Years into a long-term relationship, that initial passion turns into comfort.
It’s a quieter feeling than the earlier days of lust and excitement, which, although are often still there, tend to be overshadowed by an overwhelming feeling of contentment.
In fact, according to Dipti Tait, a relationship and couples communication therapist, couples who are content are more likely to have their relationship in their top three priorities.
‘Contentment within a relationship is noticing when things change, and understanding each other enough to have difficult conversations that are honest and open, with our worry or fear of being judged or disrespected,’ Dipti tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Mutual respect occurs when we are aware of each other’s moods and patterns of behaviour and know how to respond appropriately.
‘True contentment is knowing what to say and when to say it; there is an understanding of each other’s needs and love languages as well as a happiness to be silent when necessary.’
It sounds idyllic.
But, you know what they say: contentment breeds complacency, so what happens when one slips into the other?
What’s the difference between contentment and complacency?
According to Dipti, it’s true that contentment and complacency are on either end of a sliding scale, with comfort in the middle.
‘Complacency can be mistaken for comfort,’ she says.
‘In fact, it is fair to say that when we get “too comfortable”, this can result in complacency, where we feel that we do not need to try hard or make the effort like we once did.
‘Complacent couples don’t usually make a huge amount of effort to keep the spark alive.
‘The investment in the relationship starts to suffer, so time or energy is withdrawn, and this easily results in things getting stale.’
Complacency can lead to the superficial breakdown of a relationship, like no longer planning dates or putting in effort which can, in turn, lead to a communication breakdown.
‘The relationship turns into wallpaper, and this isn’t conducive to happiness,’ Dipti adds.
‘People start to feel unhappy, get itchy feet, feel like they need a change, or attempts to spice things up become apparent.
‘When things feel too settled, the dynamism is lost and the focus shifts away from the problem, and in some cases the couples go into denial and drifting apart is common.’
How can you tell when you’ve become complacent in a relationship?
The problem with complacency is that it slowly seeps in, and it can be difficult to notice when you’ve wandered dangerously beyond the comfortable territory.
‘Some signs of complacency are when both partners stop making suggestions to improve the relationship and when intimacy starts to disappear,’ says Dipti.
‘You also might lead different and more separated lives, like watching TV in different rooms, sleeping apart or having more fun with other people.
‘The relationship becomes like the house you’ve lived in for a long time, or a car you’ve been driving for years – it turns into a functional system rather than a symbiotically evolving and dynamically changing system.’
Complacency can lead to poor mental health, confidence and self-esteem issues, and wandering attention.
‘Human beings generally want to be in a harmonious place with each other, and when this starts breaking down, the stress and tension is revealed in these other ways,’ says Dipti.
Is complacency a relationship death sentence?
If you or a partner have become complacent, it can feel like there’s no going back.
But, Dipti says, ‘where there is love, there is hope,’ and getting back to a place of contentment simply requires effort from both sides.
If you feel that your relationship has found itself in a place of complacency, there are some steps you can take.
Make time for each other
Often, complacency equates to a lack of effort: no more date nights, no more cuddling, even no more sex.
Dipti suggests making time and space for one another again, just like you did in the early days.
‘This could be date nights, extra cuddle time or even making sure you always eat dinner together,’ she says.
Pay attention to each other’s love languages
Your love language refers to the ways in which you like to be shown love – which is often how you will show your love, too.
The concept was created by Dr. Gary Chapman, and the five ‘love languages’ include words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service and gift giving.
‘Make a concerted effort to communicate in the style of your partner,’ says Dipti.
This will show them that you care and are thinking of their needs.
Remember why you fell in love
Finally, Dipti suggests trying to remember why you both fell in love in the first place.
‘Write down the elements that spark your relationship and express these elements,’ she says.
Keep a note of them so that you can remind yourself when things get tough.