Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

What Couples Can Do When Marriage Stops Being Fun

Routines get stale. Couples don't have to.

Key points

  • Marriages start at their highpoint, and a decline in relationship satisfaction is inevitable after that.
  • Many couples are dissatisfied with their marriage even though they get along well enough with each other.
  • When marriage is no longer fun, couples need to find more opportunities for positive interactions.

Only in fairy tales do couples get married and live happily ever after. In real life, all marriages have their ups and downs, good times and bad. But while many couples are generally satisfied with their relationships, others become greatly disappointed with theirs, whether they eventually break up with their partner or not.

A Decline in Relationship Satisfaction is Inevitable

As University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill psychologists Danielle Weber and Donald Baucom point out, the first months of marriage are the happiest for almost all couples. However, the intensity of positive feelings so characteristic of the honeymoon stage is simply unsustainable as each partner feels the strong tug of reality pulling them away from their marital bliss. There are careers to pursue, children to raise, financial issues to deal with, and all of these detract from the ecstasy of early marriage.

Some couples manage to maintain a reasonable level of excitement in their marriages. These are the happy couples we all aspire to emulate. Other couples let their marriages devolve into a vicious cycle of nastiness full of anger and bitterness. These are the couples that usually seek counseling, often only after it’s far too late to save their marriages.

Still, other couples remain kind to each other even though their marriage has become lackluster. It’s not so much that there’s anything negative about the relationship. It’s just that there isn’t much positive about it either.

Not Bad, But Not Especially Good Either

It’s this last group that Weber and Baucom are most interested in as marriage counselors. According to Weber and Baucom, fairly effective therapeutic techniques have been developed for helping couples reduce negativity in their relationship. Until recently, however, therapists have given less weight to helping couples boost positive interactions.

In part, this state of affairs stems from the mistaken notion that positive and negative are two poles on an emotional scale. On this view, reducing negative interactions should boost the overall positivity of the relationship. But as Weber and Baucom point out, couples can remain dissatisfied with their relationship even when negative interactions are few.

Research shows us that pleasure and pain are processed in different parts of the brain. That means that reducing pain doesn’t necessarily lead to a pleasurable experience. And so it is with the positive and negative interactions within a relationship.

Positive encounters make a marriage fun, while negative ones make them miserable. Although reducing negativity can make a relationship more tolerable, increasing positivity is the only way to make it more satisfying.

Weber and Baucom note that there are two common reasons why positive experiences tend to decrease over the length of a marriage. The first reason is that external demands limit the opportunities a couple has for positive interactions. Careers and childrearing in particular demand considerable amounts of time and attention from each partner, and these can inflict quite a bit of stress as well. As a result, the couple spends less quality time together, so they have fewer chances to do things that are enjoyable together.

The second reason is that activities the couple once enjoyed doing together become stale over time. The primary example here is sex. At the beginning of any new intimate relationship, sex is exciting as partners get to know each other. But over time, couples often fall into a sexual routine—same time, same place, and same position. Thus, something that was once a big positive in the relationship just doesn’t provide as much excitement as before.

What to Do When Your Marriage is No Longer Fun

So, what should couples do when they find their marriage is no longer fun? In their practice, Weber and Baucom offer several pieces of advice.

First, couples need to understand that a loss of excitement in marriage is inevitable over time. Some people have the mistaken notion that the thrill of the honeymoon should be the normal state of marriage. This, of course, is the fairy-tale version of marriage, not one based on reality.

People tend to have a set level of happiness in their lives. Major life events, such as the start of a new relationship, can boost mood significantly, but after a time we tend to drift back to our original level of happiness. Thus, one goal of counseling is to help couples understand that “happily ever after” is just a fairy tale.

Second, Weber and Baucom try to help their clients find more opportunities for positive interactions. The old standby advice here is to go on date nights.

However, Weber and Baucom recognize that many young couples don’t have the financial means to hire babysitters or pay for expensive dinners and entertainment. Instead, they suggest that couples make the most of the limited alone-time they do have together. Keeping daily interactions positive with lots of compliments and expressions of gratitude goes a long way as well in maintaining a satisfying relationship.

Third, Weber and Baucom encourage couples to try new things, either as individuals or as couples. We grow personally through new experiences, and couples grow closer together as they share in these adventures. Couples can take a dance class together, or travel to a new destination, or even just change up their sexual routine—all of these can serve as experiences that make their relationship exciting again.

In addition, couples can use cognitive reappraisal to reinterpret daily rituals such as mealtimes. Instead of viewing these as routines to be gotten through, couples can use them as opportunities to reconnect. The point here is that shared experiences are meaningful in a relationship, and they don’t have to involve expensive dinners in fancy restaurants or distant travel to exotic places. Rather, something as simple as sharing a morning cup of coffee can be a relationship-building experience.

The early days of marriage are typically the high point in the couple’s satisfaction with their relationship, and happiness will inevitably decrease after that. However, the fact that many couples manage to keep their marriage reasonably exciting tells us that it is possible to manage high levels of relationship satisfaction over the long haul. As Weber and Baucom point out, the key is to find opportunities for enjoyable moments together as a couple.

Facebook image: Stephen Orsillo/Shutterstock


Weber, D. M. & Baucom, D. H. (2022). When the loss of positives feels negative: Exploring the loss of positive experiences in committed couples. Current Opinion in Psychology, 43, 166-170.

More from Psychology Today

More from David Ludden Ph.D.

4 Min Read
Sexual orientation is about which sex you’re attracted to, not whether you prefer the same or opposite sex.
More from Psychology Today