Tell Me About It: ‘ I know he loves me and wants the relationship, but I feel my own needs aren’t being met’
I’m in my mid to late 30s and I’m considering ending my five-year relationship. I have a lot of fear around this. I regret ending a long-term relationship in the past, because I really loved that person and still miss him. I am also worried that I live in a small town and may end up single forever and lonely.
At the start of this current relationship, my partner seemed a little less committed and invested than me. He made excuses not to see me and would often search for other women online. We would have huge arguments, which would often culminate in him threatening to end the relationship.
Now, five years in, I know he loves me and wants the relationship, but I feel my own needs aren’t being met. Examples include – we are not very intimate, we hug a lot but our sex life has been on hiatus for more than two years. I find that the dynamic is more like a parent-child, where I am looking after and cleaning up after him, but he doesn’t show he cares for me. In group dynamics he has a tendency to make me feel small. We don’t go on dates any more, unless I initiate it or push for it. We weren’t very romantic from the beginning, but it has completely died, and I crave more romance.
I’ve tried to communicate all of this clearly and honestly, but it seems to fall on deaf ears.
There are also positive aspects to the relationship. We have great fun, we love to talk about creative endeavours and we get on well with each other’s friends. We love each other a lot and we are very attached. He’s a really great guy and well admired. It’s comfortable and convenient.
Recently I’ve tried to communicate again how I feel in the relationship, emphasising that I feel stressed and worried about it and us, but he hasn’t responded to my feelings, or tried harder to put more effort in.
Is it worth leaving this relationship completely?
Or should I try harder to work on it?
Fear of regret is a poor basis on which to make decision and you may end up feeling regret no matter what you do. After five years in the relationship, you have all the information you need to make a decision and yet you are stalling.
This seems to be because you love this man in a non-romantic way and the choices of partner where you live may be limited. Think of how this may affect you (and your partner) in the future: a sort of disappointment will pervade your relationship and a sense of ongoing criticism pervade your thoughts and behaviour towards each other.
Instead of creating an intimacy where there are good feelings for the partner, you may end up with an intimacy that is made up of intense feelings of dissatisfaction. Strangely, this type of intimacy is seductive in that both people are focused on each other, but negatively. Well done for trying to communicate clearly but it is obvious this is not landing in a way that allows for your partner to risk being romantic.
For a man who may be struggling sexually, the push for intimacy or romantic closeness may be very close to a position of failure (physical or emotional) or rejection for him. He may not be aware of why he is shying away from sex and may not have the capacity to explore this for himself, so when you push the topic he retreats even further into routine and avoids the questions. The result is stonewalling (see John Gottman’s book 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse) where a person is physically there, but mentally and emotionally elsewhere as they feel overwhelmed by the demands of the relationship.
Further questions are likely to intensify the existing response and yet some intervention is needed to give you a chance to see if this relationship can be one for life. A crisis can be useful to break the deadlock, but you cannot determine at the outset what the outcome will be. So, if you do bring things to a head you will need to be prepared to let go the relationship, if your partner does not rise to the occasion.
To create this crisis you will need to be clear that the relationship will end unless your partner signs up for couple or individual therapy, or a mixture of both. This will show how serious you are about investing in your future together but also that you realise that this relationship needs external support if it is to survive.
If your partner does not go along with this suggestion, you will need to value yourself enough to pursue the possibility of meeting a new partner with whom you can have a fulfilling romantic relationship. To do this you will need to overcome your fear of future regret and engage fully in all the possibilities that are open to you, including travelling to meet potential partners so that the dating world is no longer limited to geographical locations.
This requires full commitment to your aim of a life partner and a willingness to experience failure and to try again without cynicism, a characteristic that will challenge your current limiting position of fear.