How to Beat Boredom in Your Relationship: Drop into the Plane of Possibility

Relationships are naturally full of highs and lows, but perhaps the thing couples complain about the most are the lulls. Boredom is often viewed as a destructive, yet inevitable, force in long-term relationships. One study even found that the most common way for that people describe their romantic relationships was “dull.”

Most of us don’t think of boredom as being optional. We worry that it will just show up one day and slowly suffocate the spark we feel with our partner. Yet, are we too eager to accept the stereotype that the “honeymoon phase” has to end? I (along with many of my colleagues and researchers) would argue that it does not.

One famous neurological study by Bianca Acevedo showed that our brains can “light up” in the same way for a partner we’ve been with for decades as it does with someone with whom we’ve recently fallen in love. This led researchers to conclude that romantic love can last a lifetime. “Couples who’ve been together a long time and wish to get back their romantic edge should know it is an attainable goal that, like most good things in life, requires energy and devotion,” said Acevedo.

So, what kind of energy and devotion is effective to keeping us feeling close and lively with our partner? My friend and colleague Dr. Daniel Siegel and I recently created an online course on “Love and Connection.” In our course, we talk a lot about the “plane of possibility” that can exist between a couple. In relationships, it’s very easy to be caught in a cycle of worrying about the future or dwelling on things that happened in the past. Dropping into the plane of possibility involves staying in the present by accepting that each experience we have is entirely new if we are in the moment, experiencing it as it is happening, no matter what.

When people complain about being bored in their relationship, they often cite being stuck in a rut or routine. They may feel a sudden desire for novelty and assume that novelty can only come from a new partner. The truth is, every interaction we have with another person, even someone we’ve known for a long time, is a new possibility for lively connection. It often takes only a small adjustment (a sweet smile, a flirtatious look, or an act of affection) to turn a mundane interaction into an exciting one. Yet, often we are so set in our ideas about how things will go that we automatically engage in certain patterns we’ve developed rather than shifting the actively break our own pattern of relating.

These fixed or rigid ideas often stem from our past. From the moment we’re born, we’re learning how relationships work. Our early patterns of attachment leave us with certain expectations about how people will behave. Based on our specific history, we may assume a partner will be rejecting, dismissive, misattuned, insensitive, overbearing, or unpredictable. In this way, we enter relationships with preconceived notions about how they’ll go.

These early patterns impact our behavior, so we not only expect a certain dynamic to exist, but we may even initiate or perpetuate that dynamic by playing out one half of it. For example, behaving childishly may spark our partner to act parental. Being possessive may inspire our partner to back away. Whatever dynamics are established create peaks and plateaus that move us away from the plane of possibilities.

The negative patterns we play out with our partner tend to be accompanied by a “critical inner voice,” which is much like a mean internal coach judging us, our partner, and our relationship. This “voice” can be an enormous distraction from staying present and open with our partner. “She forgot to take out the trash. She doesn’t notice everything you do around the house,” the voice suggests. “He’s working late again. You’re obviously not important to him,” it warns. “There’s no affection between you. Just face it. The spark is gone.”

All of these factors can remove us from the reality that each experience we have with our partner is completely new and full of possibility. So, how do we shift our point of view and drop into the plane of possibility?

First, we have to stop assuming we know exactly what’s going to happen. Our expectations of how things will be can interfere with us experiencing how they actually are. If we assume our partner will be dismissive or an encounter will be routine, we set ourselves up for that to be the case. If we quiet our critical inner voice, become more mindful, and stay open to anything that is happening in the moment, we will feel much more enlivened.

In addition, we should reawaken ourselves to what we’ve started to take for granted. One example Siegel uses is to imagine taking a walk through nature and seeing a  gorgeous sunset. The first time we may marvel, but after repeating this experience, we may start to simply think “Oh, just another sunset.” In this moment, we’re no longer taking it in, because it became part of an expectation. Think about how often we do this with a partner. We see them each day through a lens of expectation rather than allowing ourselves to fully experience the small kindnesses, warm companionship, or acts of affection that occur between us.

Dropping into the plane of possibility is a powerful and internal way to ignite more loving connection with our partner. It can make any moment feel like an exciting opportunity just as it felt when we first fell in love. Couples who live in this plane are more likely not just to stay together, but to stay in love.

Learn more about the eCourse “Love and Connection” with Drs. Lisa Firestone and Dan Siegel.

About the Author

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012). Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.

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I really appreciate this article, however, I wish relationship advice articles would do more to address when following the advice would cause more harm rather than be helpful, as in lowering one’s expectations can be harmful inside an abusive relationship where one is expecting more respectful treatment. Sometimes, we need to raise our expectations.

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