Look, at this point if you’ve spent more than one year stuck inside with your partner and it’s starting to wear on you both — that’s completely understandable.
Even if you’re living with a roommate who is your dearest friend in the world, spending every day together stuck inside can quickly become too much. In addition to the time spent together, many couples are facing job loss, child care and even homeschooling — all of which are situations that would be a strain individually. To find out more about what relationship fatigue is and how you can recognize signs, TODAY tapped YouTube creator and licensed therapist, Kati Morton.
First off, she notes that nearly everyone at some point in their life has faced relationship fatigue. “You take a one-week vacation as a child and bring your best friend, and you most likely got into a few arguments or possibly even full-on fights,” explained Morton. “You had never spent a week together 24/7, and all of that togetherness was too much.”
How to recognize relationship fatigue:
Before you start thinking you need to end it with your partner or even cut off your best friends, Morton suggests considering if you're experiencing the following feelings.
We’re talking about more than the usual frustrations. Think of this as the breaking point when you start to think of everything your partner does as annoying. “This could also be shown through passive aggressive behavior, for example, purposefully only making enough dinner for yourself without telling them or asking if they want any,” said Morton. “Or acting cold toward them without telling them why.”
2. Cutting off communication
It’s certainly a sign of frustration if you’re not voicing your feelings in general, but Morton said you should take note of the moments when you or your partner are leaning into the silent treatment. “It’s a problem when we stop communicating about what we are thinking and feeling, and expect them to figure it out,” said Morton.
3. Smack talk
That’s right, if you’ve finally hit the point where you’re ready to talk badly about your partner to anyone that will listen, you know it’s time to address this issue. Morton explains that this is particularly important to note if it’s not something that you usually find yourself doing.
Is a return to 'normal' going to help?
Most people may be hoping a return normal — at to each other's offices — could resolve these issues. And they're right: According to Anita Chlipala, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Relationship Reality 312, getting back to the office will be a good thing for most couples. That said, going back to work isn’t under anyone’s control, and if your office still hasn’t invited you back, Chlipala has some advice.
“I encourage people to get away from the home for a bit — catch up on emails at a coffee shop, spend time with friends (in whatever way you feel safe to do so), take some solo walks,” suggested Chlipala. “Having space in a relationship is important — it can help sustain passion.”
If no end is in sight, or if you or your partner are stuck working from home indefinitely, Chlipala said that couples should “be honest with yourself and your partner about what you need for these next few months.” And when she says honest, she notes that she also means that couples need to be specific about what they need. Here are five steps you can take to combat relationship fatigue.
1. Carve out alone time.
Even if you have to find someone else to care for your kids for a few hours, it’s worth it.
“With so many of my couples who also have a child or children, we have had to create a schedule where each partner gets their own time for self-care,” said Chlipala. “Taking a break from each other can keep the spark alive, and too much togetherness can dampen intimacy — so carving out some time apart can keep passion burning.”
2. Make time to connect.
If your initial thought is that you’ve had nothing but time to connect, Chlipala wants to make a quick distinction: Co-existing is not the same as connecting. She explains that it’s important to talk to your partner about how they define connection and quality time. It could be something as simple as you putting your phone away during dinner.
“You can also come up with ways to connect based on your exhaustion levels — I have literally done this with some of my clients because they were so fatigued due to the pandemic,” said Chlipala. "Try a 1-10 scale to identify how exhausted you are. For example, you can group it into three parts: 1-3, 4-6 and 7-10. For each part, come up with things that would still make you feel connected.”
She explains that when patients are at a 10, maybe they can still cuddle on the couch while watching a movie, which will give them the space to zone out, but offer up physical affection. If you’re feeling energized, maybe it’s time to dress up and go out to your favorite restaurant.
3. Make room for bad moods.
Let’s face it, everyone feels grumpy sometimes. Chlipala cautions against getting caught up in the mental spiral of thinking that your partner’s bad mood is happening as a result of something you did.
“There should be room in a relationship for bad moods, and each couple can talk about what they both need when they’re in this state,” said Chlipala. “I recommend including some short-term techniques, like a quick shower, playing guitar for 30 minutes or going for a 20-minute run, because you won’t always have the luxury of wallowing in a bad mood for hours if you have responsibilities you need to take care of.”
4. Clarify expectations and set boundaries.
Just because your partner is constantly around doesn’t mean they’re at your beck and call. Chlipala encourages couples to clarify their expectations around when they can be interrupted and when they can’t.
“Just because you’re not busy doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s when your partner should spend time with you,” said Chlipala. “Talk about your expectations and what’s reasonable so that you can avoid unnecessary hurt feelings.”
5. Do novel things and watch more comedies.
That’s right, you can now watch comedies because the therapist said so.
“Studies have shown that couples who engage in exciting things together also feel more satisfied in their relationship and feel more intense feelings of romantic love,” said Chlipala. “When something strikes you as funny, your brain releases the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters: dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, which enhance feelings of pleasure and mood. Laughing can also reduce stress hormones.”