How to Deal With Roommate Syndrome

How to Deal With Roommate Syndrome
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 28 July, 2023

Where do passion, intimacy, and complicity go when love runs out? How does a couple, without really knowing how it happened, continue to live in the same house, but no longer ever have sex? This is what people experiencing roommate syndrome ask themselves.

When desire and sexuality become obsolete in a couple, everything loses its meaning in the relationship. Despite this fact, there are many who continue sharing physical spaces, but not emotional corners. Is there ever any hope in these situations? Is it possible to do something about it? Find out here.

In roommate syndrome, the couple maintains a respectful and cordial bond. In fact, almost without knowing how it happened, they realize they’ve become good friends, but have no emotional and physical intimacy.

Roommate syndrome

Has your relationship become routine and lacking in spark, enthusiasm, and future plans? Do the phrases “I’m tired” or “I just don’t feel like it right now” always seem to be appearing? Are you sharing a home, but not kisses, caresses, and complicity?  If so, it’s likely that you’re experiencing this all too frequent syndrome. However, it’s not a clinical condition.

Roommate syndrome characterizes couples who live together despite a lack of sexual-affective intimacy.

They’re two well-matched friends who pay the same mortgage and share the housework. They might even share raising their children and looking after their pets. But, the passion between them has dried up like a plant that’s no longer watered. Now, let’s take a look at some other peculiarities of this situation.

1. Coexistence is good

The main characteristic of roommate syndrome is that they’re sexless couples who get along. There are no conflicts that cause great disaffection, anguish, or distance. They manage their responsibilities well and live in harmony, which justifies not immediately ending the relationship.

Moreover, they continue to have good conversations and even enjoy common hobbies. It seems as if the couple is drawing the relationship out because they hope that, at some point, they’ll recover that lost or worn passion.

Many couple breakups are caused by the weight of routine and the loss of emotional complicity.

2. Sex is no longer present

Sex is no longer present in the relationship of the couple experiencing roommate syndrome. This isn’t accepted with pleasure but sadness and without really knowing why it stopped. It may be the case that a lack of libido initially occurred in one of the members, until, gradually, the other partner also lost the desire and the initiative.

So, why this lack of interest in sex? The University of Southampton (UK) conducted a study with the British population regarding this phenomenon. Men and women revealed, among other aspects, that their lack of interest in sex was due to factors like not feeling emotionally close to their partners during sexual relations.

In this situation, we can’t really talk about gender differences. In fact, reluctance to have sex must always be addressed in a holistic way, because there are various variables at play.

3. The relationship is sustained by common responsibilities

Why does a couple with no sexual-affective intimacy continue with their relationship? Roommate syndrome is based on the idea that a relationship can continue when there’s successful coexistence and joint responsibilities. Indeed, sometimes, the cost of breaking a bond is higher than the fact of continuing with it, despite the fact that there’s no intimacy.

Therefore, the couple keeps going because they’re anchored to the routine of work, maintenance of the home, and the daily dynamics that fill their days, but not their hearts.

4. The routine is suffocating, but they’re afraid of ending the relationship

A study published in the journal, Evolutionary Psychology, stresses that the impact of a breakup can be extremely difficult for both parties to handle. If partners in a roommate relationship don’t leave, it’s due to fear of loneliness and because there’s still an emotional component.

Routine is the main enemy of the passive bonds of the couple who no longer have sex but have a respectful friendship, devoid of illusions, passion, and physical language.

5. In roommate syndrome there’s love, but a lack of care

A significant part of a roommate syndrome relationship is fragmented by the partners’ neglect and the fact that they don’t know how to take care of love. These are links in which esteem and admiration are still present, but they’re neglected. They’re void of attention, reinforcement, and validation.

For this reason, there remains a latent feeling of abandonment that, although it hurts, partners try to repress, by focusing on their daily routines and obligations. They choose not to overthink so as not to suffer. This makes them opt to cling to things they still have in common and not to the relationship itself that defines them, yet which is falling apart.

6. They avoid talking about what’s happening

In roommate syndrome, there’s an obvious lack of communication. In fact, the couple no longer having sex will avoid at all costs talking about their lack of sexual-affective intimacy. Instead, they make excuses. For instance, they might justify it with the fact that the situation is temporary and that things will change at some point.

However, they avoid deepening the distance between them because it’s too painful for them to realize to what extent they’ve abandoned the relationship.

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How to deal with a sexless relationship

When sexual-affective intimacy is no longer present in a relationship, partners tend to hide the problems under the rug. They don’t want to see them so they ignore them. In fact, they’re afraid to face the situation for fear of losing their partner completely.

If you’re currently in this kind of situation, firstly, you must ask yourself if you’re happy with the relationship and if it’s something you want to continue with in the long run. If the answer is no, reflect on the following guidelines.

1. Talk: what do you need and what does your partner need?

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology highlights that communication is the heart of a relationship. It’s the driving force that moves a relationship along and a competence everyone should possess.

Therefore, if you’re experiencing roommate syndrome, you should sit down with your partner and, in an empathetic, sensitive, and assertive way, talk about what each of you needs. Honesty and being able to converse without projecting blame will be the catalyst.

2. Work on affection and emotional communication

Emotional language is the artery that nourishes a relationship. If you want to recover sexual-affective intimacy, you must make the effort to address mutual care and attention in your daily routine. Without emotional intentionality and care, without commitment to attend to the emotional aspects of your relationship, it’ll be difficult to become a proper couple again.

3. Go slowly, without high expectations.

When you’re thinking about recovering your relationship, you may have really high expectations and want quick changes. But, if you’re not having sex, you won’t immediately recover the passion. Therefore, it’s preferable to get involved in a delicate, slow, and committed process. Letting love flow and building new and genuine desire between you will take time.

To overcome roommate syndrome, you have to break with your routines and recover the language of care, attention, and affection on a daily basis.

4. Change your routine, surprise them, and improvise

Routine stifles passion, rather like work obligations. It doesn’t favor the magic of improvisation. Make your goal to escape your routines as much as possible. Surprise each other with sudden dates and last-minute trips. Work on your hopes and dreams together.

Asking for help

Finally, if you don’t progress as you’d hoped, it’s wise to seek the help of a professional. Bear in mind that roommate syndrome is extremely common and you shouldn’t feel reluctant or ashamed at seeking help.

At the end of the day, if there’s love in your relationship and you’re both committed to working on it, couples therapy could be really useful. So, don’t hesitate to give it a try.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.