The Best Way to Stop Your Relationship From Getting Stale

A Letter to Every Woman Who Is Struggling Thru a Difficult Relationship
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“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It’s a cliche for a reason.

We take for granted the things and people we see every day and we deeply crave what most of us cannot have regularly: a new car, an amazing massage, a fancy vacation.

The problem is that to be in a happy marriage, you need to put the marriage first. People who travel all the time are not great relationship partners. People who communicate exclusively by text are not great relationship partners. You need daily touch points, conversations and regular in-person meetings. Consistency matters a lot.

But what happens when you have too much consistency and too much togetherness? Things can get a bit too familiar, too routine and too stale. Suddenly, your relationship is in a rut, even though you have done nothing “wrong” to cause it.

Sophia Benoit of  GQ has a cure for this.

“Stop spending so much time with your partner. This isn’t novel advice. Everyone understands that when you’re in a relationship you should “have your own life.” But I’m suggesting a more aggressive, or purposeful, separation. If you usually spend every weeknight together, try to have a week where you make plans with friends for at least two or three nights. Volunteer to stay late at work. Help your stepdad build a deck. Tackle tasks you hate and luxuriate in ones you love. Orchestrate distance.”

This does not mean going dark for a few days.  This does not mean playing games. This does not mean you pull away from your partner in any way, shape or form.

Actively pushing yourself to behave the way you behaved when you were single–i.e. agreeing to go out to an awful, loud, crowded bar, or saying yes to your outdoorsy-friend’s annual camping trip–is a good way to regain your interest in yourself.

All it means is “just make time to be the person you were when you were single. See a movie alone. Try a restaurant that isn’t really her thing. Or simply go on a walk around your city in a place you wouldn’t usually go. Actively pushing yourself to behave the way you behaved when you were single–i.e. agreeing to go out to an awful, loud, crowded bar, or saying yes to your outdoorsy-friend’s annual camping trip–is a good way to regain your interest in yourself.”

As a self-employed guy who works from home and married to a stay-at-home mom, you might say that my wife and I have too much time together. But, as it stands, we pretty much stay out of each other’s way from 9-5pm. And while we usually spend Friday and Saturday night together, during the week, I’ll have dinner with guy friends and she’ll have book club or PTA, thus making us feel more connected to our single selves and anticipating our weekend outings as a couple.

Check out the original article and, as always, please share your thoughts below. What has and has not worked well for you?

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Vanessa

    This is an interesting point, and I see the benefits of taking time for yourself and not being “all about” your partner. But I’m really interested in hearing your point of view on the first paragraph, Evan.
    “A few months back my boyfriend and I fell into one of our classic patterns: I would come home, very excited to see him, and he would be kind of chilled out, focused on his own thing and not bubbling over like me. I’m not an energetic person by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but next to his tepid greetings, I was the Energizer Bunny. I would then spend the rest of the night devising a series of pathetic bids for his attention. (Yes, this is embarrassing to cop to, but I’m nothing if not willing to embarrass myself for the sake of giving other people advice.) The less he gave into my needy behaviors, the more needy I felt. The cycle was frustrating for both of us.”

    That doesn’t sound like a super healthy relationship to me…Even if she did the right thing to make him “a lot happier” to see her.

  2. 2
    Mrs Happy

    A big beef of mine is women who become subsumed into their partner and children and have no other life of their own.   I’m still in shock that some women give up their name, thus their very identity and history, who they are, on marriage. WTF?

    I ask people what they’ve been up to lately, and they rattle off how busy the kids are with activities A, B and C, and then go on to tell me about their husband’s big work contract.   I’ve started to impolitely interrupt and say – no, what have YOU been up to, let’s not talk about boring kid stuff.   Crickets, is what I get back.   Nothing.   They have no interests outside their family and no life outside a narrow domestic circle.   They seem like prisoners to me, staying home folding laundry, while everyone else in the house gets to have an interesting career and education, meet people, travel, expand their mind.

    Now, I only have to spend 10 minutes with these people at the Xmas party, but their spouses have to live with them daily.   I mean, how boring must every evening conversation be?   Can it be nice for a man, for his wife’s entire world, to be him?   I’d hate it in reverse.

    Obviously we are all on a spectrum of needing-time-alone versus doing-things-with-spouse, but surely, surely, even people less independent than me realise you need to have your own life away from your spouse.

    And Vanessa, the sort of neediness the author describes makes my skin crawl.   Ick ick double ick.   If I were her boyfriend I’d have walked out when confronted with that desperate behaviour.   But that of course is because I am a pod person, like Kramer.

    1. 2.1
      Marika

      Haha Mrs Happy, the pod reference! 😂 I call one of my friends a pod, but for different reasons (eg he rarely asks anyone any questions, doesn’t care much about the whys of things, doesn’t understand jealousy and isn’t very tactful)…

      That being said, though, and I do know what you mean and women like the ones you describe – but why do you care? My sister is a bit that way, and while it’s difficult for me to relate to her, and conversations can be strained (I don’t particularly care about the minutiae of her husband’s life); I can see it completely works for her. She’s very happy being a wife and mother, and very happy he makes enough so she can stay home & look after the house and her son. I don’t think it’s the case women necessarily feel like prisoners in this situation. In fact, in the example of my sister, her husband feels like a prisoner to his job and being a provider.

      1. 2.1.1
        Mrs Happy

        I know I was just having a whine really, and I just wish it wasn’t so common that women give up so much of themselves upon marriage and motherhood.   It seems a shame.   And I do not think it’s healthy for the marital relationship, for them to be such non-entities.

        The pod scene is Seinfeld is just so great, with Jerry trying to impress on Kramer, how unusual Kramer is.   Kramer, you’re an alien, you’re not normal, you’re a pod; just accept it and continue on.

    2. 2.2
      Sam

      I’m not a parent or married yet, so I can’t speak from true experience, however, what you’ve described as “boring” sounds like the perfect life to a lot of women (and I’m sure some men).

      I’m 29 and have been with my boyfriend for about a year and a half. We moved in together 2 months ago and I believe we will get married. We talk about our future often and it seems like that is where the relationship is headed. I’m also an attorney and I love my job, but I can’t wait to be able to raise my children, have dinner on the table when my husband comes home from work and spend every moment I can with my family, trying to make their lives as great as possible.

      I understand that hobbies and alone time are important, and I have no intention of my husband being my entire world, but I do believe that once I have children, my children and my husband combined will be almost my entire world. I don’t believe that requires giving up hobbies or independence. I think it is simply recognizing priorities. Of course, I’ll still make time for my friends and fun things I like to do, and maybe even work part time when my children are older, but taking care of my family will be my most important priority. It’s what I’ve always wanted. My boyfriend has higher earning potential than I do and it wouldn’t make sense for me to continue to work. My boyfriend can afford to support our future family on his own and we feel that it is beneficial for children to have one of their parents stay home with them and be available to be at all important events. With my boyfriend’s long hours, it is likely he would have to miss some of those.

      Those women you’re judging probably talk about their children because they love their children and want nothing more than to continue to watch every moment of their childhood. Not working, and sacrificing some independence for the sake of your family doesn’t make people boring. Truthfully, it makes most women happy. If you don’t fall into that category, there is nothing wrong with that, but it is makes you sound condescending and stuck up when you judge other women for living their lives differently than you do.

      1. 2.2.1
        Mrs Happy

        Sam, I disagree.   People who can only talk about their children or dishwasher brands are mind-numbingly boring past the first minutes.   Nobody else cares about your children as much as you do; your partner if you are lucky comes a close second, and that’s it bar some extended family interest.

        You can prioritise your family (most good parents do) without losing interest in everything else in the world.   Loving your children doesn’t mean they should be your only topic of conversation when you talk with people who barely know your children.   Just a little theory of mind surely leads to an awareness that other adults aren’t that interested in your child’s soccer match or violin abilities?

        1. Marika

          Agree with you here, Mrs Happy.

          I work with kids, I had step kids while I was married, I have many nephews and nieces, and I’m one of 4 kids myself. My parents, my ex-husband, my siblings and a high proportion of the parents I work with understand that you can love your kids without talking about them endlessly or in great boring detail. I personally think it’s pretty self-obsessed to talk a lot about your kids (self-obsessed, as in some people see kids as an extension of themselves), and I think there are people who get this, and people who don’t. Like you said, it’s more about theory of mind and personality than how much you love your kids   – as if the kids care, or particularly want their parents talking about them to strangers! IMHO

        2. Suzanne

          I had to end a friendship over this. I know this doesn’t sound supportive but when a good friend got married and had children, she stopped going out and the only contact we had was emails in which she complained about the husband and kids. Yet, she thought my then single life was a waste of time.

          I thought hearing about her complaints was a waste of time, so I stopped responding to her messages.

          She had long wanted to get married and have children and yet when she got it, it was never perfect enough for her and everything that was wrong in the marriage was everyone else’s fault.

        3. Sam

          Have you considered that other women with children who play soccer or play violin are in interested in those conversations? People usually talk to others with similar interests. If I have a 5-year-old son, and another woman also has a 5-year-old son, I’m sure we would be very interested in discussing each other’s parenting obligations, things that stress us out, tips we’ve picked up along the way, etc.

          I don’t have kids now and I’m not engaged, so yes, it’s true. I have zero interest in my friends when they tell me about their babies or their wedding planning. I also find it extremely boring when people start talking about politics, current events, or philosophy, for example. The fact is, everyone has different interests and things they like to talk about. The term “boring” is by no means objective. It’s unfair to label everyone who thinks differently from you.

        4. No Name To Give

          The great thing about people is, we are not a homogenous species. We can’t all be like this group or that group, nor can we live life to meet someone else’s approval. What is one person’s joy is another person’s ennui. Idk women can’t just be encouragers instead of poo-pooing these women for being stay-at-home moms, or these women for not having kids, a husband, and being career-oriented. Aren’t we a live-and-let-Live culture?

        5. Noone45

          Free choice seems to be code for “free to choose as long as I like your choice”. Either way, I find people seem incapable of imagining other people have different interests that are worthy of respect. If they aren’t harming anyone, I’m not going to pass judgement on their relative level of sophistication.   Even the much vaunted philosopher Bertrand Russell was quoted as saying the most important lesson he learned in his long life was “be nice”.

          If you want to talk about your kids and it makes you happy, that’s just fine. Glad to see something out there that makes you happy.

    3. 2.3
      Jeremy

      Oh, come now.   We are all pod people to those of differing personalities.   Some of us are just more aware of our pod-like nature due to being a rarer type with interests that don’t qualify as mainstream.   The article above is just a classic case of differing attachment styles, leading to a mismatch.   Or better to say, a potentially good relationship with some very predictable challenges, which will only succeed if both partners learn how to express love in a way that is meaningful to their partner, instead of the current state where only one partner is trying to compromise (and give advice to others, LOL).

       

      Regarding your Christmas party acquaintances, I can relate to the experience.   But it pays to understand that as boring as you or I might find the constant stream of people, places and things discussed by those individuals (which I call “noun   vomiting”), those people would find your interests and mine to be equally mind-numbing.   Have you ever tried talking to them about advanced mathematical theory (which, I recall, is your thing), or human motivations (which is mine)?   They’d rather have an enema.   They discuss their kids, what everyone else is doing, and what brands of dishwashers they like best because *gasp* that’s what interests them 🙂   Because by doing so, they better fit in with others, establish their footing in the social hierarchy, and fulfill the role which they use as scaffolding to construct their personality.

       

      The conversations with these people can be fascinating indeed….as long as one focuses not on what’s being said but on why.

      1. 2.3.1
        Mrs Happy

        Oh Jeremy you’re stretching my credulity if you, with an IQ around 130-140, are trying to convince us that conversations like this are “fascinating”.   I know it takes you all of a minute to work out why these people are talking like this.   With due respect, what do you do for the rest of the conversation to fascinate yourself?

        And I’m not so sure that learning ways to express love is the answer in the source article’s relationship.   Maybe they are just not suited, if he is so avoidant, and she so regularly needy.   I mean sometimes the chasm between comfort styles is just too great, and all the love-languages work in the world isn’t worth it.

        I’m going back to my pod now.   Four hours till the weekend starts, 2 more Xmas parties Saturday God help me, and then I can pod away and rest with my maths books.

        1. Jeremy

          “What do you do for the rest of the conversation to fascinate yourself?”   I try to predict how they will react to certain things and then test that out.   Last year on Passover I had my side of the family for one night and my wife’s for the other.   Created 2 very different speeches for each night, one crafted specifically for the personalities of the one group, the other for the other group.   Then gave both on both nights, watched the reactions, and saw if I predicted correctly.   That’s my idea of fun.   ‘Cause I’m a pod.

           

          Oh, and BTW, I enjoyed your retaliatory pigeon-holing.

        2. AdaGrace

          @Mrs Happy: (High-five from another woman who does math for fun)

  3. 3
    Noone45

    I’m going to go against the grain and refrain from bashing “basic” people. All the people you disdain may be the people you need later, so I always try to talk with others unless they are rude.

    My parents have been married 39 years as of this month. Dad still works, mom is disabled and basically helps me with my son during the week. She also runs a crafting buisness. They both have different hobbies. Dad loves to fish and does that whenever the weather is good. Mom makes things. They come together at night and watch TV together or read. Might seem boring to others, but they spent their youth traveling since my father was in the Army. You get sick of moving about eventually.   My grandparents were married over 60 years and had a similar pattern.

    I honestly wish I had simpler thoughts. Sure, I can argue Marxist-leninist theory with someone, but that’s dull to most people.

     

    1. 3.1
      No Name To Give

      I am proud to be basic. I don’t put on airs and have no time for pretense. I’ll never be part of the cool kids. I never was. I’m ok with that.

  4. 4
    Mrs Happy

    Anyway, to get back to the actual topic of the post, I suspect the best way to keep a relationship from becoming stale – any relationship: a marriage, a friendship, a relationship with adult children – is to yourself not be too stale. To be interested in other people’s lives and willing to learn about new things, and to do new things together and alone, and not just live life on repeat. (I’m not sure how to make sex not stale after decades of marriage but I’m sure others may have ideas.)
    For instance one of my closest friends has a vibrant relationship with his mid-20’s son, and I think they stay close in part because my friend makes a huge effort to be interested in the things his son likes and does, even though these things are far from my friend’s realm of interest. Their conversation is never stale. My father’s conversations with me at that age were entirely about my car, and any attempt at new topics made my dad uncomfortable, so we spent a decade discussing cars (which I don’t much care about) and now barely speak, and he doesn’t know me at all. In fact if I tell him anything new – e.g. in my 20’s I informed him I’d been atheist for years – he tells me “Rubbish, that’s not true”. Our relationship is the definition of stale.

    1. 4.1
      Marika

      Great points  Mrs Happy!

      Jokes help too! I was just wondering why I still look forward to seeing my family at every get together when most of them are quite different to me and mostly don’t share my interests. And the get togethers are quite regular.

      It’s the jokes, the laughs, the banter, the silliness.  There are only 2/3 family members who are quiet and very serious – and they tend to leave early (they would probably have a different perspective on how much they enjoy our get togethers).

      My Dad can be a bit like yours, but my parents are well read and very up to date on current affairs. So that adds interest too. Dad and I will talk politics. My brother and I make fun of each other’s politics (different ends of the spectrum). If we do it in a teasing way it’s enjoyable and can even bring us closer.

      I suppose your point with the women earlier is they only have 1 or 2 topics of conversation.  And those 1/2 topics are personal. Any small area of interest becomes boring after a while. And a topic very personal to you only can get pretty boring immediately.

      I think being part of a big family we’re all used to talking quickly and getting to the point. So no one person hogs the floor. No one would let them 😂

      The sex thing… see you never bought Cosmo with the sealed section… 😉 Hehe. I kid, I kid.

  5. 5
    Marika

    PS Mrs Happy, my boss told me to bond further with the kids at work by learning all about their interests (like your friend and her son)…I’m trying…  but honestly, whenever a kid talks about Fortnite  I want to claw my eyes out! Except for the dancing bit.

    I feel like I need to just learn a few key terms (like Moss in The IT Crowd) so I can pretend to know something about it. Without actually knowing anything.

    How’s your Fortnite knowledge bank?

    1. 5.1
      Mrs Happy

      Heard the word for the 1st time yesterday from a 5 year old.

  6. 6
    Marika

    Haha, really?

    Impressed you’ve managed to not know about that for so long!

  7. 7
    Jeremy

    Distance….it can do unexpected things.   A few months ago I booked a 5 day Caribbean vacation for my wife and myself, leaving the kids with my in-laws.   Don’t get me wrong, I love the kids more than anything, but we could use some time away to re-connect and de-stress.   Anyway, we leave tomorrow and the separation anxiety has begun….for me.   I swear, I don’t know which was more painful – hearing my younger daughters cry that they’d miss me, or having my son give me a hug, tell me to have a good trip, but not to wake him to say good-bye in the morning.   I miss them already and I haven’t even left.

     

    This to say, I think a little distance can be a good thing, but some need less than others…and for some even the suggestion of distance is enough.   The key in relationships, I think, is for both partners to need similar amounts and be satisfied by similar amounts.

    1. 7.1
      Lynx

      So wonderful that you are appreciating your young children while they’re young. Such a cliche, but it really does fly by. I just became an empty nester and find myself ogling baby clothes in passing when at the store, or play peek-a-boo with a random restless  toddler while dining out. I totally get why people want to become grandparents. And I’m a woman who never even especially wanted kids, I imagined I’d be a career woman. Sigh.

  8. 8
    sindi

    Hmmm .  Mrs. Happy

    I’d like to know what you do that you find so interesting.

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