What Boredom Really Is: Defining It And How It is Expressed in Behavior - How To Win a Man's Heart

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August 10, 2014

What Boredom Really Is: Defining It And How It is Expressed in Behavior

How do you define boredom? Let’s look first at the characteristics of boredom:

  1. Lack of motivation
  2. Lack of desire
  3. Nothing feels interesting
  4. Apathy
  5. Feel there is nothing one can do (helpless, powerless) to change her/his situation
  6. Emotional and social withdrawal
  7. Reduced/Poor Job Performance

When you look at all these characteristics, these are typical symptoms of someone who is unhappy and likely depressed. In fact, “boredom” is a frequent code word used by children and adolescents to describe feeling depressed.

And often when people are unhappy/depressed, and unable/unwilling and/or afraid to fully examine the sources of their depression, they frequently develop strategies to find ways to distract themselves.

These distracting behaviors are what many state are the factors that lead people who are bored in their marriages to infidelity; in reality, they are not – they are the manifestations of the person’s (and marriage’s) underlying conflicts and issues.

Of course, there are many ways that boredom can be expressed and manifested. Some of them occur just internally, while others show up in behavior.

Internally, a person will spend excessive amounts of time just thinking about things over and over, trying to understand what’s wrong, and come up with ideas/solutions but never acting on them. Everyone knows the multiple ways this shows up in their behavior:

  • The most common way is to put off doing something important that needs to be done (procrastinating). What’s important to recognize is this is an indirect recognition that something more important is going on inside, trying to get your attention, and so interferes with completing even the simplest of tasks.
  • Being easily distracted, sometimes to the point of causing car accidents
  • Overly forgetful
  • Easily and intensely irritated, both with her/himself and others
  • Self-medicating that can include alcohol and other drugs, over- and/or under-eating, gambling, among others; excessively engaging in different activities such as exercising, taking care of others that can include volunteering, and shopping.

It is within this framework that it is helpful to look at how others have tried to make a direct link between boredom and infidelity. There are multiple reasons/factors – some of which have been identified and discussed by others, and some of my own.

These include:

  1. Rushing into a marriage before really knowing the other
  2. Disappointment and disillusionment when the partner doesn’t fulfill one’s expectations and fantasies (people are often not even conscious of these)
  3. Different rates of growth of each partner
  4. “Growing apart”
  5. Personal issues such as:
  • Immaturity
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority
  • Excessive self-centeredness/narcissism and feelings of superiority
  • Unresolved trauma both in childhood and adulthood
  • Unresolved feelings from past relationships
  1. Feeling “trapped”
  2. Entrenched in routines – while at one time they may have been exciting and fulfilling, they no longer are
  3. “Lack of intimacy”
  4. Partner too involved/preoccupied with other things – including spending a lot of time away from home and work or with friends, and not paying enough attention to him/her
  5. Emotional, intellectual and sexual monotony
  6. Excessive arguing or fighting, particularly over little things repeatedly with no resolution
  7. Frequently finding fault and being critical of one’s partner
  8. Little or no communication
  9. Frequent misunderstandings and/or not feeling understood
  10. Crises that can include:
  • Abrupt loss of job (that is tragically common the past few years)
  • Children having problems and/or leaving home (what’s called “empty nest syndrome”)
  • Death of a loved one
  • Midlife crisis: I define this as occurring to people in their 40s both as they re-evaluate their lives and realize they have gone as far as they can in their careers and feel trapped.
  • This has been particularly true for men who want to shift from their focus on career in early adulthood to focus on relationships—particularly with their children who now are moving away into adulthood themselves
  • Medical problems such as heart attacks, diabetes, Lyme’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome; and can also include age-related conditions such as menopause and erectile dysfunction, and early-onset Alzheimer’s-related disorders
  • Abrupt emergence of severe emotional disorders
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—I list this separately to emphasize that it continues to be tragically under-recognized. Virtually every woman and man who has served and/or is serving in combat zones such as Viet Nam, Lebanon, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from some degree of PTSD. And because it’s not recognized, each of them consequently is not treated for it and subsequently often-experiences chronic, at-times greater emotional, relationship and occupational problems. The current economic situation – particularly with respect to even getting a job – only exacerbates their and their families’ problems.
  • Retirement

Addressing and Constructively Resolving Boredom:

You Can’t Get to Where You Want without First Knowing Where You Are

Resolving boredom in your marriage thus first requires that each of you to honestly and carefully examine and identify (1) how much is really due to what you brought into the relationship and your own contribution to the current state of the union and (2) how much of your feeling bored is really due to your relationship.

Some of the questions you and your partner need to ask yourself and then discuss together are:

1. How did my “first marriage” affect me? 

  • Most people don’t recognize that the first marriage they were in was their parents’. It was here that they learned – both consciously and unconsciously – the structure and patterns of a marriage.
  • What did I learn about feeling known, understood, and responsiveness to my needs, wants, and feelings; closeness and intimacy; communicating feelings; and how disagreements and more-serious conflicts were handled?

2. How much am I re-creating what happened in my own first marriage? And then in subsequent relationships and marriages? 

  • This helps you to more carefully observe your patterns of reacting emotionally and behaviorally. Becoming aware is the first step in being able to make conscious and active choices to redefine the positions and actions you take in your marriage.
  • If you discover that no matter how much you try to change these patterns and sustain the changes but can’t, it tells you that something much deeper and frightening is interfering and likely requires professional assistance.

3. Are my reactions in proportion to the current event? 

  • “Over-reacting” is what most people commonly think of and say. Not only is this inaccurate, a partner usually says this when they are frustrated or angry. It predictably leads to a defensive reaction that is at best nonproductive and often leads to escalation and greater, more hurtful comments.
  • Many people “under-react”; they usually become quiet and withdraw emotionally and physically. This also is not in proportion to the current situation, and typically leads to what I call the “Old Faithful”/”Jack-In-The Box” reaction. What I mean by this is that the pressure of holding in the feelings builds up and results in blowing up at a very minor event or action by his/her partner.

4. Do I often feel that whatever different things your partner or you do in your marriage are “not enough”, as well as often feel this way in other relationships and your career/job (this includes being a stay-at-home parent) – and keep trying to get everything “perfect”? 

  • These feelings are usually based in having felt powerless (starting when you were a child) to get what you needed and wanted because your parents weren’t adequately attuned and responsive to you – so the relationship was imperfect in some critical ways, but you couldn’t articulate the words for the feeling that something was wrong.
  • And since kids experience everything personally and cannot acknowledge that their parents aren’t gods, they turn the feeling on themselves and feel something is wrong with them. Further, since children’s primary way of communicating is through behavior, they relatively quickly express the pressure of feeling something wrong with them by acting either in ways to please others or find fault with their own performances. This is often seen in their reactions to how they do in school or in other activities.

5. Do we keep arguing/fighting over the same things with the same outcomes?

  • This is often described as the definition of “insanity” – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
  • What this pattern really represents is both partners (A) have unrealistic expectations and wishes for the other and (B) are actively and intensely avoiding what the real issues are both for her/himself, her/his partner, and their relationship.

Answering these questions as honestly as you can is the true starting point for redefining your marriage.

The effort and energy used to avoid knowing what is truly going on gets freed up and can be directed in new, more-fulfilling ways both for yourself and in your marriage.

At the same time, your partner also has to be working to accomplish the same greater self-awareness so that he/she can also allow him/herself to feel vulnerable/open to new and positive possibilities.

Answering these questions on your own very often is an extremely-difficult task.

Consequently and particularly if you and/or your partner are not able to develop and sustain a new way of being and acting, it tells you and/or him/her that you need professional assistance.

This in no way says that there is something fundamentally wrong with you; it simply means that you and/or partner didn’t have the opportunity to develop the necessary skills to handle these feelings and issues on your own and with your partner.

The final and in some ways most important thing to keep in mind is that the underlying issues that get expressed as “boredom” are treatable and correctable.

You also need to accept that what you and hopefully your partner want will not occur quickly, and there will be times when you or both of you fall back into the old patterns.

Unfortunately, sometimes it is not possible to salvage and redefine your marriage.

It may be that even after considerable effort and professional help, what each of you wanted in a marriage was not realistic to begin with or has changed so significantly, and/or that the hurt and “wounding” are so deep and have gone on for too long that the marriage is not salvageable.

The decision to end your marriage is a difficult and often very painful one, and is not something to decide quickly and often should be evaluated and discussed with a professional.

About the author

David S. Wachtel

David S. Wachtel, Ph. D. is a Clinical Psychologist in Houston, Texas.  He has been in private practice for over 30 years and has several areas of specialization.

These include: (1) psychoanalytic/psychodynamic psychotherapy treatment of individuals, couples and families; (2) comprehensive evaluation and treatment of compulsive and addictive disorders; and (3) Forensic Psychology that includes Child Custody Evaluations, evaluation and treatment of Parental Alienation, evaluation and treatment of Sexual Abuse, consultation on civil and criminal cases, and expert witness services.

Dr. Wachtel has also developed innovative, comprehensive treatment programs for outpatient, day treatment, and inpatient care.  He has spoken on a broad range of clinical and forensic issues at the local, state, and national levels.

To learn more about Dr. Wachtel and his work, visit his website: www.drdavidwachtel.net.