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When Did My Husband Become My Roommate?

Forget the seven-year itch; call this the middle-age slide.

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An image of a husband and wife sitting on opposite ends of the couch, distracted from each other by their cellphones.
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One night not long ago, after the kids had gone to sleep, I sat down on the couch next to my husband of 12 years — as I always did.

He was working on his laptop, and I was looking for a mindless movie to watch on TV. He started telling me about a business dinner he had to attend on a school night — would that date be OK? Half listening, half zoned out, I slowly turned to look at him.

And that’s when it hit me. He didn’t look anything like her, he didn’t sound like her — hell, he didn’t even like her, but our interaction that night, and every night, reminded me of the mundaneness of living with my last roommate before I got married.

Schedules. Budgets. Whose turn is it to buy detergent? Forget the seven-year itch; call this the middle-age slide. We’re living with the person we chose for the great adventure of marriage, but somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten how to be romantic partners, not just coparents, bill sharers and — let’s be real — friends often without benefits. Turns out we weren’t the only ones.

For Gen X couples who are simply trying to stay sane dealing with the demands of their careers, aging parents and growing kids, this may sound familiar: “Our lives are like a Venn diagram, and as the kids get older and busier, the overlapping sliver has become more and more narrow,” says one Connecticut mom. “One of us is the ‘dance parent,’ and the other covers all things lacrosse. It’s hard to figure out any time to be just a couple. So when we are together, we don’t have the energy to treat each other as anything but roommates.”

The roommate zone is a dangerous place to be. “Sometimes he annoys me, sometimes I hate the way he leaves his shit all over the bathroom, sometimes I wish he’d hit the gym so I’d want him like when we first met,” says another 40-something wife. “At least now I have the kids to distract me and snap me out of it because I need my partner in all the parenting stuff we do. I worry about when they move out, and it’s just us in the house.”

You may be sharing a home, and even a bed, but the intimacy that’s crucial to a relationship can end up going missing, replaced by an endless Groundhog’s Day of boredom and exhaustion. Companionship is one thing, but where’s the passion? When I came to this realization, I knew that my husband and I had to get out of the “roommate zone.” We had a difficult, awkward talk about it.

We both acknowledged that we’d been guilty of putting our kids and careers first, with our relationship a distant third, if not fourth or fifth as other emergencies arose. No regular date nights, not enough just-the-two-of-us time, too many miles between us in that king-size bed as we let our daily worries and stresses fill the void. At the same time, we knew it didn’t have to be that way.

Last year, when we went to my 25th college reunion, we sent our children to the kids’ camp one night, got all dressed up, and went to the big dance. We looked good. We felt good. We had fun … together. And we held hands on the bus ride back. We know that we can get that magic back, and it doesn’t require a tuxedo or heels. (Though I wouldn’t mind that once in a while!) Just a recommitment to what our marriage means: We chose us, not just another roommate.

Girlfriends, share your stories about how to #BringBackThePassion to your relationship on our Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter, or email the editor here.