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How to Get Your Relationship Out of a Rut

There are ways to liven up your relationship, even in lockdown.

Even in normal times, it is easy for partners to get into a rut where their relationship is more or less on autopilot and they fall into taking each other for granted. But during these abnormal times with many couples quarantining together 24/7, the rut can get even deeper and harder to get out of. It doesn’t help that we tend to think of love in passive terms as something we “fall in” or end up “being in.” We often overlook the fact that love is also a verb and, therefore, requires taking action. The act of loving involves real behavior to keep a relationship alive and vital. These include offering emotional and physical affection; expressing tenderness, compassion and sensitivity to one another’s needs; sharing activities and interests; and maintaining honest exchanges of personal thoughts and feelings.

The first step for getting out of this rut is to see you and your partner as two separate, independent people. To gain perspective, imagine stepping back from your partner. As you stand apart, get a feeling for yourself as a distinct person, perfectly capable of functioning on your own. The world doesn’t owe you anything; and, in spite of life’s disappointments and frustrations, you are a victim of no one. You are just you, alone. Now take a look at your partner, apart from you. Separate from anything you may expect, want or demand from them. Separate from any role they may be fulfilling in relation to you. Like you, your partner is a person, alone. Each of you has your own individual traits, interests and desires; some of them similar and some of them very different. There are qualities that you like and some that you dislike. You are both human and, therefore, by nature, imperfect.

Recognize everyday acts of kindness and thoughtfulness

This advice is more difficult than it sounds because, as time passes, most people come to see their partner in terms of their own wants or what they think they should be getting from their partner. It’s easy to feel victimized: She should be helping me out! He should be working harder!

During quarantine, these gripes can become stronger and more persistent: She always leaves the food out. He never does the laundry. She never wipes the counters. He always misses the hamper. He chews his food so loud. She always slurps her coffee. When these types of critical thoughts take over, it is impossible to notice any acts of kindness.

You have to shift your focus away from this negative thinking about your partner. It is helpful to identify these types of thoughts as critical inner voices that do not reflect your actual point of view about you or your partner. It’s like you have an inner coach running both of you down, actively driving a wedge between you by promoting the idea that you are a victim and being treated badly. You lose sight of the fact that you are just two people, each with your own shortcomings, trying your best to get through these especially difficult times.

Once you have interrupted your negative thought process, you will be able to look for acts of kindness and thoughtfulness. However, it will be hard to recognize them if you are looking for grandiose gestures of love and devotion. They won’t be obvious if you’re focused on what you think your partner ought to be doing for you. Remove expectations. Look for real, everyday deeds of sensitivity, helpfulness and consideration. Look for unique ways of giving that are an expression of your partner’s nature and sensitivity to your nature. Maybe he doesn’t do the laundry, but does he rub your shoulders when you’re stressed? Maybe she doesn’t wipe the counters, but does she watch reruns of your favorite show with you? Partners hurt each other by overlooking simple acts of love.

Express your gratitude

It is not enough to recognize a loving act; after all, love is an exchange between two people. Therefore, it’s necessary to respond to your partner by expressing your gratitude. Even if you think that they are aware of your appreciation, you may be wrong. Communicating feelings of thankfulness for what they have extended to you will make your partner feel acknowledged and loved in return. This type of gratitude is most meaningful when expressed in simple, everyday exchanges rather than in the occasional extravagant or effusive gesture.

Give to your partner

A natural part of the give and take of love is giving to your partner. This involves being attuned to your partner as a person, separate from you and your relationship. It is the act of responding to your partner’s personal needs with actions that are highly sensitive to them. Because this personal level of giving is such a profound expression of yourself, the more wholeheartedly you give to your partner, the more fully you realize who you are. Expressing your love in this manner enriches both of your lives.

As we move in the direction of accepting love with dignity and returning love with appreciation, we will find ourselves actively involved in being in love. This will stop us from taking each other for granted and bring us out of the rut of indifference toward each other and our relationship. If we engage in this worthwhile pursuit, we can come out of this pandemic with renewed appreciation and love for one another.

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