I love love. We all love love. Especially new love. Your heart beats faster when your partner pulls into the driveway. You get all giddy when your phone rings and you see that it’s him. You love the tiny laugh lines around his eyes. Even his breathing fascinates you.
That’s called “Phase 1.” It’s a near-constant state of romantic euphoria, during which you risk an Amish shunning by your girlfriends if you don’t stop waxing on about how amazing, gorgeous, and great in bed your new man is, and don’t they all wish they were you? Phase 1 is filled with delightful discoveries about each other every day. There’s a level of uncertainty and newness about the relationship and your future together. This rarely lasts.
After a few years, the newness inevitably begins to fade. We know (really, we know) our partners. We’ve seen them in every possible state and condition. We’ve heard their stories, and we know the punchline to all their favorite jokes. We know where all their family skeletons are buried. We know what they like and don’t like to eat, and how they take their morning coffee. Nothing is off-limits or private. We’re in Phase 2.
Phase 2 can be every bit as loving as Phase 1. And it gives us a kind of “marital street cred” by having achieved this emotional comfort level with our partners. But many couples cite the loss of intensity or intrigue as a contributing factor to the decreased passion in the marriage. Combined with the feeling that we know everything there is to know about our spouse, it can begin to feel like we’re married to our best buddy. Or our brother.
How do you know if it might be time to get a little Phase 1 back into the marriage?
When you talk about him to your girlfriends, you frequently mention that “relationships aren’t always unicorns and glitter.” Any woman over 40 knows that what you really mean is “Harold is a jerk when he’s stressed, and he’s always stressed. I want you all on my jury after I snuff him in his sleep.”
You openly criticize him in public. Instead of the daily soliloquies on his amazingness, you now start girls’ lunch conversations with “He thinks I want to go fishing with him. But he’s an idiot.”
Little quirks or jokes that used to seem endearing or funny, that he repeats to everyone you meet, now make you want to smack him. You find yourself thinking, “If he does that snort-laugh one. more. time., I’m going to scream,” or “If he tells that shopping joke to another sales clerk, he’s going down.”
The sex has become predictable or repetitive. Or nonexistent. If you have sex with the TV on so you can hear the next episode of The Walking Dead from the bedroom, it might be time to have a chat with Hubs. While it’s true we’re not the randy rabbits we were in our youth, if you need to check your day-planner for the last time you had sex, you might want to make sure that that’s the last time he had it too.
You haven’t shut the bathroom door since 2009. There are some activities that we simply should do in private. That’s why builders put doors between the bedroom and the bathroom. Rooms with toilets visible from the beds are called jail cells. Doing your potty business, popping menopausal pimples, or squishing your thighs to check for cellulite, are all better done without an audience. When he fantasizes about getting you under the sheets, he doesn’t need the visual of you yanking out chin hairs with tweezers stuck in his head.
You no longer say “I love you.” This isn’t about the shout-out from down the hall when he’s leaving for work, or the automatic “Love you-Love you too” couple’s phone sign-off. I’m talking about the last time you stopped what you were doing, put down your phone, looked him in the eyes and said “I. Love. You.” Huge difference. Huge.
You actively watch TV or text while talking to each other. This is rude and dismissive. I don’t even try to talk to Hubs while he’s watching Gonzaga play, because it pisses me off when I’m trying to talk to him and he keeps glancing at the TV like he can’t wait for me to shut up. (He says he feels the same way when we’re in the middle of a conversation and I start texting the kids. I get it.)
You no longer have random displays of affection. You used to hold hands in public. You touched each other. A hand on the arm. A quick hug or light kiss. (No public porn, please.) Spontaneous, outward signs of intimacy have gone away, and you can’t remember when that happened. But now holding hands seems juvenile and PDAs are embarrassing. You think it feels like groping. Apparently he agrees.
When you fight, it’s no longer cute. Fights during Phase 1 usually end quickly, with a coy “Oh my God, are we fighting?”, immediately followed by enthusiastic make-up sex. Real-life fights in a marriage can be smackdowns that include references to Hubs’ dead grandmother’s obnoxious alcoholic uncle and how Hubs is behaving just like him. Chalk up another sexless night in your day-planner.
You don’t laugh together anymore. Your conversations have become limited to your overdrawn checking account, the kids’ education expenses, your jerk of a boss and how you should have his job, or Hairball, the family cat, and whether his chronic irritable bowel syndrome means you need to put him down. Your relationship, while “stable,” isn’t fun anymore.
Now before you start shouting at me that you and your Hubs share every intimate detail and bodily function, and you’re still crazy in love, I think that’s wonderful. By all means, carry on. I’ll go sit quietly in the corner with a doughnut and a Diet Coke. But if you’ve ever felt like you’re married to your brother, consider closing the bathroom door. You might like what happens next.