When you think of marrying the love of your life, there are so many magical things that come to mind. You think about the life that you’ll build together, the children you may have, the endless romance you’ll cultivate, the places you’ll go, and the challenges you’ll overcome. Disney Films and romantic comedies glamorize marriage in ways that make us so eager to tie the knot that we often regret it. We’re given dreams and illusions of grandeur and love. We’re promised that marriage is about finding your other half. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gain 20 pounds. And really, to some extent that’s true. Marriage is great. I’m happy with my choices.
But marriage, in so many ways, is boring AF.
Let me first just say that I mean this affectionately. I’m completely happy and content with my marriage and quite honestly, I’m speaking from a place of privilege. Annie and I live a great, prosperous, and adventurous life together. I really have nothing to complain about, but I think boredom is a truth that we need to acknowledge. Marriage can be incredibly dull and static at times. Often I worry these doldrums are holding us back from loving each other fully. Are they keeping us from being our best selves?
Let me paint for you a picture of a day in the life of Jack Vitalsey:
I wake up at 7:00am. I read the news (on Facebook, but still…) and then I get ready for work. My wife and I commute together every day. We briefly/groggily connect, asking each other about our plans for the day.
When I’m at work, I’m very busy. I meet with students who ask a lot of questions, I eat my salad for lunch (which I hate), take on hours of administrative tasks, and then I go home promptly at 5:00pm.
Annie picks me up from work. I ask her about her day, she asks me about my day. Nothing about this conversation ever thrills me. It’s the same conversation I’ve been having since we’ve been married.
We get home and make dinner. Usually leftovers or some quick egg or chicken dish. Maybe we do a bit of housework after that, but usually not. Mostly we sit on the couch and watch Game of Thrones or whatever our friends peer pressure us into seeing. Then at approximately 9:00pm, we wind down and get ready for bed. On choice nights, we do the horizontal hustle. Those are my favorite nights.
Once or twice a week, we’ll add hanging out with friends, going out to eat, or shopping. On special occasions (or if our boredom becomes suffocating) we try to shake it up with a fun activity. Sometimes we go for a drink. Or to the movies. Or do anything else that yuppies like us do just to feel something. Anything.
To be honest, my boredom is really cramping my marriage. I didn’t want to admit it for a while because 1) That’s a pretty huge insult to give to your spouse; 2) I feel like such a privileged a-hole to not be all the way content considering how awesome my wife is; and 3) As much as Annie and I try to shake things up, none of it really works for me. It’s either not as fun as I thought it would be or I feel annoyed by the amount of money it takes to shake said things up. Why go out to a bar and pay $6 for PBR when Trader Joe’s beer is amazing and only $3.99 for a six-pack??
I look at boredom in two ways:
Half of me thinks that it’s a sign of peace. It’s a sign that my life has settled down and I don’t need to go seek out frivolous things. I’m a well-adjusted adult now.
The other half of me thinks that I’m having some kind of existential crisis. Is it too early to have a mid-life crisis? Will I end up resenting Annie long term? Am I being selfish?
So is boredom really a problem? Not to worry, folks. I did some research. The answer I found: maybe.
Boredom in marriage is not only a normal thing, but what evolution requires of us as animals. At first when you fall in love, there’s a feeling of pure euphoria that lasts for about two years tops. The reason: mating in the animal kingdom only really lasts for two years. It takes human mammals approximately two years to mate, gestate, give birth, and form a neo-natal family bond until mother and child are able to fend for themselves. As mammals we’re supposed to seek out more exciting sexual prospects to diversify the gene pool. So there’s some bubblegum biology for you. Boredom is normal and natural. Not terribly romantic, though, is it?
Additionally, boredom is an emotional state born from inactivity or when couples are uninterested in the opportunities surrounding them. Most couples work hard to create a life of security for themselves, and carefully for their future. When you become a risk-averse couple, you lose that sexy energy that once enticed you so much. Boredom comes from trading in adventure for stability. Those things are essential for maintaining a well-balanced life, but boy do they kill your mojo!
Most disturbingly, boredom can be a silent killer in a marriage. In a study done by Psychology Today, researchers surveyed about 120 married couples who had been together for seven years, asking about their levels of excitement. The couples also reported how close and satisfied they felt. Nine years later, couples who said that they were in a rut in the first survey were less satisfied than couples who had more adventure, even if the marriage was otherwise harmonious. That certainly makes us want to take our boredom more seriously.
We know there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to being bored. People have different interests. They have different energy levels. But jokes about being a “boring married couple” only get us so far. At some point, we have to acknowledge our reality. We’re bored with each other, we’re bored with ourselves. Maybe we’ve grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Or maybe we’re just tired.
So what do we do about it? Luckily for all of us, there’s hope. There’s no cure for boredom, but we’ve found some possible remedies. Here are what Annie and I are doing to put a little more pep in our step (and our marriage):
Know what stimulates you.
The tendency to boredom is about 60 percent hard-wired, so don't beat yourself up if you need more stimulation than the boring old guy in the other cubicle. The question is what to do with that restless energy. If you are someone that’s more sensation-seeking than your average spouse, perhaps it’s time for you to get serious about understanding what stimulates you. “The best way not to be bored is to do what you like doing, typically something you’re good at,” says Dr. Irving Biederman, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles who studies boredom. If you tend to need a fair amount of stimulation, focus on picking up new skills or interests, or delving deeper into an area you already know and love.
Break up the monotony.
I’m not just talking about just throwing in the occasional date (although that can be effective). I’m talking about not letting your marriage sit on autopilot. If you see yourself doing the same things with your spouse over and over again--make a change. Instead of asking “How’s your day?” or “Where do you want to eat tonight?,” perhaps it’s time to ask more thought-provoking questions. Instead of spending the night watching Game of Thrones, perhaps you get off the couch or find something more engaging to do. There’s no need to go crazy with this. It’s all about being intentional with your time together.
Have your own thing.
Boredom can be a problem with couples when all they ever want to do is be together. If you’re always together, then it’s clear that you’re not taking time to really focus on yourself as a person--which is a huge problem. For me, I know that I need to have my own time to work out, play music, have my own friends, and really just be ME. My wife doesn’t complete me, she never will. She’s not my other half, she’s my other whole (gross, right?). We encourage each other to independently be our best selves, which leads to us having a lot of stuff to talk about. I love hearing about my wife’s writing and she loves hearing about what I’m doing with music. And there’s nothing hotter than watching your spouse succeed in what they love.
Surprise each other.
The crux of keeping a relationship from being swallowed alive by domesticity and routine is to constantly surprise each other. Give each other unexpected gifts, take spontaneous trips, and find different ways to show your spouse a side of you that they don’t normally see. On one of our more bored night, I decided to take Annie to a karaoke bar so that I could sing a few tunes. Annie is not a musician, but halfway through the night she decided to get up there and sang/rapped “Your Love is My Drug” by Kesha and was it was amazing! I’ve never seen her do something like that before and it made me fall in love with her in a whole new way. It pays dividends to surprise your spouse!
Don’t let your relationship be another boring statistic (see what I did there?). We’re either going to progress or regress in our marriage, so it’s time to really get serious about the fun we’re having. And it all starts with being aware and having a conversation with your spouse. Marriage gets boring--this has and always will be true. But it doesn’t have to stay boring. Safety and security are important, but it’s essential to take risks and to be a little crazy from time to time (be wise, choose your spots). Most importantly, don’t lose sight of what’s most important: love. Let love soften your heart and keep you focused on what you need to be doing.
I love Annie. I don’t care how boring it gets with her. There’s no other place I’d rather be than in my marriage. And if somehow another place entices me a little bit more, that doesn’t mean that it’s time to go to different place. To me, all that means is that I need to make where I am so great that nothing else compares. Which is the kind of work I’m happy to do forever.
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Annie & Jack
Love. Marriage. Teamwork. Art. Offsetting the patriarchal footprint. These are some of the things we're thinking about.