Mental health research explores a common but underappreciated couple problem: relationship “jet lag”

Mental health research explores a common but underappreciated couple problem: relationship “jet lag”

A new study published in the academic journal couple and family psychology tries to understand why being in a relationship can feel like a daily vacuum of transition between the phases of separation and union. The study attempts to decode this “relational jet lag” and offers insight into how couples can develop the agility to deal with it.

“For many of us, these transitions happen every day,” says psychologist Danielle Weber, lead author of the research. “If you live with your partner, you experience a transition when you find your partner after a day of work and you will return the next morning when you leave your partner to go to work.”

Whether you feel too mentally caught up in work to focus on your partner or an argument with your partner is preventing you from focusing on your work – according to Weber, in both of these cases you could be experiencing a “jet lag” relationship. , or the feeling that you and your partner are traveling in different time zones and aren’t quite in sync.

Such transitions seem even bigger and more important for couples in long-distance relationships.

“I think relationship jet lag can happen when, for whatever reason, we’re not quite ready to enter that new phase,” Weber says. “Sometimes we want to stay where we are and we don’t want to transition. Sometimes we want to, but there is a challenge attached to the current task that is hard to let go.

After following couples through a period of reunion and separation phases, Weber’s study produced the following results:

  1. If the upcoming state is less attractive to you in some way, it will be more difficult to make this transition and it will lead to more negative emotions soon after the transition.
  2. Separation is much more difficult for long-distance relationships.
  3. People naturally vary in how comfortable and natural they feel to be alone or with their partners, which affects the experience of “jet lag”. For example, a naturally independent person may experience resistance to entering into a reunion phase.
  4. Your degree of relationship satisfaction also contributes to the degree of “jet lag” in the relationship you experience.

According to Weber, there are a number of things you can do to prepare for, or even reduce, relationship jet lag. These include:

  1. Become aware of what makes you “lag”. It’s important to know yourself and know when transitions are easier and harder for you. Once you have this awareness, if you know an upcoming transition might be difficult for you, it can be helpful to intentionally think and act in ways that make the transition easier.
  2. Include a “jet lag” period in your schedule. We can also use calendar reminders and alerts to remind us to start thinking or planning the upcoming phase so that we are ready for when it happens. For an upcoming meeting, this mental process might include making plans for you and your partner or thinking about your last meeting. We can also act differently by beginning to engage in activities that prepare us for the shift. For example, if you’re having trouble separating from your partner, don’t let the first thing you do on your own be repetitive or boring. Instead, plan an activity for yourself that will engage your mind in a positive way.
  3. Normalize feelings of “jet lag,” especially in long-distance relationships. Research shows that some readjustment period after separation can potentially be common in long-distance relationships. Be patient with yourself and know that if you take more time to get back to your individual routine, it doesn’t make you needy or codependent. Or, if it’s taking you a while to readjust to being with your partner, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad partner. It could just be part of the process.

A full interview with psychologist Danielle Weber discussing her research can be found here: A Psychologist Explains What It Means To Have “Relational Jet Lag”

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