When romantic partnerships are put under the scanner, the honeymoon period, the seven-year itch, midlife crisis, toxicity and dysfunctionality are the most commonly discussed themes. However, amid these, one phenomenon slips through the cracks – complacency in a relationship. Perhaps because it is not as glamorous as the honeymoon period or as seemingly disturbing as a toxic or dysfunctional relationship.
However, it warrants attention because complacency in a marriage or long-term relationship is extremely commonplace, and has the potential to wreak havoc if left unattended. What makes it even more alarming is the fact that complacent behavior creeps up slowly into relationship dynamics, owing to which most couples aren’t able to spot the early warning signs in time.
To make sure that doesn’t happen to your relationship, we spoke to counseling psychologist Kavita Panyam to understand what is complacency in relationships and what are red flags you need to watch out for.
What Does Complacent Mean In A Relationship?
One of the reasons why many couples fail to recognize this phenomenon is that they confuse being complacent with being comfortable in a relationship. However, the two are like chalk and cheese. That’s why understanding the definition of complacency in a relationship is the key to weeding it out.
Explaining what complacency in marriage or long-term relationships means, Kavita says, “Complacency in a relationship means slipping into a comfort zone owing to a false sense of security that the relationship will last forever. In such a relationship dynamic, typically, one partner lets go and stops making an effort to change or improve things.
“Complacency is characterized by a toxic comfort zone where one partner or spouse takes the other for granted. Some people call it auto-pilot mode in a relationship but I call it stagnation where one partner stops working for the relationship.”
Being complacent in life or relationships is an unhealthy tendency that can have far-reaching consequences. “One of the fall-outs of one partner becoming complacent in a partnership is that after some time, the other also lets go. Now, you have two people who are not fighting for their relationship or doing anything to make it thrive.
“Consequently, one or both partners may start seeking what’s lacking in their relationship outside, leading to infidelity. Alternatively, they may accept the dissatisfying relationship as it is and choose to suffer in a partnership that feels hollow. This can, over time, take a toll on their mental and physical health,” adds Kavita.
The effects of complacency in marriage or relationships can spill over to other aspects of a couple’s life too. You may find it harder to focus on work, and your professional growth may take a hit. If there are children involved, the negativity between the parents can spill on to them as well, making them anxious or depressed.
Kavita emphasizes, “When you stop creating new equations in a long-term relationship or marriage, complacency starts setting in. From here, the equation becomes dull, boring, stagnant, asphyxiating. There is no hope for salvaging such a connection unless one partner makes a renewed effort to shake up the status quo and the other responds positively.”
That’s why it is said that complacency kills relationships.
Related Reading: 23 Signs Of An Unhealthy Relationship
9 Signs Of Complacency In A Relationship
Mallory and George have been together since college. Like any other couple, the initial few years of their relationship were abuzz with excitement, and Mallory thought she couldn’t have asked for more. When George popped the question, Mallory said ‘yes’ without a hint of hesitation. But a few years into the marriage, their equation changed beyond recognition.
George stopped taking any initiative in the relationship. Forget their old rituals of weekly date nights and spending weekends either curled up in bed together or hiking in the woods, Mallory found it hard to even draw her husband into a conversation.
“So, how was work?”
“What did you do?”
“You know work stuff.”
That’s how their communication went, and eventually, died down. Mallory’s first suspicion was that her husband was cheating on her. After months of obsessing over it, she realized that wasn’t the case. Then, what was it?
“Could it be that George was displaying the classic signs of complacency in marriage?” she wondered but couldn’t find a conclusive answer.
If you too are dealing with something similar, understanding the warning signs of a complacent marriage or relationship can be the beginning of the end of your problems. Here are the most common 9 signs of complacency in a relationship:
Related Reading: How to Fall In Love Again – This Time In The Small Things Of Life
1. Being bored and restless
Much like being complacent in life, complacency in relationships is also marked by a nagging sense of boredom and restlessness. “When there is boredom in a relationship, coupled with a sense of restlessness, the urge to talk to one’s partner, make things interesting, bring in new thoughts, ideas and plans is extinguished completely. That’s when the spark begins to die down.
“Since you are bored and restless, you recognize that something is lacking in your relationship. You may even crave some excitement but you don’t want to make an effort to stir it into your current relationship.
“As a result, you may look for that excitement outside of your primary relationship because working on the connection you have with your existing partner seems uninteresting,” says Kavita. That’s why it isn’t a stretch to say complacency kills relationships.
2. Lack of attention toward the partner
If one partner is being complacent, the other may try to nudge them out of this state of limbo by telling them that they’re not being affectionate or attentive to their needs. “The partner at the receiving end may tell the other that they don’t express themselves enough or don’t support them, be it emotionally, physically, financially or in any other way.
“Even when one partner is telling the other they are not being attentive, they do not respond to their needs. If your partner is calling out for your participation in the partnership but you’re not paying attention, you can count it among the signs of a complacent marriage or relationship,” says Kavita.
The very definition of complacency in a relationship is rooted in neglect, abandonment, stagnation, and a comfort zone that has turned toxic.
3. Becoming passive in the relationship
Over time, Mallory began to feel as if she was the only one making an effort to keep the relationship afloat and to breathe new life into it. She’d plan Sunday brunches at George’s favorite café, make romantic gestures for him like giving him a massage or leaving him little love notes. Despite all her efforts, it seemed as if George just wasn’t ready to meet her halfway.
“Complacency in a relationship takes root when at least one partner is not present in the equation anymore. As a result, the other may begin to feel as if they’re in a relationship or marriage and still single,” says Kavita.
Related Reading: 7 Steps To Reconnect With Your Spouse And Strengthen Your Bond
4. Constant criticism
Often, when Mallory made a sweet gesture for George, he’d get irritated rather than be pleased. At one point, he told her, “If you truly want to do something nice for me, just leave me alone.”
This criticism and lashing out are the signs of complacency in a relationship. “When one partner reaches out to make things better, they are met with criticism. If the partner says they yearn for affection or want to spend quality time together with their significant other, the other lashes out and criticizes them.
“The typical response is, ‘You are never happy or satisfied. I never demand anything of you. I do not have any expectations from you. Then, why do you?’ When any and all requests for affection and attention are met with criticism, it means complacency has taken a stronghold in the relationship,” explains Kavita.
5. Disappointment sign of complacency in a relationship
“Whenever one partner’s attempts to create a new equation within the relationship are met with lack of interest and criticism, it leads to pain, hurt, anger and disappointment. There is also an intense sense of frustration that things aren’t changing,” says Kavita
Mallory kept trying for years to make things better in her marriage but to no avail. Slowly, her attitude shifted from a desperate desire to revive her connection with George to that of annoyance and frustration. Now, when George treated her with indifference, she matched it with lack of interest and scorn of her own.
6. Settling for the status quo
“When one partner feels like they are the only one making an effort without seeing any change, the fight dies within them too. They know their efforts won’t make a difference and they settle for the status quo,” says Kavita.
The desire to talk things through and the initiative to salvage the relationship dies because the partner who has been trying to combat complacency in the relationship knows that nothing is going to change.
“You may see no point in talking to your partner because you know all your efforts will be met with the same stonewalling, and will only plunge you into another cycle of anger, pain, hurt and disappointment. So, you stop fighting for the relationship, and settle for the way things are,” she adds.
Related Reading: 15 Warning Signs You Need A Divorce For Sure
7. Neglect toward self-care and well-being
“The lack of interest on a partner’s part may take a toll on the other’s mental well-being. If you don’t feel desired by your partner, you may just let yourself go. You don’t pay attention to your physical appearance and well-being. The little things like making an effort to groom yourself or eating healthy and working out start to seem pointless.
“Likewise, the partner at the receiving end of neglect may become emotionally dry. They could slip into a depressive state or be anxious all the time. They begin to feel unattractive because their partner doesn’t find them attractive,” says Kavita.
8. Sexual desire nosedives
Mallory doesn’t remember the last time she was intimate with George. Neither does she feel the desire to. She prefers to pleasure herself to satisfy her sexual urges but even the thought of having sex with her husband has begun to put her off.
Kavita says that is to be expected when there is complacency in marriage or relationships. “Once the connection begins to weaken because of lack of interest and attention, constant criticism, feeling alone in a relationship, the desire to engage sexually with one’s partner will also begin to diminish.
“One of the signs of a complacent marriage is that partners become strangers to one another. They go from being a couple to being roommates. Since there is no attraction, sexual desires naturally nose dives,” she explains.
When other forms of intimacy in the relationship are already lacking and sex is also taken out of the equation, it can become increasingly difficult to bounce back and form a healthy couple dynamic. That’s when complacency kills relationships or at least has the potential to.
9. Fantasizing about other people
“When the primary relationship feels hollow, one may start fantasizing about somebody else – a neighbor, a coworker, an ex or a friend. If your partner is not meeting your emotional needs, you may fixate on what it’d be like to be with someone who is kind and compassionate toward you,” says Kavita.
The fantasy may dominate your mind space to an extent that you may want to see what it’d be like to live it in real life. In such circumstances, you may give in to the urge to reconnect with an ex while being married or in a committed relationship or take your relationship with a coworker or friend to the next level.
“You’re essentially seeking what’s lacking in your primary relationship in an extramarital connection,” she adds.
When faced with complacency in a relationship, most couples can see limited options to bounce back from the situation. They may resign to their fate and choose to stay in a stagnated, unfulfilling relationship, they may seek solace in an extramarital affair or choose to walk away from such a connection. However, there is another, albeit harder, solution to this complex relationship phenomenon as well.
That is trying to work on the relationship and restoring it to its original health. However, it can seem daunting to even try again when you’ve tried and failed so many times in the past. In such dead-end-like situations, couple’s therapy or counseling can be immensely beneficial. If you’re trapped in a complacent marriage or relationship but don’t want to let it be the end of the road for you and your partner, consider seeking help. Our panel of counselors is only a click away.