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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Relationship Fatigue

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.


Relationship Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Is Fatigue Trying to Tell You Something About Your Relationship?


Last time we talked about how new research has discovered that how a person feels physically -- energized and alert versus drained and tired -- when the partner is present reveals insights into how compatible two people are. In particular, the lack of physical fatigue experienced in the company of your loved one can be modeled as a sign or symptom of a compatible relationship, along with the more traditional signs like feelings of attachment, trust and sexual arousal.

Physical fatigue -- or the lack of it -- makes sense since people often express underlying thoughts and feelings via somatic mechanisms. In other words, physical ailments (headaches, body aches or upset stomach) can be signs of psychological distress, not just symptoms of a medical condition. Psychologists refer to this as somatization, and this problem occurs regularly within the general population. 

Along with the issues of Stress Reaction and Conflict Resolution, there are two other main issues that can induce somatization -- or another way to think about, issues that might amplify negative energy patterns. These two other issues tend to be overlooked, but they are powerful forces indeed.


  1. Communication Style. Several studies have shown that effective and compatible communication style is one of the pillars of relationships. Couples with ineffective or unconstructive communication are more likely to report relationship dissatisfaction and distress. And you should remember what happens to couples in times of distress -- generally speaking men withdraw and women confront. This automatically introduces the risk of a situational, but potent negative energy pattern!

    Having compatible communication skills improves a couple's chance at happiness.  Many potential stumbling blocks in relationships can be overcome by communication; it is the greatest key to intimacy.  In fact, lack of emotional closeness and feelings of alienation are the best predictors of depression in both men and women. Reported relationship quality has been shown to be influenced by positive communication behaviors, such as spousal support, companionship, intimacy and friendship.  These are not passive variables; it takes work to constantly engage a partner on every one of them.
  1. Activity Levels. The amount of time a person likes to spend socializing, with whom they prefer to socialize and their chosen social activities are all important when it comes to choosing a satisfactory partner.  Certainly it’s important for each partner to have some alone time, but a joint social life or complementary levels of social and physical activity is important as well.

    First, let’s discuss emotional intelligence and social skills. Social skills are important for relationship success, romantic and otherwise. Lack of people skills in one partner can lead to awkwardness and uncomfortable social situations.  In fact, one research study demonstrated that both men and women who are married to disagreeable partners have less esteem for their partners. In more general terms, studies have shown that agreeableness prevents conflict with opposite-sex peers. Similarly, negative and pessimistic attitudes and approach to life can be very taxing for couples.  And wherever you find stress, emotional distress and conflict you also find the risk of men and women disconnecting.

    Now back to the topic of a couple’s joint social time.  Make no mistake on this issue, the amount of couple and individual social life outside of the relationship is an important consideration.  Interpersonal differences in this area can be great, causing clashes between couples about how much time to spend on their own, by themselves, and socially with others.  Disagreement about how often and with whom the partners should or shouldn’t socialize can lead to recurring conflicts, jealousy, resentment, pent-up frustration, and feelings of abandonment, rejection and injustice. One of my research colleagues found a strong and positive correlation between satisfaction with couples’ social life and self-reported relationship satisfaction.  Extroversion is an equally important consideration as this trait influences how much time one wants to spend in the company of others.  An introvert’s need for time for oneself can clash with an extrovert’s need for company, leading to feelings of suffocation in one and rejection in the other. In addition, one research study reported that sociability predicts falling in love, while shyness prevents it, mainly by limiting the shy person’s exposure to potential partners.

    Social support from sources other than romantic partner is an important factor in a model predicting marital satisfaction. In addition, relying solely on one’s romantic partner for fulfillment of all emotional needs places substantial but unspoken pressure on this partner and can lead to unhealthy attachment and co-dependent behavior – all of which in turn result in relationship distress. 

How You Can Help…
In all, Stress Reaction, Conflict Resolution, Communication Style and Activity Levels are four dominant issues that can predictably instill negative energy patterns in a couple, at least at certain times. Scientists are studying other variables that have the same effect. Now there’s a new study that aims to add to our knowledge on the issue.

A great thing about this new study on energy patterns is that YOU can help!  Anyone who is currently in a committed relationship, or who has been in a committed relationship in the recent past, is eligible to participate in the study. Participants are asked to respond to a series of questions about their current or most recent serious relationship. The study will run through December 2009, and the basic results will be released shortly thereafter. Your specific responses will remain completely confidential. Please help us in this important study and encourage your friends and family members to take part as well.

The survey may be accessed via the link below:

Begin survey:

Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.

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