If you feel like you and your spouse live more like roommates than romantic partners, know that you are not alone. This dynamic is most common when you have young kids or have recently become empty nesters, but can happen at any point in a long-term relationship.
When your physical and sexual connection has been neglected for an extended period of time, you’ve likely entered the roommate stage of your marriage. It’s daunting to think you can ever find your way back. Nevertheless, it is possible to reignite passion within your marriage after a dry spell by learning how to communicate your needs more effectively.
Get Out Of The Roommate Stage with Clear Communication
If you’re ready to stop living like roommates and get your marriage back, clear communication is the first step in the process. It’s important to articulate your wants while also having open discussions about what’s not working. The most effective way to achieve clear communication is to be honest, patient, and empathetic as you discuss and problem-solve.
Part of this process is to reflect on and articulate the goals for your marriage. Another important component is to think back on when your marriage seemed to be at its peak and identify ways to reproduce those sustaining moments. Lastly, you and your partner will need to get on the same page about where to take your marriage going forward.
Become Couple-centered Instead Of Other-centered
The beginning of your marriage was probably very couple-centered. You spent as much time together as possible, genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, and had few distractions from your couplehood aside from work. But then, over the years, a gradual shift took place. Your relationship evolved from being couple-centered to being other-centered.
The “other” here includes a variety of responsibilities and stresses which are a normal part of life. These include the demands of taking care of children and aging parents, work, health concerns and financial worries. All these responsibilities understandably grew in priority and something had to give in order to make more time and space for managing them. The first thing to suffer is usually relationship-sustaining activities like quality time together and sexual intimacy.
Identify Your Ideal Marriage Qualities
Another good strategy to getting your marriage back on track is to name 3-5 ideal marriage qualities you want for your relationship. This exercise will give you clarity on what you want in your relationship as well as what is missing. Invite your partner to do the same so you both can evaluate where you’re aligned and what doesn’t match. Here’s a sample list of common ideal marriage qualities to help guide you:
- Shared values
- Emotional Support
- Sexual intimacy
- Common interests
- Good communication
If sex is one of your top marriage needs, then it’s time to get out of the friend zone and work your way back to physical intimacy. Express your wants and needs to your partner. Acknowledge what’s been lacking, but don’t dwell on it too much. Instead, paint a picture of what you’d like your marriage (and your sex life) to be and brainstorm a few ways of getting there:
“I miss the sex life we used to have before we had kids. I’m still very much attracted to you and I know it’s been tough finding the time and energy for sex. I’d like to bring passion back into our marriage so we can feel closer to each other again. How about we get dressed up and grab a drink tomorrow instead of watching TV at home?”
It could very well be that you’re ok to live together just as just companions. That’s perfectly fine, as long as you and your partner are both in agreement. The best approach here is to discuss it openly and acknowledge this new phase of relationship:
“We’ve been living as friends, and not lovers, for a while now. It seems that we’re both comfortable with this arrangement. Sex isn’t a priority in our relationship as it used to be, and I’m ok with it. I’m happy just being with you, and want to make sure you feel the same way.”
Lastly, if there’s a mismatch and one of you wants sex while the other one doesn’t, one path forward is to explore consensual non-monogamy. This is a tricky topic and you’ll probably want to seek out a couples therapist to support you.
Identify Your Peak Experiences
Look back on your relationship and identify peak experiences in your relationship. Think about what worked then, what brought you joy and when you felt the happiest in your partnership. Now consider if there’s a way to apply aspects of your peak experience to your current situation.
For example, if your peak experiences with your spouse revolved around a common hobby or purpose, come up with a shared activity or goal that you both can enjoy together now. Take into account any limitations or constraints and work around them. If you can be flexible and adaptable, you’ll be more likely to see better results.
Similarly, if your peak experiences involved an active social life, try to carve out more time with friends and family. If your kids are young, ask someone to babysit so you and your partner can meet up with friends. And if it seems like your social circle has dwindled or it’s too hard to schedule get-togethers when everyone is busy with their own lives, seek out new social opportunities for the both of you. Invite a new coworker over for dinner, join a community sports league, or start a book club.
Remember, you won’t necessarily be able to fully replicate a peak experience, but you can apply some aspects to your current life to ignite that spark. This may involve some trial and error and creative thinking and should prove to be worth the effort. It’s also expected that the first attempt might now work as well as you had hoped. Consider it a test run, learn from it, and then improve upon the experience the next time.
Court Each Other Again
The early stages of almost every relationship are filled with romance and excitement. If it’s been a while since you felt these emotions, why not restart your courtship? Send each other flirty texts or photos and find other ways to express romantic interest in each other. Or take on a more traditional approach and leave a love letter, bring flowers or ask your spouse out on a date. Take it upon yourself to make the arrangements to make it easier for your partner to go along with your plan. They’ll feel loved and cared for by your attentiveness, and this will help rebuild your emotional connection. Courting each other again will help you transition back to a romantic relationship.
Separation Is A Possibility
Although most marriages can be revived after being stuck in a roommate stage for a period of time, some marriages may not be able to recover from it. In this situation, is it critically important that you and your spouse discuss whether your prolonged period of living as roommates signifies the end of your marriage. It could be that you fell out of love, but still like each other. Maybe living as roommates is an indicator that it’s time to move on.
If your marriage is indeed over, take the time to process and grieve it. But recognize that it’s unhealthy to stay in a marriage if it’s actually over. This is a good time to engage with a marriage and family therapist who’ll help you navigate your emotions as well as guide you through the separation.
Whether you’re looking for ways to revive your marriage or are seriously considering divorce, knowing how to communicate with your partner is essential. You may be able to hone your communication skills independently, but working with a marriage counselor will typically get you there faster.