‘I’ve been with my partner five years and have no idea what he likes about me’

Tell Me About It: I feel that the relationship is entirely driven by me

PROBLEM: I’ve been with my partner five years and feel that the relationship is entirely driven by me, and that there’s an imbalance in how excited we are about the relationship. I have absolutely no idea what he likes about me, rarely feel special, and often have the feeling that if I left, he’d disappear back into his work and adapt very quickly to life without me.

I’ve raised this a couple of times and tried to discuss different ways of showing love and appreciation such as the different love languages. He’s respectful and responsive when I mention these insecurities, but nothing really changes. I sometimes feel okay with the idea that some people are just less passionate and excited about love than others, but often worry that I’m not enough for him and that he’d be much more excited about someone else.

ADVICE: Perhaps the real question is not that he is not excited enough by you but whether you are fulfilled enough by this relationship. We have to assume that another adult is a willing participant in whatever relationship they choose to be in and trying to get into their minds to decipher their intentions is often pointless and even damaging to us. The real question is whether this relationship is demonstrative enough for you and if you can tolerate the experience of mild passion in your life.

Often the difficulty can be that our expectations are created by fantasy, or the entertainment industry, and we measure real life against this – the results can often be disappointing, and we feel we are living a life that is less than we expected. Another possibility is that as our own stories of connection and commitment are formed by our families, yours might differ vastly from your partner’s experiences of the same thing. For example, in one family love is shown by grand gestures and loudly voicing affection and in another it is shown by quiet offerings of a cup of tea. This difference is not one of integrity or value but one of demonstration.

However, you cannot discount the possibility that what you are experiencing is actually a lack of interest and commitment, and only you can determine if this is the case. The whole point of committed relationships is that they challenge us to stretch beyond our usual selves, to get beyond our usual mode of operating and urge us to be more generous and giving. If your partner is not doing this in any way at all, then you may be right to challenge the status of what you are committing to and, if you are not satisfied with the outcome, you may need to consider your options. However, this must happen within the overall knowledge of your partner’s family of origin’s mode of showing affection together with the evidence (not just words) of his commitment to you.

Does your partner check with you before organising social events or ask if you are okay with an event?

Do they act with kindness and do you feel that you are treated with consideration in your life together?

And, finally, is there a sense of fairness to your life together, in terms of reciprocity if not equal in everything?

You also need to ask these questions of yourself, in terms of what you are offering the relationship, and check if your sense of demand and unease is creating a block to wellbeing for you both.

There is no doubt that a decision about continuing the relationship is in front of you and sometimes creating a crisis is no bad thing. However, if you are going to force this question, you must be prepared to take the consequences, and these may be that your partner cannot match your needs and, if this is the case, you have to be prepared to let him go. The danger is that if you stay in the relationship, while wanting something different from your partner, a sense of disappointment will infect both your lives.

What we all want is to be loved fully for who we are and not for who we might be. If we are offered this, we may then be willing to look at development possibilities and seek our partner’s support in achieving these. We rarely improve with criticism, but we can improve easily in the glow of someone believing in our potential.

If you choose to stay, follow that approach and then you can gently push for more demonstrative affection knowing that you are there for the long haul.