The 3 telling signs of relationship burnout you shouldn't ignore, according to a psychologist.

You’re worried about your relationship.

You’re picking at each other. The gaps between fights are getting shorter, but it’s taking longer to patch things up.

You seem to have lost your connection, your spark. It doesn’t feel like fun. You know your relationship needs work but you can’t find the motivation to try.

You head away for a weekend together. It’s nice. But then you get home, the rush of life takes over, and you’re back where you were. Niggling, annoying each other, going head to head over the same old things.

This is the point at which many couples first consider counselling. But then they abandon the idea: research shows couples wait an average of six years before taking a proactive step.

Side note… the Mamamia team confess our relationship deal-breakers. Post continues after video. 

Video by MMC

The trouble is, things don’t get better in the interim. Bad habits get ingrained, resentment builds and before you know it, you’re in the burnout zone.

But burnout is for work — not couples.

Officially, yes. Burnout — exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress — is most commonly applied to work situations. But the warning signs are just as easily applied to a relationship.

Most experts agree burnout shows up in three key ways. When applied to a relationship, these are the key indicators:

1. Physical and emotional exhaustion.

Your relationship drains you. You know it needs attention, but you can’t find the energy or the motivation to keep trying. Even the thought of “date night” makes you feel exhausted.

2. Detachment and cynicism.

You feel disengaged from your partner and increasingly negative (or even cynical) about their behaviour, the things they say, their personal quirks — and even your suitability as a couple. You don’t want to admit it but you’ve started to wonder if there’s another (better) “option” out there.

3. Falloff in investment and feeling ineffective.

You go through the motions. You stop making an effort. You’d rather hang with your phone/device than your partner. The physical intimacy drops away, so does the emotional connection. You’re at a loss to know what to do. Occasionally you feel like packing up and walking away.


But that’s me! What should I do?

If the warning lights are flashing, don’t panic. But don’t bury your head in the sand either.

Burnout doesn’t mean it’s over — it just means that your relationship is calling out for some TLC — and, possibly, you are too. So follow this four-step process before you do anything else.

1. Assess your own mental state.

Check your own state of mind. Sometimes our relationship has contributed to our feeling depressed, anxious, confused or chaotic — but it can work the other way around too. Just as commonly, our mental struggles can influence our feelings about our relationship in a negative direction.

The saying that we take our distress out on those closest to us is true. So be careful: check that that real problem does not lie with your work, stress levels, family issues and other demands. It’s not fair for your relationship to take all the heat.

2. Lay it on the table.

Acknowledge your problems. Not every little thing, every time, but if you feel your difficulties have gotten serious, you need to sit down and talk with your partner — now. Avoidance is a really dumb strategy: it will escalate negativity and ill-feeling.

Be mindful of your language and gentle with your partner. Take issue with their behaviour but not their character. Don’t be mean. And, most of all, listen to them. Give them space to express their feelings. They have a view — and things to say — too.

How do you know if your relationship’s over or if you’re just going through a bad patch? Mamamia’s award-winning podcast The Split discusses navigating a separation. Post continues after audio.

3. Don’t quit too soon.

If you love each other on any level — or did once, or could again — stay in the game. Get an outside perspective. Be aware that the advice of friends and people who know you both can be skewed. A couples counsellor may be helpful if you’re up for, and can afford, it. But, before that, do this:

4. Agree to a month of being super-kind to each other.

Aim to praise, validate, thank or appreciate your partner three times a day, even if it feels weird or foreign. Focus on their strengths — and all the things they do right. Use words, gestures and acts of kindness. It is amazing how much good feeling it can create if you let it.

At the very least, it will put you in a better space for whatever lies ahead.

Karen Nimmo is a clinical psychologist, writer, and author of three books. To read more from Karen Nimmo, visit or follow her on Facebook @KarenNimmoPsychology

This post originally appeared on Medium and was republished here with full permission. 

Feature Image: Getty.
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