The slow fade: Are you quiet quitting in your relationship?

Quiet quitting doesn’t just occur in the workplace. It can happen in a relationship too.

Striving for change has shown no results. It has likely caused distress to both partners and raised questions that seem impossible to resolve. The result is a feeling that one is better off just easing up on the effort and maintaining the status quo, particularly in a bond that is not “bad enough” to quit altogether. This way, the logic goes, one can at least avoid conflict, internal and external.

In reality, a relationship in which one or both partners is quietly quitting isn’t half as peaceable as it may sound. The indifference creates an emotional vacuum and two unhappy individuals. Quiet quitting will hurt you and your partner now, and your chances at a healthy next relationship. What can one do instead? Here are some common signs of quiet quitting, and ways to try to bridge the rift.

Rituals begin to feel like obligations: Things that were once exciting (date nights, movie nights, after-dinner drives) feel like to-dos to check off a list. The routine may stay in place, so it may seem like not much has changed. But look closely and you’ll see that quality time has become a task rather than a want.

Arguments are replaced by silence: Where you may once have talked a lot, perhaps even fought a lot, there is now a general unwillingness to communicate. Most conversation revolves around the routine and the essential.

Calendars diverge more and more: As one or both partners check out of a relationship, they commit to more invitations that don’t involve each other. There is a parallel decline in seeing each other’s family and common friends. This decline often goes hand-in-hand with declining common goals (vacations, loans, a 10-year plan).

The random hugs are gone: Just as intimacy and sex can serve as initial stepping stones for a relationship, the withdrawal of physical intimacy can be a milestone of movement in the reverse direction. If a normally affectionate person is no longer affectionate, a normally active sex life flatlines and stays flat, chances are one or both of you are quiet quitting.

What can you do? Assuming this is a relationship that one wishes to save, start with reflection. Try asking: Is my silence helping this relationship? How can I help them understand what I need? How have we made each other feel loved in the past?

Engage. Return to talking about the things that are hurting the relationship and you, but try to reframe this dialogue as descriptions rather than accusations: “I feel hurt when…” rather than “You always…”. Ideally, rope in an expert this time.

Recommit. Build a plan that includes practising vulnerability, healthy communication, quality time and intimacy. Commit to the project of rebuilding the relationship. Recognise the value you both bring to each other’s lives and explore which of the unmet needs of affection, care, and fulfilment can be forgiven or adhered to through each other. These steps could help you heal together, or they could make it easier to resolve the question of whether to let go.

Just like quiet quitting might work in a workplace but not for a career, in a relationship, it hampers mutual effort and burdens an already-strained bond. It might help to remember that successful couples don’t just happen to be in love; they practise compassion, healthy boundaries and forgiveness. There is always effort involved. So make a (re)start. Have that difficult conversation.

(Anam Farhat is an industrial-organisational psychologist and head of operations at Betterlyf.com)

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