By the time many couples show up to couples therapy, their relationship mirrors more of a cohabiting partnership, rather than a passionate marriage. Many of these couples don’t hate each other, but they’re bored, they’ve lost interest and they act more like brothers and sisters. These couples are married, and they’ve entered the “friend zone” and their friendliness is undermining their relationship.
How Did It Get This Way?
There is a lot of talk these days about how important it is for your spouse to be your friend – and I agree, friendship is very important for a satisfying relationship. But I feel that the friendship pendulum has swung too far to the other side where many couples are the best of friends and have the most unsatisfying sex lives, or even sexless marriages.
Many couples begin their relationship filled with passion and sexual zeal, but within just a few years slowly shift the dynamic in their relationship to a more “friendly” version. There are many reasons for why this happens, but here are just a few to reflect on:
- We feel sex may not be very important
- We grew up in families where healthy sexuality was not modeled
- We have repressed our sexuality out of fear of being “too much”
- Our partners became safe attachment parental figures (no one wants to have sex with their baby)
- We’re satisfied (enough) with our current sex life and to begin changing this will rock the boat
- We’ve developed an active sex life (or fantasy life) outside the relationship
- We feel that we don’t have time
- We feel that we lack energy and our drive has waned
For these reasons, and many more, some couples have forgone their sex lives in exchange of an emotionally safer version of their relationship that resembles the “friend zone”.
Why Being Too “Friendly” May Be Undermining Your Marriage
I was working with a couple recently who had found themselves in the “friend zone” a few years after their marriage, which is very common. They had a sex life, but it was mechanical and lacked spontaneity, freedom, and excitement. While helping them out of the sexual doldrums, we made an important discovery. Because they had lost so much passion and became more like roommates, the wife asked the husband in therapy with tears streaming down her face, “Do you even think I’m pretty anymore?” Sad. Of course the husband did find her pretty, but it had been so long and so infrequent since he said anything like that.
Married couples please hear this: If we don’t tell our spouses we find them attractive, someone else will – and we know where that story can lead.
What Can You Do About It?
Every couple moves through ebbs and flows in their relationship where sometimes they experience more passion and eroticism, and other times when it feels more neutral and passionless. These cycles are normal in any relationship. But many couples experience extended periods in the “friends zone” cycle and they never return to increasing their sexual desire and eroticism in their relationship. And over time, their sexual relationship fades slowly to a place of dullness, boredom, and mechanical sexuality.
Having a thriving sex life takes a lot of emotional risk, time, and relational effort. But once healthy sexual habits and intimate conversations around sexuality become more routine, the emotional energy expenditures becomes less and less and a satisfying sex life becomes easier and easier.
I encourage couples to reflect on their own feelings about sex and what they truly believe about it (refer to the bullet points above). Kissing, touching, flirting, holding, embracing, and sharing fantasies, on a regular basis moves couples out of the “friend zone”. Developing daily habits and rituals with your partner to increase the passion and eroticism in your relationship is key and not very complicated but it takes a bit of effort and risk.
If you’ve been in the “friend zone” for some time, movement out can feel weird and awkward, but it’s critical for the success of your relationship to push through those feelings to grow the sexual elements of your relationship. To start a great conversation with your spouse about your sex life, take a look here:
If your sex life has fallen flat and you’d like help, please consider finding a trusted couples therapist to help you rediscover the passion in your relationship.
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