When a couple comes in to see me for therapy, I often start our first session by asking each of them the following question: “Where are you currently the most alive, the most self-respecting, the most interesting, and the most involved in your life?”

If they are newly in love, the answer is most likely to be when they are together. Sadly, when they have been together for a longer period of time, they are more likely to innocently confess that they feel that way more often outside of their intimate relationship.

Somewhere between the honeymoon stage and the commitment to a long-term partnership, many couples stop being spontaneously intrigued by one another and begin to search outside their relationship for more excitement and discovery.

Some choose infidelity and risk the security of their primary partnership. Just as many others stay sexually faithful but still look outside the relationship to other interests. When one person does this at the expense of the other, that left-behind partner may end up becoming a pit stop for the other.

There are two definitions of a pit stop. The first, better known to most, is the place where racing cars pause for fuel and service in the midst of an auto racing competition. Those pit stops are essential in-and-out sanctuaries that every race-car driver knows can make the difference between winning or losing.

But the broader definition of a pit stop is any brief interruption in a person’s preferred journey where he or she can get basic needs refreshed in order to move on to what is more important. In an intimate relationship, one partner is living an existence outside of the relationship that is richer and more compelling, while the other has become a glorified refueling station.

How Do Pit Stops Develop?

Discovery is the core element that keeps people spontaneously interested in the early stages of a new relationship. New lovers can’t get enough of one another’s taste, smell, thoughts, behaviors, cultures, social connections, family issues, religious and social beliefs, time, energy, and attention. They often put many of their other priorities on the back burner just to keep feeling what they are. There are so many delicious experiences and so much to learn that the partners seem marvelously content just focusing primarily on one another.

As those same partners commit to a long-term relationship, they are more likely to opt for predictability and security over new risks and challenges. Those once-enamored lovers may have become good friends, but do they truly and urgently seek one another out again for new experiences? They can so easily lose the edge that once supported the mystery and curiosity that made their relationship so exciting.

What is likely to happen to an intimate relationship when intimate partners know each other so well that discovery is essentially over? What happens to a lover’s psyche when predictability overshadows the mystery and challenge of the unknown?

The absence of newness, whether intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, or physically, too easily becomes the same-old, same-old harbinger of boredom. No other feeling is as likely to entice a partner to search for those all-too-human desires elsewhere.

Too often, when people have been together for a while, they also stop sharing the experiences they’ve had outside the relationship. When they reconnect, they are more likely to share only limited expressions of logistical requirements or things that are more newsworthy.

What once was a mecca for interesting exchanges and mutual rehabilitation has slowly become a place to just minimally check in, regenerate, and prepare for the more demanding and intriguing challenges outside of the relationship. If one partner is doing that and the other is not, a pit stop has begun.

Those once-enamored lovers may have become good friends, but do they truly and urgently seek one another out again for new experiences?

Why Don’t Intimate Partners See This Coming?

This process can develop so slowly that many couples don’t realize that it is even happening. They have been led to believe that a stable, secure, predictable relationship is a healthy one. But situations are never static, even if they appear so on the surface. Every living system, relationship, or process is always either growing or decaying. Like continuing flowering plants that grow new blooms as the old fall away, they must be connected to deeper roots that can either nurture them into greater growth or diminish their nourishment over time.

That truth applies to politics, families, business, physical health, and love relationships as well. The partners in a stagnant relationship who do not challenge one another into continuing growth and discovery will eventually find themselves bored and apathetic to each other’s deeper needs. As their investment in the relationship lessens, so will their ultimate payoff decrease.

How Can You Tell If You’re Becoming a Pit Stop For Your Partner?

Use this guide to answer the following ten questions.

1 = Never

2 = Occasionally

3 = More often than not

4 = Most of the time

5 = Almost all of the time

  1. When your partner comes home, does he or she try to find you right away? ____
  2. Do you believe your partner looks forward to seeing you after you’ve been away from each other? ____
  3. When you come into the room, does your partner immediately acknowledge your presence? ____
  4. Does your partner tell you that you are important, valuable, and desirable to him or her? ­­____
  5. Do you feel appreciated for the things you do for your partner? ____
  6. Does your partner anticipate your needs and provide support for them? ____
  7. When you need something, does your partner make those needs a priority? ____
  8. Does your partner seem to enjoy his or her time with you? ____
  9. Does your partner tell you that he or she misses you when you’re not together? ____
  10. Does your partner look forward to doing things with you? ____

Now add up your scores:

41-50: You are still deeply appreciated for who you are and what you have to offer. Your partner looks forward to coming home and staying there.

31-40: You are recognized as an important contributor to your partner’s desires and happiness. You are a high priority.

21-30: Your presence in the relationship is starting to be taken for granted. You too often feel unimportant and last on the list.

11-20: You are in danger of being used as a launching pad as your partner takes off.

1-10: You have clearly become a pit-stop, a place where your partner just refuels in order to live his or her greater aliveness elsewhere.

Once you understand how important or unimportant you feel in your relationship, it is crucial to let your partner know that you need to rebalance your relationship. Tell him or her that, though you may have contributed to the current situation, you now need to distribute your relationship resources in a more fair and equitable way.

A partner who hasn’t realized that he or she has begun taking advantage will want to re-commit to more exciting adventures together. Sadly, those who like the advantages of a home sanctuary combined with the freedom to seek greater interests outside, are less likely to be receptive to changing the status. In either case, you will at least know where you stand and where your relationship is heading.

Dr. Randi’s free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that keep people from finding and keeping romantic love.  Based on over 100,000 face-to-face hours counseling singles and couples over her 40-year career, you’ll learn how to zero in on the right partner, avoid the dreaded “honeymoon is over” phenomenon, and make sure your relationship never gets boring. www.heroiclove.com

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