What Nobody Tells You About The 'Roommate Phase' Of Marriage

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annoyed couple in car

The roommate phase creeps in as quietly as a fox in a hen house and nobody tells you that it can happen to you too.

With the honeymoon in the rearview, your job taking its daily quota of energy, and the kids a handful, how soon before your conversations are limited to checking schedules, paying bills, and meal prepping? And when did you start doomscrolling for fun?

You know, all the things that roommates do

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The 'roommate" phase of marriage

The “roommate” experience in marriage can be very different from one home to another.

Listening for the secrets that don’t make headlines, I tested the perspective of older couples, younger couples, those with more money, and some with less, some on different career paths and diverse backgrounds. 

One version of advice that could influence you to power through the boredom of the roommate phase is, essentially, to practice everyday gratitude. It came to me from Taylor Brummer in a TikTok video: “Don't look for the missing 15% and leave your person because they are only 85%. The next one may be the mere 15% you are looking for.” 

And then there is the other kind of advice:

“You deserve better."

“They are too much work.”

This advice leaves you disgruntled and focused on getting not giving. It is the kind of sharing that converts your boredom into a search for dangerous attractions.



'Fun and easy' takes work

“Whew, no kidding!” I want a relationship to be easy and fun but I learned the hard way that I can only get easy by thinking and acting differently. Somewhere between our first big disappointment, the shock of reality, and the battle of two egos, there is a risk we can keep fighting, withdraw and live separate lives or give in to the “roommate phase.”

The latter is so tempting. Here you maintain the status quo of “married with ... ” while you just “do you.”

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The roommate phase can be a relief

Getting a breather from another person’s needs, and enjoying the comfort of routine without expectations sounds almost too good to be true. They are no longer your responsibility so you relinquish the last drops of frustration and resentment. Your significant other also exhales, breathing relief from the daily fear of failure and disappointing you. 

If you have been fighting, your dog and children get a break, and if one or both were walking on eggshells, the household can be more settled and consistent in the roommate truce. 

But be cautious about your choices here, and consider your end game carefully because rooming is a dangerous limbo. What do you really want? The break can be a way to calibrate to a closer connection.

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The roommate phase can be an exit door

Without an end in sight, there is a strong likelihood that being roommates will lead to an “exit” as you plan activities with others, watch solo t.v., work late, find new hobbies or worthwhile causes, and pour into friends or children. None of these are harmful, except they allow you to  “hide in plain sight” of each other. 

In the roommate phase, one of you is dissatisfied with the relationship. Days and months become years until the lonely one  says, “this isn’t working.”

This dangerous roommate phase is where you can drift into affairs, addictions, and unhealthy exit patterns that cause deeper wounds and create chaos in families. So it is no surprise that nearly 50% of North Americans call it quits, believing their best choice is to start over with someone new.

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A big factor: little or no sex 

I will say it! I talk to men and women who say they are too tired, too hurt and they don’t miss sex. That’s when I want to share a secret most people don’t know: When you have sex, your body co-operates and makes you want more sex.

Plainly speaking, the cure for not having sex is having sex. Like getting to the gym, once you are there, you enjoy it.

Some fall out of the habit of sex for their own good reasons. Health has gone awry, there's chaos in the family, and you need time to recover or grieve. Don’t leave your significant other wondering what went wrong.

Talk about sex, enjoy intimacy and when you are ready, take turns pleasing each other and commit to the touch and intimacy that keeps your relationship away from the roommate phase.

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How to end the roommate phase & move on to something better

It’s up to you, but don’t allow the dangerous drift of romantic disconnection. It’s the kind that creeps up leaving you visually immune to his/her naked body and hearing only the gross bodily functions.  You secretly fantasize about a friend at work.

If you choose to rebuild intentionally, let them know what you miss, what you long for, and what you are ready to do and then start listening.

Make conscious decisions and take action

Bad habits are harder to break than good ones!  But the best way a couple can restart the new relationship is to invest time in listening and making bold new plans for the relationship they truly want. 

If you don’t know where to start, listen, ask questions and write a relationship vision together. The relationship vision is your individual list of goals you want to achieve together and individually, how you want to spend your free time and what you won’t accept.

This list under the topics of intimacy, health, finances, enjoyment, hobbies, etc., can help put you on the same page.

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Your choice of roommate-ending activities must be right for you

Nothing spells failure like trying to do something that is out of reach. So compile your list of activities and goals to end the roommate phase but erase those that won’t work right now. What I mean is, weekend getaways, date nights, time apart with friends, and working out together are all good ideas but tweak them to fit your budget and bandwidth. 

Nevertheless, do something new. Something that connects you as lovers. No matter your resources, there may be nothing more important to the lifespan of your relationship than timely intervention.

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Don’t be passive in the roommate phase

Communication with your spouse is the key to handling this phase of your relationship. So when the feeling of “roommate-ness” arises, tell them how you feel, and your concerns.

You may decide that you like the friendship but build in protective elements against the loss of intimacy. You may not be able to afford date nights but opt for time without kids on a Sunday afternoon.

Time-strapped, you can bring your joyful A-game to cleaning the garage or wrapping Christmas presents. Don’t divide and conquer kids' activities but snuggle together in the arena or hold hands watching your little one on a balance beam.  

If you decide to go all in, to “out” the roommate phase, it can be the small things that matter. Like this: Regular heartfelt thank yous, compliments, kindnesses, lingering kisses, and tango around the kitchen sink.

Best of all, hold on like you will never let go.

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Reta Walker is a therapist specializing in healing relationships. She offers one-on-one sessions, couples retreats, and courses to help couples get back on track.