The most common reason to end relationships is well known; partners simply go cold on each other, they get ‘bored’ of each other. We all start off full of affection and tenderness for one another and then with time these feelings start to fade. We start prioritizing work, we let our minds wander when they speak, we turn away when they lean in for a kiss. There’s a popular explanation for this emotional coldness: that people naturally get bored of one another, in the same way as they get bored with everything else –the bag they took so long to save up for , a movie they used to love, the song they had on repeat for days e… Going cold is, according to this theory, simply the unavoidable consequence of familiarity.
But what if there’s another much darker explanation -but in the end much more satisfying than just deeming it as “human nature” ?
Perhaps this sudden loss of interest and feeling of boredom is neither normal nor enviable, but rather the product of pent up resentment and anger for our partner that we’ve acquired through many years, without even noticing. We feel hurt by, angry with, or scared of our partner and because we haven’t found a way to tell ourselves or them about it, it takes the form of emotional distance and frost . Tuning out isn’t inevitable, it’s a symptom of emotional distress, that has not been dealt with or even confronted yet. It’s a way of coping. This theory might sound unconvincing, after all, we have no active sense that our partner has been hurting, angering or scaring us in some way. In fact we might want to outright reject this theory because they make our partners sound mean and cruel and make us sound like children or weaklings , neither of which is true however.
We need to understand that the self within a relationship can be divided in two: the normal self and the self that loves. The self that loves within a relationship is infinitely more vulnerable than our normal independent self . We should imagine it like a smaller, younger, more defenseless version of ourselves that lives in our heads and is no tougher (and not much wiser) than we were as babies – which is when so many of our ideas about love were formed. It is this vulnerable self that continues to direct our hearts and emotions. This self has a regrettably thin ego. It gets hurt, frightened and upset with desperate ease. You could deeply distress it by interrupting it during a story it’s telling you about it’s day or by not asking it enough about the new book it’s reading or by preferring a card game to cuddling . By ordinary standards these are laughably insignificant issues to get upset over , but we don’t love according to ordinary standards, these small acts are enough to wound our tender emotional selves to the point of no return. The touchiness of the loving self is ridiculous – if judged by the more adult standards of the rest of life. But this is not the rest of life.
Ideally the small vulnerable self would point out the pain that’s been caused to it. It would carefully explain what happened and air their vulnerability out in front of their partner. But sadly, this doesn’t happen. It just stays silent, because our adult self is too insecure to give voice to our smaller self. If the adult self vocalizes what our more vulnerable self is feeling , it would both sound and feel absurd. There can be something almost humiliating in having to say “ hey I don’t feel like you showed enough interest in the details of my day” or “I’m mad at you tending to your adult responsibilities and not giving me all your undivided attention”. These are rather small issues for adults to dwell on and that’s why these words and annoyances are never uttered and stay buried deep within us forever. As a consequence , the loving self subsides and withdraws. It becomes cold and irritable. The loving self turns resentful and holds grudges of things it can’t even recollect anymore. It doesn’t want to have sex or share any other intimate moments with it’s partner. But it doesn’t even know why it’s acting like this, it’s confused and the easiest thing to do is to blame it on human nature and how easy it is for people to get bored of things.
When we have gone cold, we may not truly have lost interest in our partners. We might just need an opportunity to realize that we are quietly really rather hurt and furious with them – and have access to a safe space in which our tender but critical feelings can be aired, vocalized and understood without risk of humiliation. In order to get through this phenomena without growing cold on eachother , we need mutual awareness of the problem and the patience to decode it and fix it, even when differences and disagreements arise . We have to create a safe space for our so-called minor hurts, so they can be safely be aired, without the other dismissing – as they always so easily can – the issues as childish or imagined. We need a forum in which we know that our problems and pain, no matter how insignificant, won’t be quietly judged or dismissed all together or even made fun of . We need to be sure that our partner will listen to us without mocking or scorn, to know that they’ll offer a judgment free zone and won’t label us as children or deem us oversensitive or make us feel like we’re too difficult to love. And of course we need to offer our partner the same open space and reassurance we expect from then. Only when we both can be as open and accepting as we can be , will a relationship prosper and last without thinly veiled tension and years old resentment that results in ‘boredom ‘ in a relationship or unwillingness to spend more than a few months together.