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Roommate Syndrome: The Slow and Painful Death of Your Marriage

What is Roommate Syndrome and What Causes It?

As the title implies, roommate syndrome is a common way intimate relationships fizzle out or come to an end. This is also sometimes referred to as “falling out of love”. Essentially, when your romantic partner begins feeling like a roommate, you know you’re experiencing this syndrome. Some signs of this include rarely having deep or meaningful conversations, not seeing each other very often, not feeling supported or emotionally connected, and not much by way of a sex life.

The most common triggers for this syndrome are kids and work. When children come into the picture, they naturally take up an enormous amount of time and energy, which used to be able to be put into each other. So, it’s common to discontinue date nights and intellectual conversations. Who’s got the energy for the small romantic things like notes and gifts, let alone the energy for bigger romantic interactions?

The second trigger for Roommate Syndrome is work. We all have to do it in one form or another. Whether that’s from home, at the office, or with the kids. In this fast-paced world, work seeks to demand more and more of our time and attention. Smart phones have only increased that demand with work emails being a tap away. Work has a way of creating daily routines that often leave little room for spontaneity and connection with loved ones. It can also dominate our conversations at home, which keeps our conversations surface level and mundane. Or we seek to not talk about it at all, which leaves us wondering what there is to talk about with our partner other than the kids.

What can be done about this?

If much or all of this resonates with you, you may be feeling worried about the future of your relationship. Only worry with the worry that will lead you to action! You can do something about this! You don’t have to live like roommates forever. Here are some simple tips to help you start reconnecting and communicating on a deeper level:

  1. Consciously and regularly choose to turn towards your partner: You may be thinking, “What does this even mean?”. Every day we and our partners make bids for connection with each other. These are often small. It may sound like, “Hey, check out that nice boat. Wouldn’t it be nice to have something like that?”. Or it may be your partner talking about one of their hobbies. Sometimes it looks like a hug, a squeeze, an extended look, or a smile. All of these are opportunities to connect with each other. Sure, maybe you aren’t into boats, or all that interested in your partner’s hobby. You can choose to turn away and ignore those bids for connection, which is likely what you’ve both been doing. Or you can consciously choose to engage by showing interest, curiosity, and giving them your full attention.

  2. Consciously and regularly choose to prioritize your marriage: This can take form in many ways such as setting aside “talk time” at the end of the day to just connect. There are many apps meant to provide couples with topics to explore and discuss such as the Gottman card decks. You may reignite an old shared interest or find a new hobby you both find joy in doing together. As is true for most things in life, where you choose to put your time and energy is where things grow, progress, and flourish.

  3. Love is an action, so learn to show and give love to your partner in ways that are meaningful to them: “The 5 Love Languages” book by Gary Chapman really helps illustrate this concept. He speaks to five common ways that we give and receive love – physical touch, quality time, gifts, words of affirmation, and acts of service. Frequently for couples, the way one partner naturally gives love does not align with how the other naturally receives love. Take time with your partner to explore how you both give and receive love. You are likely going to need to come out of your comfort zone to learn how to show and give love to your partner in ways that are most meaningful to them.

Just like it took time for Roommate Syndrome to take over, it will take time to reconnect and rebuild your intimate relationship. Be patient with each other. If you find yourself trying to do all these things and still not making any headway, it’s probably time to visit with a professional therapist who specializes in couple’s work. They will be able to help you take things to a deeper level and teach you communication skills meant to help you both utilize empathy, seek to understand each other, and actually resolve matters.

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