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What Do You Do When Your Partner Doesn’t Take Initiative?

It ain’t easy when your partner stops initiating sex, doing housework or scheduling dates. Here’s what it means when they stop putting in work and what experts (and redditors) think you should do about it

In every relationship, there’s a change in pace from the excitement of first meeting to the unending mundanity of everyday life together. Okay, I’m being hyperbolic, but the point stands: Most relationships don’t continue in the so-called honeymoon stage forever — and that’s a good thing! Over time, the sensual start of your relationship is replaced by content comfort — sure, you’re probably not having sex 10 times a day, but now you can communicate via weird, secret sounds. Cute!

Having said that, sometimes this comfort can lead to complacency. This is particularly frustrating if only one person has become complacent, and is no longer putting in effort to, say, spend time together, do their share of house chores, plan dates or initiate sex. Trying to figure out why this is happening can also be maddening — as can trying to make sense of what to do next. Is their lack of effort about you or them? Should you retaliate by also trying less? Does this signal the end of your relationship, or just a hump to get over?

This issue was the topic of a recent Reddit thread, in which a 28-year-old woman complained that her 34-year-old husband “doesn’t take initiative in any aspect of our relationship, and I don’t know what to do anymore.” Many of the responses were as expected: “Stop putting in effort that’s unreciprocated,” “He sounds like a child living in a grown man’s body,” “Divorce him and have a good life.” Others recommended more sensible things like couples therapy, learning to compromise on some things and explicitly communicating your feelings. 

Jordan Dixon, a London-based clinical psychosexual and relationship psychotherapist, highlights the benefit of both couples and individual therapy, which “can help us gain clarity of our own feelings, wants and desires as well as those of others,” and help us “start to notice what we deserve from a meaningful relationship with someone else.”

Still, for many, couples therapy is unaffordable, and risks becoming another thing for one or both partners to be complacent about. Instead (or as well as), Dixon suggests “arranging an open conversation at a convenient time that suits those involved,” and stresses the importance of welcoming your partner (or partners) “into a space which feels safe for everyone so they can hear and understand.” 

“This is an opportunity to relay feelings and add solutions for change to go forward,” she continues. “I recommend using ‘I’ statements instead of placing direct blame on partners and making assumptions, as it can lead to escalation.” If you misunderstand anything, Dixon adds, instead of making assumptions, you should ask your partner for clarification. 

Elite Daily also suggests that couples could try spending more time apart, with the aim of giving both partners a chance to miss one another. Similarly, couples could change up their routines. “Safety and predictability are important, but it’s possible to experience this while also having a relationship that feels enlivening and exciting,” clinical psychologist Daniel Sher told the site. The hope is that if you show that you’re not complacent, it’ll kick your partner into action, too.

One redditor shared an example of her own situation, with the advice that people can be “coached” into initiating activities and discussions. “[My husband] is not a big date initiator, but if I tell him to plan a date, he plans a date. If I tell him to plan a family activity, he plans an activity. He abides by the chore chart and occasionally picks a random thing he’s into (he really cares about maintaining the garage door for some reason).” Although she says it’s not her “favorite quality of his,” she adds that it’s “balanced out by the fact that he’s respectful, supportive, a great dad and super smart.”

But what if your partner’s complacency is about their own mental health? The Reddit thread’s original poster wrote in the comments that her husband is in therapy for anxiety and depression. According to Psycom, the most valuable things you can do to help a partner with depression is to learn about the condition itself, ask them how they want you to be there for them, focus on small goals and to encourage them to seek support.

If you’ve tried everything you feel you can, and your partner still isn’t showing any initiative, Dixon says it might be time to consider breaking up. “[It’s a sign to end the relationship] when your pain, anger and sadness outweighs your joy and pleasure,” she explains. 

Ultimately, Dixon concludes, “the key to a passionate, lasting partnership with your mate isn’t avoiding or hiding differences and disagreements, it’s about dealing with them. Complaints shouldn’t be blaming, accusatory or judgmental — and they should never come without a request for what you want to be different.”