One of the best things about my life is being a partner in a healthy relationship. That partnership is one of the facets that allow me to curate a daily life that I love. That wasn’t always the case in my life. If we got to know each other the last seven years of my first marriage, I would have confessed that most interactions with him left me feeling drained and burned out.
What I didn’t understand at first was feeling drained and burned wasn’t the core issue in our marriage. Rather, it was a symptom that we needed to tend our relationship.
When we begin a relationship, we dream about a fairy tale ending. You know: a meet-cute, whirlwind romance, and a beautiful wedding. Then, of course, it’s time to live happily ever after. That happily ever after part often includes children, pets, and a home. (With a white picket fence, of course.)
What fairy tales don’t tell us is that relationships take work.
Most of us don’t go into a relationship with the tools we need to manage the challenges that life throw at us. And how those challenges affect the dynamics of two people creating a life together. Especially when you also become responsible for raising little humans and furry companions.
Now, if your relationship leaves you feeling drained and burned out, don’t think the only solution is divorce. No, darling, divorce is a last resort. I didn’t choose divorce until we stumbled through several attempts to save our marriage. And more than a year of marriage counseling. With two different therapists.
The lessons I learned during the time I tried to save my marriage? Those are priceless. Because they have helped me create a healthy relationship the second time around.
Here are eleven questions to ask yourself if your relationship has you feeling drained and burned out.
1. What’s working in our relationship?
When you’re feeling drained and burned out, it can feel challenging to find any positives. However, doing so will help you better manage this rough patch.
Just like gratitude helps re-wire our brains to a more positive bent, noting what is working in your relationship allows you to manage. Take a pen to paper and make a list. What’s working? What do you love about him? What made you fall in love with her?
2. Are we on the same team?
Overtime, my ex-husband and I became adversaries rather than partners. If he didn’t like something I did, he withheld affection. I found myself covering for my daughters over a bad day at school. You and your partner are not adversaries, you’re on the same team.
What are the signs you see yourselves on different teams? Do you keep score of each other’s good (and bad) deeds? Are there power struggles? Is there a quid quo pro approach from either of you? (Only saying something nice if the other does?) Do you typically side with your child over your partner? Are you hiding things from each other? Do you see him as “the enemy”?
Couples forget that commitment means you’re on the same team. What can you do to feel like you’re on the same team? Constantly being in an adversarial relationship takes a lot of energy. That alone can lead to you feeling drained and burned out.
3. Are we living separate lives?
My ex-husband worked a 3 PM to 11 PM shift the last half of our marriage. That led to us living basically separate lives. Rather than having time together as a couple, we lived more like roommates. And when we had time together, I often found myself feeling drained and burned out.
There are a lot of factors that may lead to you feeling like roommates. Especially with the demands of work and raising children. Dig deeper to examine why.
Are you making space for quality time together?
Are there too many demands on one – or both of you?
Is there a lack of communication and positive conversation?
Are you having enough sex?
Do you feel like you simply co-exist?
4. Am I feeling resentful or under-appreciated?
Though I know that shift work can work for couples, I felt overwhelmed by my own evening shift. We had two children and a dog, so after working, I had to manage homework, dinner, baths, and bedtime. This led to me feeling resentful. Often, he would arrive home and criticize how the house looked or what I had fed the kids for dinner. This made me feel angry, frustrated, and under-appreciated.
If you feel resentful or under-appreciated, of course you are going to be feeling drained and burned out! What causes you to feel resentful?Are my contributions to the relationship acknowledged? Do I acknowledge his contributions to the relationship?
5. When’s the last time I said thank you?
Sometimes when we live with someone, our manners go missing. We stop saying thank you and please. We treat our partner with rudeness or with demands. Research of more than 4,000 people looked at relationship quality, maintenance and happiness. What they discovered was that everyday acts of love – like fixing your partner a cup of coffee – can lead to a happier, healthier and stronger relationship. Even more than big gestures like romantic getaways and expensive jewelry.
Examine your behavior: have your manners gone missing? Are you doing small, everyday gestures for your partner? Not in hopes of a return gesture, but from a place of love?
6. Am I kind and complimentary?
When you are feeling drained and burned out, it’s easy to get snippy. Just like our manners can go missing, we stop speaking kindly. We stop complimenting our partner, too. The Gottman Institute found that couples who share negative interactions are more likely to divorce early. What’s worse is that we are more likely to believe criticism over compliments, which destroys our confidence.
Making an effort to be kinder and compassionate can shift how you interact and how you feel. What if instead of snipping, you looked for what your partner does right? What if you looked at what you, yourself, do well? How can compliments shift how you feel about yourself and your relationship?
7. What are our triggers?
Every individual has trigger behaviors — specific things that drive them crazy that wouldn’t bother the majority of other people. This can include issues like laundry, how to load the dishwasher and having the same thing for dinner too often. The other partner often doesn’t understand why these fights keep happening and what he or she can do about it.
We can also have triggers thanks to past relationships. Sometimes, our partner behaves in a way that reminds of our mom or an ex.
So, examine what both of your triggers are.
For the sake of healing your relationship, can you just let it go? Can you have a conversation with your partner about your desire to stop fighting over these small things? Can you brainstorm a solution together? (For example, if you argue about a messy house, what if you hired a house cleaner?)
8. What do we really argue about?
Often when you are feeling drained and burned out, arguments are a cause. But, what specifically do you argue about? Are arguments always about one of your trigger issues? Do you always argue over big issues, like finance or parenting styles? Or do you feel like you argue about everything?
Get super honest with yourself. What are the core issues you need to deal with as a couple? Do you need to agree to disagree? Or are you picking fights about everything? What kind of professional help can you get? A therapist can be helpful working through these issues. Or a financial advisor can help you better manage your money.
9. Am I taking care of myself?
It’s hard to put energy into tending your relationship if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Are you ensuring you get enough sleep? Do both of you exercise regularly? Are you eating a healthy diet? Do you numb with alcohol? When’s the last time either of you went for a check-up at your doctor and dentist?
If one – or both of you – are ignoring these basics of caring for your bodies, it’s no wonder you are feeling drained and burned out!
Remember, too, that your mind and spirit need to be taken care of as well. Are you overfilling your schedule and always busy? Do you take time for reflection? Are you tending your own spiritual needs, like church or meditation?
10. Do I wish he would just change?
A confession: we stopped going to our first marriage counselor when my ex blurted out, “This isn’t working! She isn’t getting fixed!” He became convinced that the therapist was on my side, not his. We had similar results with a second therapist: I wasn’t changing in the ways he wished.
You aren’t a broken toy in need of fixing. Neither of you are. You simply need to find ways to work together and communicate more effectively. You both may need to change some behaviors. Wishing your partner would change is going to frustrate you. And lead to you feeling drained and burned out even more.
No matter what isn’t working in a relationship, there is only one person that you can change: yourself. You can’t force another person to change until they are ready. And, don’t forget that we are all human. You can’t make a list of demands and expect your partner to begin behaving in ways that don’t fit their personality.
11. What am I willing to change about myself?
Now, don’t think I’m knocking therapy. In fact, I credit both wonderful counselors for helping me learn that I was responsible for my own happiness. I had to choose what parts of myself I accepted and loved. And, I was the only person who could decide what I wanted to change about myself, my behavior, and my reactions.
If your partner doesn’t want to go to marriage counseling, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go to a counselor. Choosing to do your work will reward you tenfold. It is always worth your time to become a better version of yourself. Deciding to do your own work to manage your own challenges helps heal a rough patch in a relationship. Because you are choosing to take responsibility for your part.
Often, when one partner makes changes, the other person follows along. Almost like a dance.
Sometimes, though, going to therapy or working with a coach is going to show you that no matter how many positive changes you make, the relationship can’t be healed. And for the sake of each of you, divorce is the best choice.
If you are feeling drained and burned out by your relationship, remember it’s a symptom not the cause of unhappiness in your relationship.
No single question will change the dynamics of your relationship, however awareness will always help. The choice to be honest with yourself about what’s working and what isn’t is wise. It’s also helpful to take ownership for where you are contributing to the challenges. Awareness will serve you and your partner.
Relationships need tending.
While not all relationships can be saved, you can go a long way towards healing yours. The time and attention are worth the effort you put in because you deserve to live a life you love. And healthy relationships can be a contributing factor to you loving yourself and your life even more.
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