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. By the time you do realize that something is amiss, you’re already in a stale relationship that seems to be withering away, little by little.
To make sure that doesn’t happen to your relationship, we spoke to counseling psychologist Kavita Panyam (Masters in Psychology and international affiliate with the American Psychological Association), who has been helping couples work through their relationship issues for over two decades, 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. That’s why it’s critical to spot the signs of a complacent marriage or relationship in time and work on correcting the course before the damage becomes too deep-seated.
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What Causes Complacency In Relationships?
Relationship complacency is a common issue that can creep up on a couple without either partner realizing when or how they slipped into the so-called comfort zone that caused them to drift apart. Now that you understand the meaning of being complacent in a relationship, it’s vital to understand the underlying trigger for this dangerous pattern that can render your connection hollow and meaningless from within.
Explaining what causes complacency in relationships, Kavita says, “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, and 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.”
Complacency puts a relationship in a bad place and the worst part is that you may not know how exactly you got there and what you can do to bounce back. At some point between the honeymoon phase ending and you get comfortable in your relationship, you may begin to stop appreciating your partner and start taking them for granted, and vice versa. Before you know it, the love, affection, and everything else that brought you together begins to dissipate. That’s why it is said that complacency kills relationships.
However, this does not mean that once you’re hit by complacency in a relationship, you cannot bounce back and rebuild a loving, nurturing bond with your significant other. The journey to effectively handling relationship complacency begins with understanding where it’s stemming from. Here are some common causes behind couples being complacent in a relationship:
1. Indifference toward your partner
Indifference in a relationship can be a silent killer that takes its toll on a couple’s connection over time and is one of the major triggers behind complacency. This indifference itself can be rooted in psychological issues such as avoidant attachment or narcissistic traits, or may simply be a manifestation of an inability to appreciate the security and support a partner brings to the life of the other.
Whatever the reason, the partner at the receiving end of this indifference may feel helpless. Unless the indifferent partner is committed to some soul-searching and introspection, this trigger for relationship complacency can very much prove to be its undoing
Related Reading: Is Indifference Or Disrespect Equivalent To Cheating On Spouse?
2. Being too comfortable
Being comfortable in a relationship is definitely a good sign – it indicates that you feel secure and settled with your significant other. However, when you go from being comfortable to too comfortable, you may have to deal with complacency in a relationship. When you become too comfortable, you may not feel the need to make an effort to nourish and nurture your relationship.
You let the relationship function on autopilot, without investing care, affection quality time into it. If left unchecked, it may bring you to a point where you continue to be with each other because you’re comfortable in a relationship and not in love with each other anymore
3. Resentment can cause relationship complacency
When there are unresolved issues at play, resentment in a relationship takes hold. When you begin to resent your partner, anger becomes your go-to response toward them because you do not want to share with them your more vulnerable emotions such as sadness, disappointment, guilt or pain. Anger and resentment not only prevent you from being your authentic self in a relationship but also get in the way of your ability to understand and empathize with your partner.
This lack of empathy and understanding can fuel defensiveness and denial, which, in turn, become triggers for complacency in a relationship. Given that resentment also affects effective communication between partners, you may find yourself unable to clear things up. This can set into motion a vicious cycle that feeds relationship complacency.
4. Giving up on the relationship
This is one of the most prominent causes of relationship complacency. This typically happens when one partner tries to keep striving for some change but never sees it materializing. People can also give up on their relationships if they feel that no amount of effort is going to change the status quo. Or when negative patterns like anger, bickering, or constant criticism from a partner become the defining factors of a relationship.
Giving up on love or a relationship doesn’t always mean the end of the road for a couple. However, it certainly causes the relationship dynamics to shift. When one or both partners stay in a relationship they have given up on, it can feed relationship complacency.
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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. When a wife or a husband is too complacent, this sense of detachment becomes a pattern in their equation. 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:
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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.
One of the most telling signs of a complacent marriage or relationship is living with a constant sense of lack of fulfillment coupled with an unwillingness to take measures to remedy the situation. This invariably takes a toll on a couple’s connection, driving them apart from one another. 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 emotional neglect, abandonment, stagnation, and a comfort zone that has turned toxic. If you’ve ever wondered why do guys get complacent in a relationship or why do girls take a step back from making an effort in the relationship, you have your answer – a toxic sense of comfort is to blame. To revive a stale relationship, both partners must make an active endeavor to emerge out of this state of limbo and find newer ways to reignite the spark.
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.
“My husband is too complacent, and it has started to feel as if the onus keeping this marriage alive has fallen squarely on me. I wonder if it is even worth it,” she confided in her sister, after yet another failed attempt at trying to get George to be involved in the relationship.
Kavita acknowledges that this is not unusual when a couple is struggling with complacent behavior. “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,” she adds.
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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.” Even though he wasn’t able to pin down why exactly he felt disconnected from the woman he was once so in love with, George did admit to feeling blah in the relationship. To him, Mallory’s efforts to improve things were just another reminder of the relationship in a bad place.
Constant criticism from a partner 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 is a 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 and save her marriage even when she was the only one trying 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.
When a girlfriend or boyfriend is complacent in a relationship, it’s only a matter of time before their partner too begins to reciprocate in kind. In fact, owing to the resentment over unmet needs and unmatched efforts, they may even respond with far greater complacency, plunging the relationship in a bad place.
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. The acceptance of a stale relationship, without any hope of things changing for the better, can make both partners check out emotionally.
“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.
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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.
When you’re feeling blah in a relationship, it’s only a matter of time before this feeling spills over to other aspects of life, impacting your sense of self-worth and diminishing in you any desire to look or feel good. Compromised self-worth and low self-esteem, in turn, can further fuel complacency in the relationship, leaving you trapped in a vicious circle.
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 kind and compassionate toward you. This is among the most worrying signs of a complacent marriage or relationship,” 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.
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6 Ways To Avoid Complacency In A Relationship
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, the solution to this complex relationship phenomenon as well.
That is trying to work on the relationship and restoring it to its original health. Just because you haven’t been able to avoid complacency in a relationship, to begin with doesn’t mean you can’t deal with it effectively. However, that entails consistent and sincere effort from both partners.
“To deal with complacency in a relationship, both partners have to find ways to redefine their bond as they continue to grow and evolve, and also create new equations within that existing bond so that stagnation doesn’t take hold,” advises Kavita. But what exactly does redefining a bond and creating new equations mean? We tell you, with these 6 expert-back ways to stop being complacent in a relationship:
1. Change your outlook toward your relationship
Now that you understand how complacency ruins relationships, you may be desperate to weed out this tendency from your dynamic with your partner. However, the question remains, how? The first step to deal with complacency in a relationship is to stop with the negative self-talk. Don’t disparage your relationship or your worth as a partner.
To be able to revive your connection with your SO, you need to change your outlook toward your relationship. Don’t treat it as a failing relationship, instead treat the setback of complacency as a rough patch that you and your partner can navigate as a team. Your thoughts have an impact on your actions, so begin by changing your thought process.
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2. Make small efforts counts
You may be prepared to do whatever it takes to tackle relationship complacency; however, effecting change isn’t always about making life-altering decisions and turning your life upside down. Consistently making effort in a relationship, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is what adds up to big results in the end.
So, instead of promising your partner the moon and the stars, maybe begin by appreciating your partner, showing gratitude for the little things they do for you and the relationship, and paying them sincere, heartfelt compliments. This can go a long way in making both partners feel seen and heard, which can, in turn, counter the tendency to be complacent about the relationship.
3. Carve out quality time to deal with complacency in a relationship
Boredom, taking each other for granted, indifference – a lot of the underlying causes for relationship complacency stem from not making an effort to remain in sync with your partner. Carving out quality time for one another can help you connect afresh and weed out all of these little irritants that can slowly but surely drive you and your partner apart.
To avoid complacency in a relationship from taking a toll on your bond, it’s vital that you and your partner schedule regular date nights to revive the lost spark and also make some time for each other every day to connect and talk about anything and everything under the sun. This could be in the form of walks, pillow talk, or ensuring that you share at least one gadget-free meal where the focus is on conversation.
4. Cultivate a gentle curiosity toward your partner
Remember those early days of your relationship where you were intrigued and curious about your partner and made an effort to get to know them better? Bringing back that curiosity is one of the best ways to deal with complacency in a relationship. As you begin to feel more settled in a relationship, it is natural to feel that you know your partner inside out and there is nothing new left to discover about each other.
However, nothing can be farther from the truth. You can never know someone 100%, and as people grow and evolve, new facets of their personality emerge. That’s why it’s a good idea to always get to know your partner better than you already do. Make use of the quality time you’ve decided to spend with each other to build emotional intimacy in the relationship all over again.
5. Physical intimacy can counter relationship complacency
Physical intimacy is one of the first casualties of being complacent in a relationship but it is also one of the best ways to break free from the cycle of complacency. Sex is not just a primal need but also a way of cementing the emotional connection between two people. The feel-good hormones released in the body after an orgasm make you feel more connected and closer to your partner.
That’s why reviving your sex life is essential if you want to deal with complacency in a relationship. If you have been in a sexless relationship for a long time, don’t hesitate in scheduling sex in the beginning if that’s what you need to reconnect. But also make it a point to bring back the playfulness, and the flirtation into your dynamic. It is these little things that fire up the desire and make sexual intimacy seem exciting rather than a chore on a to-do list.
Related Reading: Expert Tips On How To Increase Physical Intimacy In A Relationship
6. Set relationship goals to keep moving in the right direction
When the realization of being complacent in a relationship first dawns on you, you and your partner may make sincere efforts and go all out in undoing the damage. However, once things begin to look up again, it is easy to fall into old patterns. Before you know it, you may be wrestling the monster of relationship complacency all over again.
Relationship goals can help you avoid getting trapped in this cycle. Having clearly defined goals – be it saving up for an annual vacation or being more expressive and affectionate toward each other – is a great way to maintain accountability and ensure that your relationship is headed in the direction that you both want it to.
- Relationship complacency can be hard to recognize but can severely damage a couple’s bond
- Boredom, indifference, taking each other for granted, resentment are common triggers from complacency
- It is characterized by a sense of disconnect between partners and a feeling of having given up on each other
- With consistent effort from both sides, it is possible to deal with complacency in a relationship
Complacency in a relationship can seem like the end of the road but it doesn’t have to be. It is possible to turn things around, provided both partners are prepared to put in the necessary effort. However, tiding over this roadblock can seem daunting 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. Bonobology’s panel of counselors is only a click away.
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