Bored in Your Marriage? Take Action!
by David Gibson
Boredom is not an insurmountable problem. That’s a big reason why boredom among husbands and wives fascinates the experts – those who investigate the secrets of lasting, happy marriages. Something usually can be done about boredom.
A better understanding of boredom in marriage should make it possible “to develop strategies for overcoming this relationship challenge,” two psychologists at Canadian universities insist in a just-published study in Personal Relationships, a professional journal.
These researchers — Cheryl Harasymchuk at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, and Beverley Fehr at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba – also published a separate study of boredom last year in which they said that while “boredom is an unpleasant experience,” it also seems to serve the “adaptive purpose of alerting individuals to take corrective action” (Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology).
In other words, “feeling bored in one’s relationship might be a cue that something is amiss.” Harasymchuk and Fehr said they found evidence that boredom is “a signal to get going and do something about it.”
Marital boredom seems to be a different kind of problem for couples than some others they may need to “navigate,” the researchers observed. They pointed out the problems couples confront can range from hurt feelings, betrayal and broken promises to conflict, jealousy and selfishness, for example. But boredom is different, and it is “not linked explicitly with fighting, breaking rules or being selfish.”
Notably, Harasymchuk and Fehr also found that boredom “does not involve much partner blame.” The couples they studied did not tend to say that they suffered boredom because their partner was annoying or uninteresting. Moreover, said the researchers, the causes of boredom for couples do not seem to relate to conflict or the other “negative processes” in marriages that traditionally have been studied.
The Canadian researchers found it interesting that boredom for couples seems to reflect a “lack of positivity in a relationship” rather than “the presence of negative qualities.” That observation prompts an obvious question on my part: What can couples do to introduce something fresh and positive — a new spark — into their relationship?
A bit more disturbing for the researchers was their discovery of several “secondary themes” related to marital boredom – themes that seemed to “represent a darker side to the experience of relational boredom.” Their newly published study reports that some couples associated a lack of intimacy with boredom, as well as a lack of communication, a “distancing of oneself from the partner” and a sense of being “worn down.”
Harasymchuk and Fehr wondered if these secondary themes reflect “disengagement from the relationship” and indicate that “boredom may be more insidious than has been assumed.”
Nonetheless, among the qualities most often associated with boredom by the couples who were studied were a lack of “exciting activities,” a sense that their life “feels routine” and that they are “always doing the same thing.” The researchers said that “married people who were feeling bored in their relationship were less likely to report having engaged in exciting activities with their spouse over the past few weeks compared to those who were less bored.”
Others who study marriage also have attributed boredom to a lack of exciting, new or different kinds of activities in a couple’s life. The Canadian researchers noted that the qualities of boredom mentioned most frequently in their study “map nicely onto” this earlier work.
The theory is that couples initially look to their relationship as an opportunity to grow and to expand as persons, as well as to grow closer to each other. When they feel they no longer are growing and expanding in the context of their marriage, they may report feeling bored.
The theory also is that eliminating negative problems from their relationship is not all that couples need to do; they also should take positive steps to engage together in new activities they consider interesting. These activities need not be costly or complicated. They can be as simple as taking a walk, going to movies, developing a new hobby or planning regular date nights.
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.