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6 differences between couples who make it out of a rut and those who don't

Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, is a clinical therapist, and the author of three books, among them, Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and The Complete Marriage Counsler. She gives love advice on programs including Today and HuffPost Live, conduct...

What it really takes to work through marital issues

Every couple in a long-term relationship will go through periods where life together feels more like a yawn than shared bliss. We’ve heard the advice for re-igniting the spark — i.e., Embark on a new adventure together — anything from a couples' cooking class to rappelling off a mountain; institute a weekly date night where you don’t talk about the kids, share sexual fantasies… But some couples find it easier to work together for a common goal than others and it usually comes down to having these qualities.

1. You’re able to problem solve instead of blame

Good communication is at the root of all loving relationships. These couples can really listen to and empathize with their partner’s complaints, saying, “I feel like every day is the same” rather than personalizing and lashing out: “Well, you’re not exactly a thrill to be around either.” Great rut-busting couples don’t hit below the belt, but say, “OK, I hear that you feel dissatisfied, we’ve gotten a bit off track. Let’s talk about what each of us needs from the other and go from there.”

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2. You’re committed to the relationship, no matter what

Both of you are in it for the long haul. There are no threats of divorce when things get rough, no wandering eyes. The relationship is solid because you are kind to one another, can trust your hearts to the other’s care and are open to new ideas (i.e., seeing a marriage counselor) rather than being threatened and shutting down.

3. You don’t depend on your mate to fulfill all of your needs

Happy couples don’t expect their mate to entertain them 24/7 or to give their life meaning. They have friends, work and hobbies that bring satisfaction. They choose their partner out of love, not desperation and fear of being alone. The more self-reliant and self-aware each of you are, the easier it will be to keep growing as individuals and as a couple.

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4. You understand the importance of empathy

If it seems unnecessary to make an effort to see your partner’s point of view, there is big trouble ahead. Couples who get mired time and time again in dysfunctional cesspools like finger pointing, self-righteousness and rigidity, lack the skills and maturity to make it through the inevitable bumps in the road. Happy couples know their partner’s viewpoint and feelings are just as important as their own.

5. You prioritize your relationship, sometimes over your kids

True, between tending to responsibilities such as jobs, kids, friends, getting chores done, being on social media, there is little time left to chill, let alone devote quality time to your mate. Happy couples make the effort to say, “Even if it’s just a few minutes a day, we need to emotionally connect.” With that kind of grounding the two of you will be motivated to put in the energy required to break free from a rut. But if there is always something more important to do than tend to the relationship, the rut will deepen and seriously threaten your marriage.

6. You're still happy with your relationship, despite your rut

A rut in an otherwise good relationship should not be a make or break event. It’s a signal that a redirection is called for. But if the two of you are not happy with one another, wish your partner was a different person, have different goals and/or values (i.e., one wants kids; the other doesn’t) the way each of you desires to live your life are radically different, then the rut is more the result of unexpressed resentments and needs that has led to an emotional disconnect. Have an open conversation, perhaps with a therapist, to determine if there is enough common ground to move forward… or if this impasse is telling you it’s time to move in different directions.

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