When getting out of bed and putting a smile on your face seems impossible, you’re naturally going to try and find some motivation in your partner. But when just the thought of talking to them incites dread and despair, you might just be going through a relationship burnout.
No, it’s not just another fancy term for when someone’s “feeling blue”. When left unchecked, relationship burnout can be a great cause for concern, leading to a seemingly perpetual state of unrest, hopelessness, anxiety, or unhappiness, amongst many other symptoms.
Since leaving it unchecked is like signing a death certificate for your relationship, diagnosing it and figuring out what to do is of utmost importance. With the help of psychotherapist Dr. Aman Bhonsle (Ph.D., PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, let’s take a look at exactly what it is and what one can do about relationship burnout.
What Is Meant By “Relationship Burnout”?
So, is there such a thing as relationship burnout, or are you simply going through a rough patch? You might want to believe that it’s the latter, but since “rough patches” don’t usually last long enough to make you feel hopelessly trapped, you might just be going through something more serious.
No, a single fight doesn’t signal such a state. And no, just because one of you asked for personal space doesn’t mean the relationship has run its course. Simply put, burnout is a state of feeling constantly overwhelmed and exhausted due to being under a prolonged period of stress and discomfort.
A relationship burnout happens when your bond turns emotionally exhausting, and one or both partners may have hopelessness about things ever looking up again. You may feel your mental health is suffering as a result of being in this relationship, which is essentially what causes burnout.
Explaining the relationship burnout meaning, Dr. Bhonsle says, “It’s basically a state of fatigue, combined with a sense of hopelessness. It’s a vicious circle. Fatigue leads to hopelessness, which in turn leads to more fatigue. They kind of feed off each other’s energy. Relationship burnout is often more interesting since exploring the cause of fatigue can yield multiple reasons.
“There are many reasons why a relationship might be fatiguing rather than exciting you, and there’s an endless array of what toxicity is defined as. Relationship burnout causes can be very subjective, and cannot be generalized.”
As Dr. Bhonsle points out, this experience is highly subjective to each individual and each dynamic. Your relationship burnout symptoms may differ largely from another’s, and a misdiagnosis can lead to you not even understanding what the real issue is. That’s exactly why one needs to be wary of a false sense of relationship burnout.
Be Wary Of A False Sense Of Relationship Burnout
“If you walk around in shoes that have mud on them, you’re going to collect a lot more dirt along the way. So if you are already under duress, you may falsely blame it on a sense of burnout or relationship burnout. Maybe you didn’t get that promotion you were after, maybe your family is pressuring you for something, maybe you’ve landed yourself in a mess. Mental health and physical health-related issues can often lead to a false sense of relationship burnout.
“So, before you’re quick to assume something like “my relationship is burning me out”, understand that your state of mind may be because of countless other things going on in your life. When you find your relationship as a soft target to blame, all you’re doing is misdiagnosing it,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
How do you know you’re tired of your relationship? Blaming your state of unease on relationship unhappiness may not be the best idea, especially if it means that more serious problems will go undetected. The relationship burnout symptoms manifest in multiple ways and through 5 different stages, which is why a self-diagnosis can so often be a false one.
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The Stages Of Relationship Burnout
As with any ailment, the severity of burnout progresses through stages. Emotional burnout in a relationship goes through five different stages. In fact, all kinds of burnout go through these five stages, be it in a professional environment, or any other aspect of life. Think of new relationship burnout as habitual chronic burnout. Understanding these stages might help one recognize early symptoms and causes, and nip the issue in the bud.
1. Honeymoon phase
We always approach something new with new energy, conviction, and commitment. We also experience a high level of satisfaction. Think of a new job or a new relationship. We want to give more and experience happiness even with small returns.
But some stress is to be expected even at this stage. Wanting to put your best foot forward for your new date, giving it more time than you can afford to, often taking it out from other commitments – these are a few examples of stress factors in the honeymoon phase. New relationship burnout can become severe if one doesn’t catch new relationship stress when it’s growing.
2. Onset of stress
While stress had already begun in the last stage, the person in the relationship did not seem to feel bothered by it and readily undertook it in exchange for pleasurable rewards. But the onset of the stress stage is the beginning of the awareness of there being relationship stress.
Relationship fatigue also witnesses an infrequent but noticeable onset. You don’t really get tired of your partner at this stage, but you infrequently may feel the stress of sustaining the relationship.
3. Chronic stress
This stage is marked by a more frequent occurrence of stress. The major difference between this stage of relationship fatigue and the last is merely the intensity and the frequency. In this stage, stress feels like a more persistent presence in your life. You feel less enthusiastic about your relationship and its future more often than you did before. So much so, that you get tired of your partner and experience feelings of hopelessness.
This stage is when you can formally call your stress “relationship burnout”. The incidence and intensity of stress becomes so consistent that you feel extreme uneasiness and resistance in your relationship. Stress reaches critical levels at this stage, and it becomes more and more difficult to ignore the feelings and symptoms. You feel extremely unmotivated in the relationship, which makes it all the more important to push yourself to seek professional support.
5. Habitual burnout
Habitual burnout is marked by extreme and chronic feelings of dissatisfaction and stress from one’s relationship to the extent that it has become more than just a frequent occurrence and should ideally be seen as a warning sign of a relationship in crisis. At this stage, one absolutely cannot take emotional burnout in relationships lightly and must prioritize dealing with it to avoid severe depression and relationship anxiety.
What Causes Relationship Burnout?
Now that you know the answer to, “Is there such a thing as relationship burnout?”, understand relationship burnout meaning, and have become acquainted with various stages of burnout, you may be curious about what can cause it. Though the reasons invariably differ in each dynamic, Dr. Bhonsle helps point out a few common causes of relationship burnout:
1. When you weren’t looking for a relationship in the first place
If you weren’t completely convinced about your dynamic or jumped into it because it just seemed like a good idea, you may have quickly realized you’ve landed yourself in a mess. “A lot of younger couples get burnt out very quickly because they didn’t realize they weren’t ready for such a commitment while getting into the relationship. As a way of discovering or cultivating an identity as a sexual being, they may misconstrue exploration as adoration and love,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
When you find yourself in a situation that you never wanted to be in, you may very quickly feel trapped. Ask yourself if a commitment was what you were looking for or if infatuation blinded your judgment.
2. A relationship burnout can be caused when you stop working on yourself
No, the only culprit isn’t your partner or the difficult circumstances you might be facing. Ask yourself, have you grown complacent with a particular version of yourself? Is working on your personality something you only did in college? “A state of over-familiarity usually takes hold when both partners have stopped working on themselves. A lot of people fall prey to the disease of complacency in their relationship, especially after marriage.
“They may gain a lot of weight, stop aiming to be presentable, stop looking after their mental or physical health. All it takes is a month of skipping the gym for it to turn into a habit. When you see your partner as a “pursuit” that you have conquered, you’ve already given up on re-inventing yourself for the better,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
3. A change in your values may be to blame
When you’re head over heels for someone, you’re probably not thinking about where you’re going to be in the next ten years with them. Okay, maybe you’ve already imagined multiple trips to Italy with them five years down the line, but that’s beside the point. Perhaps your values have changed since you’ve been together, or your future goals never aligned in the first place.
What causes relationship burnout? Divergent opinions are definite risk factor. “In every equation, you have values that align and some that don’t. But when you want very different things from life – maybe she doesn’t want kids or he doesn’t want to get married – it can lead to a state of relationship burnout,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
4. The vat of toxic waste labeled “your relationship”
Since a well-documented cause of burnout is a prolonged period of stress or discomfort, a toxic relationship is among the key causes of relationship burnout. What’s more important to note, however, is the fact that toxicity in every relationship can differ. The multiple manifestations of a toxic dynamic may make it hard to spot, which is why figuring out what’s causing it is of utmost importance.
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5 Common Signs Of Relationship Burnout
If any of the causes have hit too close to home, it’s possible you’re worried about what’s to come in your equation with your partner. But what if the relationship burnout symptoms are already ruining your dynamic, without you even realizing it? So, how do you know you’re tired of your relationship?
Does everything your partner says make you roll your eyes involuntarily? Are you looking forward to their business trip to another continent more than they are? Perhaps, all you secretly want is to get away but are unwilling to accept it. Let’s take a look at the common signs of relationship burnout, so you don’t keep fooling yourself into believing that you’re just going through a rough patch and a weekend away together will fix everything:
1. Not wanting to spend time with a partner
“Preferring the company of anyone but your partner is as clear a sign as any that something is wrong. Perhaps, you’ve even considered having an affair, or you’ve suddenly become very close to an ex-flame,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
Though you might be willfully running away from accepting this fact, you might already be dodging your partner’s calls, fearing that a fight is going to ensue the moment you pick up. If you are feeling trapped in your relationship, take a few days off and see how it makes you feel. If all that alone time makes you happier than your relationship recently has, it can be a major indicator of relationship burnout.
2. You’ve noticed symptoms of burnout
“You might be underperforming at your job, be worried about your future and career, you might feel hopeless, trapped, and have a lot of self-doubt,” points out Dr. Bhonsle. Of course, the root cause of all these symptoms might just be something other than your relationship, but chances are, you’re already pretty aware of whether your spouse is giving you the support you need or worsening your mental health.
3. Trying to “talk it out” never works
Any relationship, healthy or not, is bound to have problems. But the difference between a healthy dynamic and one that isn’t is how you work around the problems. Just the fact that a couple may be able to have a productive conversation about touchy subjects can be enough to help sustain it. On the other hand, if sitting down to have a heart-to-heart only results in more fights and blocked social media accounts, it may be a glaring relationship burnout symptom.
4. The emotions feel like they’re dying down
Yes, the overplayed notion of the “spark” dying down in a relationship does tend to indicate that there’s trouble afoot. The signs of a dwindling spark may seem difficult to spot, especially if complacency has a firm grip around you two. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married for a decade or in a relationship for a year, it shouldn’t feel like continuing your relationship is more of a chore than an exciting endeavor.
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5. Future plans are never discussed
When your subconscious is secretly planning an escape route, you’re probably not going to have very productive conversations about the future. You both may actively avoid talking about it, or reply in vague terms when asked about your future goals. Ask yourself if you can really see yourself with your partner 10 years down the line. If it makes you uncomfortable or even a little worried, you probably need to re-evaluate a few things.
The realization that what you have with your partner is fickle might make you nervous. You’ve probably invested a whole lot of time into it, and letting go might not be a thought you’re willing to entertain, even when a burnt-out state of mind makes it difficult for you to operate. But that’s exactly why we’ve enlisted the help of Dr. Bhonsle to tell you that the relationship burnout recovery journey is one you can begin right away, and what you need to do along the way.
7 Tips to Heal Relationship Burnout
Before you skim through the tips to try and save your relationship, make sure you want to do it in the first place. Knowing when you should break up for good is usually a matter of shaking off the denial and reading the writing on the wall that has been staring you in the face for a long time now.
The last thing you’d want is to save your relationship by sacrificing your mental health. With that being said, let’s take a look at how you can set about on your relationship burnout recovery journey:
1. Rally the troops and talk to each other
Be it a long-distance relationship burnout or a burnout due to constant conflicts, the most important thing you can do is improve the quality of your communication. “Talk to your partner about what is causing the burnout. You’ve got to enlist each other’s support and assistance at various points in the relationship.
“When you’ve hurt your foot, you’d like it if someone helped you make your way to a chair. Just like that, you need to be able to support your partner, even if they don’t let on that they’re wounded or confused and vice versa,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
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2. Counseling can help fight relationship burnout
“Communication may not be entirely possible if your partner gets angry or hurt when you attempt to have a dialogue. In those cases, it’s best to do so through a mediator. That’s basically the reason why relationship counseling exists. A counselor will be able to interpret the information and present it to you.
“Your partner may be more willing to engage in a dialogue and may realize that some things have been affecting the relationship a lot more than they thought,” says Dr. Bhonsle. If you’re looking for help, you can always reach out to any of the experienced counselors on Bonobology’s panel of experts, who’d love to help you through your relationship troubles.
3. Learn a new language: your partner’s love language
“To a certain extent, understanding the five types of love languages can help you both heal from relationship burnout. It’s basically a practice of asking your partner, “How would you like me to behave around you?” or “How would you like me to reconfigure how I am around you?”.
“It can help your partner know that the words you are saying aren’t just being spewed out for the sake of it; you actually mean what you’re saying. By knowing how they communicate and understand love, you can invest in activities that will clearly tell them how you feel,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
Even if you feel as if the long-distance relationship burnout is impossible to fix, a few words of affirmation might just help you two. Dr. Bhonsle tells us that most people don’t speak and express themselves in a way their partner understands, which may cause disappointment, emotional disconnect, and issues to mount.
4. Learn the art of conflict resolution
As you can probably tell by now, you’ve got some learning to do if you’re looking to heal from relationship burnout. If you were expecting it to be easy, perhaps it’s your expectations that you need to manage (which can also help your relationship, by the way). One other area that you can work on to recover from relationship burnout is learning the skill of healthy conflict resolution.
“Conflict resolution has to be a very gentle process. It cannot be a simulation of a courthouse, where you barge in and attack your partner with a slurry of “this, this, and this is what you did wrong and this is how you did it wrong”. When you attack someone in the name of conflict resolution, it can exacerbate the conflict. You must learn to be diplomatic, reconciliatory, you’ve got to almost slide in your point rather than try to shove it into the argument,” explains Dr. Bhonsle.
5. Understand the triggers
“For burnout to take place, somebody has to light a match. To avoid catching fire, you need to know what are the inflammable topics in your relationship, what are the things that are likely to cause a fire,” explains Dr. Bhonsle, about how understanding the root cause is of utmost importance.
“When there’s an oil leak, you’ve got to make sure to not show up with a lit matchstick, right? So you’ve got to become very sensitive about what your partner isn’t and is saying. Be an investigator, not a prosecutor in your relationship. Instead of jumping to conclusions and determining what happened and what the appropriate punishment is, try to understand all the factors in a certain situation.
“Sometimes all you need to do is let things pass and there’s nothing to ‘solve’. Maybe your partner is just cranky because they had an irksome phone call an hour ago, or somebody in the family suddenly got ill,” he adds.
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6. Work on yourself
As Dr. Bhonsle pointed out, a relationship burnout may occur due to the partners opting to not reinvent themselves and growing complacent. When you cease to try and be the best partner you can be, you almost accept a period of stagnation.
To avoid relationship burnout in any dynamic, continually working on yourself can make all the difference. No, we don’t mean you must be taking up a new language every six months and learning a new skill every three. Simply developing a new hobby can be good enough.
7. Agree to work on the relationship
Working on the relationship doesn’t mean you need to take your yellow legal pads out, listing out a detailed weekly analysis of your bond. It can be as simple as doing yoga together, spending quality time together, and making sure that your voices aren’t raised during arguments.
When both partners decide to jump in with both feet, a relationship burnout can appropriately be tackled. Of course, one virtual cooking class won’t solve all your problems, but at least you’ll spend some time together and get a nice meal out of it.
- A relationship burnout happens when your bond turns emotionally exhausting, and one or both partners may have hopelessness about things ever looking up again
- This experience is highly subjective to each individual and each dynamic. Symptoms may largely differ and a misdiagnosis can lead to a false sense of relationship burnout
- A relationship burnout can be caused when you stop working on yourself, through a change in your values, or simply due to a preexisting toxicity in a relationship
- Relationship burnout may look like not wanting to spend time with your partner, feeling like the emotions are dying down, avoiding discussing future plans, etc
- Counseling can help fight relationship burnout. It may help understand each other’s triggers, resolve conflicts at a deeper level and aid working on improving oneself
So, is there such a thing as relationship burnout? You bet. Does it spell doom for your relationship? Not necessarily. Of course, the journey toward recovery is a long one, and one that may call for a lot of introspection as well. But a hopeless and defeated state of mind is not sustainable. Finding a way out of this pit can literally save your life.
Yes, it’s normal to feel burnt out in a relationship, especially if yours has been going on for a considerable period or has had a few hints of toxicity. Burnout is essentially caused by a prolonged period of stress and feeling overwhelmed, and since a relationship can very well be a major cause of stress, it’s normal to feel burned out.
Avoiding relationship burnout requires quality communication about what’s going wrong in your dynamic, what you can do to establish effective conflict resolution practices, and making sure you’re constantly working on yourself.
Enlisting the help of a relationship counselor can also help you figure out what the issues in your relationship are before they cause something as severe as burnout.
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