In any relationship there are highs and lows, periods of stagnation and periods of significant growth. It’s not realistic to expect your relationship to not go through some vacillation. Especially if it’s a long-term relationship, it’s almost impossible for both of you to never encounter dissatisfaction. Just to be clear, that’s not what this blog is about; this blog is aiming at relationships that get into a rut and stay there. And specifically the “roommate phase,” which can be particularly insidious.
For some this phase becomes the couple's new dynamic because of resentment, and other times each person can feel relatively happy but not notice it’s become a problem - the later is the more insidious. There are different ways of dealing with each scenario, and some common strategies. First, let’s look at the couples who get here by way of resentment.
Roommates by Resentment
If you’re this type of couple, you certainly notice that this is a problem. You and your partner may not talk much and when you do it’s about logistical things, you don’t go out on dates, you rarely have sex if you still do at all, you bicker more or get into more frequent fights, and there’s frequently a feeling of tension. This resentment is what keeps you in the roommate phase, mutes your personality around your partner, and diminishes the unique dynamic your relationship had. So what can you do about it?
Talk with Your Partner
This is key in any relationship at any stage, but absolutely crucial here. The resentment started, and continued to build, because the two of you either didn’t talk about it, or didn’t find a way through whatever problem(s) you’re having when you fought. Easier said than done, of course, so I would first recommend seeing a therapist, but if that’s not possible, to look online to find tools for effective communication. In these cases, the only way to get through the roommate phase is to talk about the elephant in the room so that there’s more space for your relationship to grow to what it once was.
Part of this is to also to stop criticizing, nagging, and being sarcastic to your partner. You not only have to bring up the issues and deal with them in an effective manner, but change the nature of your relationship from distance to closeness. When we’re frustrated or hurt, we use these three ways to protect ourselves, but they create distance between us and our partners. Instead, replace those unhelpful tendencies with compliments or paying attention to your partner. Hopefully they will follow suit.
Take an Interest in Your Partner
When we’re roommates, we often have less meaningful conversations, and do less together. This is a cycle because when this happens we connect less, but what leads to doing these less often is putting less of a priority on connecting. One feeds off of the other. So instead, make a conscious effort of taking an interest in your partner, and suggest activities you both can take part in together. Instead of watching TV during dinner or reading a book before bed, have an honest rundown of your day with each other (not just “it was fine”), or ask each other some unique and stimulating questions (for example, this card deck, or these).
The activity doesn’t have to be anything extravagant either; it could be going to an art class, going on a date to a new restaurant, or anything that you both had enjoyed doing before in your relationship. It doesn’t matter what it is, it matters that it's fun for both of you and leads to more connection and closeness.
Resentment by Preoccupation
For a lot of other couples, this type of the roommate phase slowly creeps in because we put other parts of our life ahead of our relationship (most often when a couple has children). This is more insidious, albeit less damaging in the short-term, because it’s not clearly dissatisfying. However, a change in your life can shift this from seemingly relative happiness, to clear dissatisfaction. This is frequently seen in parents that become empty-nesters; these changes will force these relationship shortcomings to the surface, which can be confusing, overwhelming, and frustrating to realize and deal with.
Find Out Your Love Languages
For these couples, learning about love languages and applying them to your relationship can be a great “restart” button to connection and affection. When we’re in the roommate phase, there’s a real lack of both of these, so making them a priority is important. Even just having the conversation about your love languages can do a few things; it can be exciting to talk about what makes your partner feel good after ignoring it for a while and expressing your languages to them, it can give you a cheat-sheet for what will work on your partner so that you’re not just guessing, and just having the conversation can set the expectation for both of you that you’ll put more effort into this - that your relationship is the priority.
Start Having Sex Again
When you feel like roommates, it’s very likely that you haven’t had much sex, if any, in the recent past. It might not seem clear when you’re in this phase, but sex is extremely important for couples to feel like a couple. Without sex, erotic touch, intimate moments, or anything similar to that, you’ll stop associating your partner with sexuality. There won’t be that intoxicating feeling we get when we have desire for our partner, which is a huge piece to not feeling like roommates.
Sex can be awkward and difficult to start including again when you haven’t had it in so long, and that’s okay. To get through this easier you can see a sex therapist, talk about your sex life with each other in a positive way before trying to be physical (not nagging your partner about not having sex in however many months), or setting the environment so the transition to sex will feel less uncomfortable for you (going out on a romantic date beforehand).
All of these suggestions could work for either style of roommate phase, but usually fit in cleaner to how they’re laid out here. Regardless of what you do, the important part is remembering that you want to change the dynamic of your relationship in a positive way, and to be on the same page with your partner about it. It likely wouldn’t work if only you read this and try to implement these things. These are also only a start, only creating your positive momentum. It will become both of your responsibilities to put that effort into making sure this momentum doesn’t die out, but endures, to create a new feeling to your relationship where you’re not going through the motions with your ‘roommate’, but continually trying to woo your companion.