Relationships go through phases, just like individuals do. But if you're going through a
romantic relationship plateau, it can feel quite jarring. While not all plateaus signal that there's a bigger issue with a relationship, there are some signs to look out for to make sure the phase doesn't become something else entirely.
If you're experiencing a
lull in your relationship, it's important to know you're not alone. Relationship slumps happen to almost everyone. How you react to and deal with the problem is the important part.
"Plateaus are common in relationships, but if you and your partner don't push through the plateau, and are comfortable simply stalling, that's a sign of a more serious relationship issue," David Bennet, counselor and relationship expert at
Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "A plateau can be an opportunity to grow, but if it's not, it's simply a start of the decline of a relationship." Paying attention to both you and your partner's words and actions during this time can provide a lot of insight.
"A plateau often involves a bit of taking one another for granted and not actively reminding ourselves to be grateful for the care and support our partners show us," licensed marriage and family therapist,
Virginia Williamson, tells Bustle. Therefore, a lot of these issues may be able to be overcome with love and understanding. But without work, they may spell out the end.
Here are nine times reaching a plateau in your relationship can be a problem, according to experts.
You Reach The Plateau Very Early On
Plateaus usually happen later in a relationship, or happen on and off as the years go by. If you're early into
the initial stages of your relationship, however, and the plateau is noticeable, it may be a sign that there isn't much room for growth.
"The beginnings of relationships are usually exciting, fun, and filled with hope," Bennett says. "If you reach a plateau early on in a relationship, it's a good sign the relationship likely isn't going anywhere." While it's possible for these plateaus to be caused by outside circumstances, it's worth noting if you feel the relationship is no longer giving you what you need.
You Look For Affection Elsewhere
While you may not be cheating, or even
micro-cheating, if you find that your relationship plateau has made you feel starved for affection, it might be problem.
"If you find yourself looking to other people to help you feel connection and intimacy, this is a sign that something deeper might be going on between you and your partner," licensed marriage and family therapist,
Lauren Korshak, tells Bustle. Korshak's advice is for people going through this to seek individual or couples therapy to help heal any underlying issues.
You Have Less Than Five Positive Interactions For Every One Bad One
While you likely won't be doing the exact math on this, the "magic ratio" in relationships is five to one. This means,
according to science developed by John and Julie Gottman, that for every one negative interaction in a relationship, a happy couple has five positive ones.
"As long as there are five times as many positive interactions as there are negative interactions, the relationship is likely to be in good health," Korshak says. "The Gottmans describe negative relationship behaviors as the
four horsemen of the apocalypse — stonewalling, criticizing, contempt, and defensiveness. If any one of these behaviors dominates your relationship, it could be a sign that your relationship needs help." Luckily, you don't need to be an expert mathematician to tell if your negative interactions are outweighing the positive.
You've Lost The Motivation To Resolve Any Conflict
When a relationship is at it's strongest, both people usually try their best to
resolve conflicts. If this is no longer the case for you during a plateau, you may have a bigger problem on your hands.
"Conflict and differences are a natural part of relationships, and resolving them can actually help create the glue that keeps relationships together," Korshak says. "If you are avoiding resolving issues, these can fester and deepen the rift between you. Conflict resolution actually strengthens a relationship and allows intimacy to develop." When you no longer want to solve these problems, it's possible the relationship has run its course.
You're Always Thinking About Someone Else
While having an occasional fantasy about someone who isn't your partner is common, if you go through a relationship plateau constantly thinking about someone else, you may be facing a bigger issue.
"If you are fantasizing about a colleague that you spend many of your days with, doing or saying things often with another person that you need to hide from your partner, or devoting more of your time and energy to another potential romantic partner outside of your relationship, it is less of a plateau than an avalanche," Williamson says. It's possible to overcome this issue, but it's worth being proactive about and understanding it in order to feel more secure in your relationship.
You Fantasize About Breaking Up
Everyone has moments of "what if." But if those moments are becoming overwhelming during your relationship plateau, that may be a sign that the plateau won't go away on its own.
"We may [...] have moments when we think being single would be easier or more fun, but if you have more thoughts about life without your partner than you do good memories and thoughts about future plans with your partner, this is a sign of deeper dissatisfaction," Williamson says. Checking in with yourself and admitting these feelings can be a healthy first step.
Low libido can be caused by a
variety of factors. But, if during a relationship plateau, you've stopped being interested in sex with your partner altogether, the problem may be routed in your relationship.
"If your sex drive has dwindled exponentially, and it's not due to depression, a medication side effect or other identifiable cause not connected to the relationship, you owe it to yourself to explore whether or not there are unresolved problems in the relationship that are showing up in the bedroom," Williamson says. Like many other problems, this kind of lull may be helped with couples therapy.
You're Actively Avoiding Your Partner
If, during your relationship plateau, you've noticed that you're spending way less time with your partner than you used to, that might be a problem.
"We all need and benefit from time spent alone, however if you find yourself spending more effort and energy looking for ways to avoid your partner, it may be more than a needing to shake up the routine in your relationship," Williamson says. "You cannot reconnect if you are actively creating distance between yourself and your partner." Finding ways to reconnect and enjoy each other's company might be worth the effort.
You Aren't Feeling Loved
Perhaps the biggest sign a plateau is becoming a serious issue is if you no longer feel the love and support you did before. If the plateau significantly impacts you, that is worth acknowledging.
"If you are going through a rough time, or something major happens where you need your partner's full love and support — and they fail to deliver because of your relationship plateau, this is a bad sign for the relationship in the long-term," Bennett says. You deserve a relationship that is supportive. Whether that means working on the issue with your partner or moving on from the relationship is up to you.
Relationship plateaus are not, by themselves, a serious issue. If, however, you find that you and your partner fall into certain behavior patterns during this time, you may have a bigger issue to deal with. Not all these issues mean the end of a relationship, but they're all worth exploring to make sure you can be in as healthy a relationship as possible.