What Is Roommate Syndrome? (Combat it in Less Than 5 Minutes)

Have you heard of Roommate Syndrome (or Roommate Phase) but aren’t sure what it is and whether or not you have it?

Don’t worry, even though it is a very common problem, it is also very solvable if you are willing to make some small, consistent changes.

What Is Roommate Syndrome?

It might sound like an incurable disease, but Roommate Syndrome is simply a term to describe a relationship that has become passionless. It is when lovers slowly begin to feel like two people living parallel lives who coexist well and manage tasks without high levels of conflict. But if you no longer feel a strong emotional bond or intimate physical chemistry, you might want to consider finding ways to re-prioritize each other. 

Note from Author:

You may have heard the term “roommate phase,” and I’d like to clarify my opinion that I prefer NOT to use the word “phase” when discussing the experience of feeling like roommates in your romantic relationship. “Phase” implies that this is a normal, predictable time period that all couples should expect to go through. In my 30 years of experience, I find that couples do not naturally transition out of roommate syndrome. It is not hard to spice up your relationship, but it does require a little bit of intentional TLC.

What Causes Roommate Syndrome?

Couples rarely “put their relationships on the back burner” on purpose. Date nights and interesting conversations move to the rear of the stovetop because other things also need attention, such as managing a busy household, raising children, or tending to extended family. 

Your relationship cannot be your top priority every moment of every day. Hungry, irritable children need to be fed, aging parents need help managing medical issues, and pets make messes. It is normal to have a decrease in intensity from initial young love, but it can become problematic if so much time is spent tending to external obligations, that you forget to carve out time for fun and romance. 

What are the Symptoms of Roommate Syndrome?

  • Feeling more like roommates or coworkers than romantic partners
  • An experience of two people who happen to love together
  • Emotional disconnection
  • Lack or decrease in passion and romance
  • Decrease in interesting conversations, often replaced by transactional or polite interactions
  • Routine is centered around fulfilling commitments
  • One or both parties feel like they are not a priority in the other’s life
  • A feeling of relationship emptiness
  • Longing for the days when you had more fun together
  • Decrease in sexual desire and chemistry
  • An overarching feeling of disconnection

How to Combat Roommate Syndrome in Less than 5 Minutes a Day

You can turn the tide of relationship distancing as long as you both love and respect each other, and agree that you want to be closer. The mistake most couples make is that they feel like they don’t have enough time to connect on a deep level, so they wait for a date night, or a “free weekend,” telling themselves that then will be the time to catch up. What I have learned doing couples therapy for thirty years is that its better to  catch little micro-bursts of connection throughout the day to remind your partner, “I’m here, I love you, and you’re my person.”

It’s simple, but not easy. The hard part is following through with daily relationship routines on a regular basis. Of course, more is better, but if you start with an absolute minimum of 5 minutes per day, you can set yourselves up for success. There will be days you can extend your conversations or intimate moments, and there will be days when just don’t have time. Here are some ideas to get you started. This is an abbreviated version of the 44-Minute Daily Relationship Routine from Chapter 9 of Love Is an Action Verb. (Silverstein, 2022)

  1. Wakeup Greeting: 3 Seconds

A kiss on the forehead from the person who wakes up first. A gentle, sleepy kiss will start your day with a reminder that you are in love.  

  1. John Gottman’s Famous 6 Second Kiss1: 6 Seconds

I’ve been recommending that couples share a lingering kiss or hug as you say goodbye for the day and it has brought amazing results. A little mini make-out session reminds you that your connection is special and different from all the rest of your relationships. 

  1. Mid-morning text: 29 Seconds

Send a flirty emoji or a witty expression of gratitude for your partner to enjoy when they glance at their phone. Pro tip: For best results, do this every single day … even the days your partner is getting on your nerves. 

  1. Evening Check-In: 4 minutes

Once everyone is wearing comfortable clothes, connect around the ups and downs of your day. Ask open-ended questions and express empathy as you brag about your wins and vent your frustrations. This part of the routine will help you combat the experience of emotional distancing. For a step-by-step course in how to talk about stress, check out my Free Empathy Course

What’s Next?

If this article resonated with you, I hope you feel inspired to start making some small steps to turn things around. 

The sooner you can spot the red flags, the better, and there are many resources to help you out. 

I take a deep dive into vulnerability, intimacy, and the heart/mind/body connection in my book, Love Is an Action Verb, which you can find on Amazon here. If you want a quick crash course in empathy, you can find my Free Empathy Training Course here


Laura Silverstein, LCSW

Laura Silverstein is a Certified Gottman Couples Therapist, and author of Love Is An Action Verb.  She has thirty years of clinical experience and is the founder and co-owner of Main Line Counseling Partners, based in Bryn Mawr, PA. Laura is a frequent contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog and has appeared as a relationship expert in media outlets such as the New York Times, ABC, and Today. She helps couples find more happiness as a research clinician, speaker, trainer, and writer with a positive, action-oriented style.

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