Most articles that discuss the struggles of long-term relationships tend to revolve around “keeping things fresh in the bedroom” — ways to surprise your partner after so many years; how to stay present and enjoy one another; and, as we’ve discussed before, how to maintain a level of arousal after raw desire has been replaced by mortgages, responsibilities, and familiarity. And that’s great. The sexual realm is a very important one, and one to which we’ll return again. But very few of these articles deal with struggles outside the bedroom, where we spend most of our lives and where boredom, while not as physically and powerfully tangible, can be even more crushing and pervasive.
I was thinking about this while re-reading Joseph Heller’s Closing Time, the 45-years-later follow-up to his classic Catch-22. It has many of the same characters — Yossarian, Milo Minderbender, ex-PFC Wintergreen — as they stumble into old age and regret. One of the recurring characters is Chaplain Tappmann, the sweet, mild-mannered man of light religion who only yearned to get home to his sweet wife Karen in Kenosha, Wisconsin and never leave her. He never did leave her, or stop adoring her, but a scene talking about their increasing dotage shows the boredom that can come with passing years:
He had three hundred and twenty-two channels, but he found it not fun to watch anything without his wife watching with him. Television was not much fun when they were together either, but at least they could fix their faces on the common point of the set while they fished around for something new to talk about that might lighten the lethargy. This was old age.
It’s a sad passage, but not tragic, and one that many couples have felt, even if they haven’t been together for as long as Arnold and Karen. You talk so much, and, more than that, you share so much. You have the same bills, the same neighbors, the same kids maybe, and you are intimately interwoven with each other’s families. At some point, there isn’t much to say. How can you shake up this lethargy, this benign complacency? Doing so might save your relationship. Here are a few ideas.
Make a list of things you’ve never done
This one seems kind of obvious, but it is important. Maybe you’ve never gone skydiving, or canoeing in the nearby lake, or have never visited the circus. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It is something for you to do that you can plan together, enjoy together, even suffer through together. More importantly, it is a break from the routine that creates a new memory. Instead of seeing what The Mentalist is up to, you can see if the weather is good for a run.
Find a common goal
A lot of couples talk about wanting to get into shape together, but have you tried achieving a common goal, like running a 5K? This is different from the thing you’ve never done before because maybe you both have. The point is to do it together. It doesn’t have to be about exercise. Maybe you want to read all the novels by Thomas Pynchon, or go see every German expressionist movie at the local art-house cinema. It doesn’t matter what the goal is — finding out that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is playing at midnight is a great way to shake up the routine.
Form a club
You can join a club — that’s fun. Getting out to meet new people exponentially increases the amount of conversations you can have, whether you’re joining a bowling league or a swingers club. However, if that’s not your scene, you can try forming a two-person club. A book club, a movie club, even a TV club — something that is different from the usual. You don’t just watch Game of Thrones: you and your partner, just with each other, dress up, or set aside 30 minutes to talk about it instead of just flipping channels. It’s more than something to do to kill time; it becomes something you do to make time better. There’s a reason you’re with this person. You already decided on a rewarding and beautiful two-member club. Why not expand its activities?