how can get myself to go "all in" in my relationship?
July 31, 2009 8:16 AM   Subscribe

I am living in limbo in my relationship, not fully commiting or making efforts to make it better, but too scared to end it too. If I decide to go "all in" what sort of things should I do to make this relationship work?

I am a 39 year old man in my first long-term relationship, which has lasted almost 6 years. We are a good match on many levels and I do feel loved, I have no complaints except the other person is not really my type physically. Many times I have wondered if we should be friends instead of in a romantic relationship, even though for me I think that would mean being permanently single as my extreme social anxiety makes it almost impossible to meet people. Other times I feel much more grateful to have someone in my life, which would be lonely otherwise, and wish I could commit more fully and make more efforts to get the most out of this relationship. I know people always say "never settle" but I think that advice is much easier for people who regularly find people to date and meet up with, not for people who are facing a future life alone if they don't settle.

So as you see I am conflicted and the way things are I know I am not being fair to my partner either (although they are happy with me from what they say and have no idea of my inner turmoil). I know I need to be either "all in" and step up or be "all out" and end the relationship, painful as that might be.

If I decide to end it then my actions are fairly straightforward although I imagine dealing with the breakup and the guilt will be anything but. However I am totally unclear about what to do if I decide to go "all in". What sorts of things could I do to improve our relationship? How could I see my partner in a different light and be grateful for her inner beauty? One thing I can think of is to lose some weight, since I think my partner would feel more attracted if I was at my goal weight. Another would be to be more helpful with household chores which I know she would appreciate. Otherwise I am really not sure and because all my friends are socially anxious and have no partners or little relationship experience, I have no one to ask either. Please can anyone offer any advice or help. Especially it would be great to hear from someone who realised their relationship was going stale and revived it, what did you do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Go to the gym and lose weight. She'll see you better and do it herself or she won't. Either way, you might find more happiness. good luck!
posted by parmanparman at 8:22 AM on July 31, 2009

How could I see my partner in a different light and be grateful for her inner beauty?

You wouldn't be asking this question if you really wanted to be with this woman in a strictly romantic sense. You can either leave her and look for true love, or just stay with her and accept your relationship for what it is. Can you accept that you're not attracted to her and just appreciate the loving friendship that you have? Are you willing to give up a passionate sex life for a stable friendship? If so, great. If not, get out before you really hurt her.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:28 AM on July 31, 2009

Go to the gym and lose weight. She'll see you better and do it herself

The what, in the where, now? Where does the questioner say anything about the partner's weight?

"Not really my type" does not mean "needs to lose weight" to most people.

Also, I would question the anonymous questioner's solution. "My partner is not really my type and I do not feel sexual chemistry with them" is not an issue that would be solved by "if I lose weight, my partner will find me more attractive."

Because how would that fix the issue of the questioner not being attracted to the partner, even if it did result in the partner being more attracted to the questioner?
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:33 AM on July 31, 2009

Let me expound on that a bit:

How could I see my partner in a different light and be grateful for her inner beauty? One thing I can think of is to lose some weight, since I think my partner would feel more attracted if I was at my goal weight. Another would be to be more helpful with household chores which I know she would appreciate.

How would either of those actions, laudable on their own, address this particular problem? Losing weight might make the questioner feel better/more confident/healthier, and it's possible that the partner might dig it, but still it doesn't make the questioner dig the partner any more.

Similarly, doing one's fair share or more of the chores is a huge tension-reliever and often a big turn-on, especially for women (see the joke "Porn for Women" books that show handsome men vacuuming, etc.)

But neither of those actions would do anything to address the central problem, which is the questioner's lack of attraction to/chemistry with the partner, not the other way around.

Which makes me think the questioner has a very buggy bit of code around this. Taking it out of the realm of romance, if one were renting an apartment that was, you know, a fine apartment but not one you liked very much because you'd rather have an apartment in the city and this apartment is in the country, the answer to that problem would never be "How can I make the landlord happier to have me as a tenant?" Because that wouldn't make you enjoy the apartment any more. The right thing to do would be to leave and find an apartment in the city, knowing that someone who was looking for an apartment in the country would find that apartment and fall madly in love with it.

So, questioner, I think you need to talk about this with your therapist. And if you don't have a therapist, you need one, because your code is very buggy. The answer to "how do I fix a relationship I'm not happy with" is never "make the other person happier with me."
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:41 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

You must feel really torn, and frustrated with yourself.

I think that first, you should relax into and try your best to be in the moment. Really experience it instead of pressuring yourself to make the relationship better or leave. Just live your life. If you have anxiety it can make you feel like you have to change something to make the feeling go away. Often, that is your mind trying desperately to come up with a rationalization for something that is originating from your body, not from your situation. Accept your feeling of anxiety and know that you don't have to act as a result of that feeling.

Also understand that most people, after 6 years with someone, aren't exactly super-ramped-up hump bunnies.

My other thought might sound odd, but give it a try: classical conditioning, to associate her with sexual feelings, look at her every time while you orgasm and avoid orgasm when she's not there. Avoid porn. It's my best guess. Don't orgasm and then look at her, it should be simultaneous and when you're done, take some time to yourself for a while.

Working out is probably always a good idea. If you feel like she's not attracted to you, might as well do what you can to improve.
posted by kathrineg at 8:48 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Certain problems with chemistry and sexual attraction can be temporary -- changes in living situation, one-off emotional problems, depression, taking the other person for granted, miscommunication, no communication. These problems can be fixed as long as there is some fundamental deeper level of sexual attraction and chemistry.

Your problem doesn't seem temporary -- it seems like the both of you just have romantically-incompatible personalities and no underlying chemistry. All I am saying is that you need to realize that your situation is not going to change very much however hard you try to change it. Accept this fact with your whole heart and commit, if you don't want to take the risk of going out there and finding someone else.

Also, whatever Sidhedevil said.
posted by moiraine at 9:22 AM on July 31, 2009

OR she won't. Read my whole answer before selectively quoting from it. Thankskbye
posted by parmanparman at 9:41 AM on July 31, 2009

I have no complaints except the other person is not really my type physically.

I'd suggest you read through this thread, particularly this comment. I think the key question isn't "Is she your type?"--as in, the type of physical beauty you'd be drawn to in a photograph or when looking at a stranger--but rather "Do you have good chemistry?" It might well be that the chemistry just isn't there, and that's something to think seriously about. But on the other hand, if you're just puzzling over the fact that you've spent 6 years loving someone who doesn't match your usual physical preferences, that's something else.

Another would be to be more helpful with household chores which I know she would appreciate.

This is perfect. Do this, and let her know it's because you want to be "all in" in your life together--not just for the schmoopy stuff, not just when you exchange "I love you," but also in the mundane moments like when the bathroom needs cleaning or the dishes are piling up in the sink. It's nice to do the occasional romantic gesture like flowers or dinner out (and I'm not knocking those things at all), but I think there's real value in showing your partner you're "all in" in a concrete way on a daily basis.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:45 AM on July 31, 2009

Since you mentioned that you don't many friends to provide a frame of reference, I'll add my experience here. Many of us are with partners who aren't physically "our type". Mr 26.2 isn't my type, but I find him very attractive. Weight going up or down, lack of sleep and bad haircuts don't negate the basic physical attraction we have toward each other. If a physical/sexual attraction is important to you, then you should know that it's entirely possible to have that with someone who's not "your type".

Also, it's normal to have ebbs and flows in physical attraction. People have kids, work drama, all kind of crap. Marriage and relationships that last go through exactly what you're going through. The map to get through it changes. Sometimes the fix is more shared time and sometimes it's more autonomy.

I'll expand a bit on what Sidhedevil said. You've proposed external changes to an internal problem. Doing chores and shedding pounds will not correct your emotional disconnect in this relationship. It'll look better on the outside, but you won't be any happier.
posted by 26.2 at 10:15 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

You don't sound very happy with yourself. Work on that (by trying to improve your social anxiety, losing weight, anything that you feel is bringing you down. Try self-help books and therapy too). Then and only then when you truly learn to like who you are will you be able to decide whether you want to be in this relationship for what it is, and not what you think it's protecting you from.
posted by hazyjane at 11:59 AM on July 31, 2009

I'd recommend considering the difference between feeling and doing.

For example, is love a feeling or an action?
"I love her" means I have this feeling, it just happens, and I call that feeling love.
"I love her" describes what I do. I do an action, which I call love.

"I feel attracted to her" means I have this feeling, it just happens, and I call that feeling attraction.
"I am attracted to her" describes what I do. I do an action, which I call being attracted.

Some people think these things just happen -- they fall in love, they are attracted to another person physically, and if they don't feel these things well it was never meant to be. But other people believe these are purposeful actions: They don't just happen to fall in love or be attracted to someone, but instead take actual steps to do it.

I think once you decide which camp you fall in, you'll know better what to do.
posted by Houstonian at 4:43 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm not going to touch the logistics of attraction, especially in a male's head, as I am not a male.

If you truly do love this woman and find that besides her physical appearance, the rest of her is wonderful invest early and often. So to make a better stab at the relationship, here's my take:

1. Working out is a great idea, it's good for you, it will make you feel better, and happier.
2. Please help with chores. Unprovoked.
3. Talk to her. Tell her you want to be more involved. Ask her how. Communicating is a beautiful thing.
4. Do things together that are new and at least interesting. As often as you can. Strange food, crazy theater, uncharted territory.
5. Do this for 3 months, then evaluate. Are you happier? More attracted? Less? Maybe you'll need more time. You'll be surprised how your frame of mind can change things. Perhaps you being half in, half out is the issue, not her.
6. Oh, and compliment her. Not only to her, but to yourself. Tell yourself she's your type, or that you're attracted, or whatever. Everyday. Buy her sexy clothing, seduce her. Again, power of the brain here, but maybe she is your type, and you just don't know.

Good luck.
posted by anniek at 6:00 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

A bit too much sharing to follow - but there ya go:)

When you say your partner does not fit your physical attraction - do you mean race, gender, height, hair color, looks - OR WHAT??

Do you know the Kinsey Scale of sexuality, that folks fall on some sort of line between Homosexual -or- Heterosexual??

Well, I am paraphrasing here - but I think gender and sexuality are more like a game of "BattleShip" - more of a 3D model. Same goes for emotional and physical traits one finds themselves attracted to.

For example, I am happily married to a very masculine guy, who is totally handsome and emotionally lovely - but there was every chance before we met and fell in love that I might've ended up with someone in the transgendered or transvestite range of things.


I am pretty sure that whenever a wonderful (albeit previously unperceived possible) collection of traits in "THE ONE" comes across your horizon - you know them instantly. Looks don't matter so much.


My short answer is that if you are unsure, break-up and keep looking. Why are you so wonderful a partner that you should keep your current SO from finding someone who loves the shit out of them?? Seriously.


Please write back to list when you have that issue of what/who you are attracted to figured out! The only thing clear from your question is that your current SO is only so-so in terms of your needs and requirements. I'm attempting to give you a basis upon which to start your self-inquiry, but in the meantime, please do let your current SO find someone they can depend on to love them as they are.

posted by jbenben at 7:06 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I actually do think there's something to saying that you'll have more chemistry and attraction if your partner is more interested. I know I'm less attractive when my mood is "dammit, dishes!" than when I'm thinking about what a lovely evening it's been since my partner took care of the after-dinner cleanup and we got to cuddle up for a movie. Attraction isn't all physical and over time, conditioning can really kick in - when you see your partner naked it's pretty hard to evaluate attractiveness in the rush of endorphins from all the good times you've had naked together in the past. So if you're not conditioning yourself to her right, that would be a thing to work on - have good times together physically, even ones that aren't sex. Heck, have good times together period.

As far as making her happy, you need to know what matters to her. Lots of people do see love in acts of service like the housework mentioned (perhaps especially women, who are often taught to show love by serving other people). And taking some tension off her definitely makes things go more smoothly, makes her happier/sexier/more interested in romance/etc. But for a lot of people, that will be appreciated but not say "I love you". So in addition to the normal contributions it's worth thinking about what you know of her - what does she do for you to show love? - and trying to do things that will strengthen your relationship and make both of you happier together.
posted by Lady Li at 1:06 AM on August 1, 2009

Oh! There's also a book called Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay that's intended for much the same purpose. I've never read it myself but I've seen it recommended in many similar situations. It's supposed to contain good advice both for evaluating your current relationship and for recommitting to it if you so choose. Maybe it's aimed at women, but there's got to be something you can glean from it.
posted by Lady Li at 1:08 AM on August 1, 2009

I think it's swell that you're looking for ways to make her happy; that shows a very compassionate side, but I don't see the connection of doing those things making her suddenly more attractive to you.

I think that if it's never been there, it's not going to flare up after 6 years.

Everyone does deserve to be with someone who wants to eat them up. And those people are out there for both of you.

Social anxiety or not, you're not doing either one of you any favors by sticking together.
posted by dzaz at 4:05 AM on August 1, 2009

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