same life and vitality to our relationships. When you’re bored to death with who you are, it doesn’t work to look to your partner to fill you up with happiness and good things. Partnered or not, we have to find our happiness ourselves…and once we do, we have a whole lot of good stuff to bring to our long-term relationship. Boredom is the voice of romantic illusion (typically found in Hollywood movies). Real men and women sweat, fart and forget to empty the dishwasher…but then, so do we.