What happens as a relationship ages?
July 10, 2012 3:50 AM   Subscribe

I am not totally happy with my relationship. I need some perspective…please help me figure out whether this is just a phase and I should stick it out or whether I really want to move on.

TLDR; is becoming what feels like roommates the normal progression of a relationship? How do I know if I’m merely temporarily dissatisfied or whether I should be ending my relationship?

My husband and I are in our early 30s and have been together nearly 12 years. We have good jobs, a nice house and various furry pets. We are both pretty independent and introverted, although he is more anti-social than I am. We have been trying for a baby for the last two years with no success, but there is no obvious cause for our infertility and we’re unlikely to go ahead with assisted reproduction (having a child is a considered choice, not driven by a desperate burning desire to procreate).

On and off over the last year, I’ve been considering our current life together and wondering if this is really what I want. I feel like our relationship is missing something. All the little things that have been bothering me for years are coming together in a mass that makes me want to walk away and start a new life. Some of the things that bug me are:
- a lack of day to day physical affection (few hugs/kisses, refusing to hold my hand when we’re walking)
- a refusal to buy me flowers in spite of knowing I love fresh flowers (I buy them for myself occasionally because he won’t)
- a lack of shared interests and an unwillingness on his side to compromise and try things that I enjoy, while still expecting me to do the things he enjoys.

It feels like we’re roommates rather than a couple. I would like more physical affection and talking. I would like to do more together, and I would like to do more with others as a couple too. He’s not interested in making new friends and isn’t particularly keen to have people round. If I don’t organise something for us to do, he’ll spend the whole weekend on the computer. It feels like if I stopped making an effort we would just ignore each other.

I have tried expressing the above, carefully, because being too emotional causes him to shut down. I even made a list of things we could try doing together and asked him to do the same. He only came up with three suggestions and the only item on both our lists was playing online games. So we’re doing that at least! It’s not all bad…he is funny and cares enough to come up with really good birthday presents for the people he loves (including me). And who else would be willing to amuse me by singing the jingles of the businesses we drive past on the way to work?

It’s not like these are huge issues…I have a tendency to wind myself up about things that are bothering me and blowing things out of proportion. Please give me some perspective! Is this just what happens in a relationship as it gets older? His essential character hasn’t changed; I knew all this when we got married but at the moment I feel like want more than we have together. How do I go about working out what I really want?

Please hope me!
posted by eloeth-starr to Human Relations (31 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
From your list of the things that bug you, have you tried directly asking for initiating/directly asking for them? I am going to quote my answer to a previous question in case it applies,
"You know honey, I love both orchids as well as dudes who go hunting for them, decapitate them, and bring them back to me in pretty vases. I really like you and I want you to be that dude."

You might find it worth while, beyond orchids even, to deconstruct why you want him to procure the flowers without you asking him to. To reduce the answer to this question to its fundamental logical absurdity, there really isn't a magical way to communicate to him that you want flowers without communicating to him that you want flowers. Once you do, if he is capable of listening, he may continue you get you flowers without you continuing to ask.

Everything that requires complex varieties of communication becomes much much easier when the communication happens in a way where both parties can see and understand the message. This might seem like an absurdly simple message, but it is one that our culture consistently devalues. We are supposed to like it when sex is silent but each partner still somehow knows exactly what the other wants, spouses arn't supposed to argue about finances because being a team somehow means having homogenous opinions, and friends should somehow just know when they should apologize for that thing they did that really upset you. We are shown and told over and over again from childhood that open communication about an act can somehow sap the romance of it, shatter the tranquility of it, or dilute the meaning of it; but that is all bullshit.

Sex only starts getting awesome when you ask for what you want, important decisions only stop producing bitterness when those involved talk about what they want, and friendships only really get close when friends share their hearts. This is what intimacy really is, rather than what is presented to us on our TVs. Good romance is shared, not imposed, if he is any smart he will jump at the opportunity to share this co-created moment with you rather than strain to think of one to impose on you.
That said, a little settling out is very normal for longer relationships, and it would be really surprising if it didn't happen in a relationship that has survived through late teenagerhood/early twenties to early thirties. It can be easy for a sort of natural entropy to select out unpredictable things as a relationship evolves, and one way to handle this might be adding in interesting structure that will last, things like taking a predictable pottery class together, or going on a weekly raid together, or going on a weekly other thing you guys like. This will of course require his active involvement and if he is unwilling to provide that then you will only have a growing pile of issues until that changes.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:16 AM on July 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

I've been with my partner for nearly 11 years, I get hugs and kisses pretty much every day and fresh flowers when I'm feeling down (and at random other intervals too, just to make me smile). He's not big on compromise either but if something is really important to me he will make an effort.

My parents have married for 40 years (together even longer), I don't know about lately but when I was a kid I still remember them being disgustingly lovey with each other, they'd have been together over 20 years and had 2 kids at that point. My Dad has never missed my mum's birthday, ever and still makes a big deal of valentines day. Even when he's been working away, he's found a way to get home to be with her. One year he didn't think he was going to be able to get time off and he was devastated, but he managed to get off work early and drive 3 hours to surprise her.

I can't tell you what you should do but I do know that lack of affection etc is not inevitable as relationships get older. Its normal to level out to a comfortable baseline but not go away to the point of being roommates. You have to ask yourself though, is this a steady decline or just a rough patch? Its not uncommon to go through periods of dissatisfaction in a relationship for various reasons.

If you're asking for what you need and he is unwilling to even try to give you what you need, (you say he refuses to buy you flowers?! - what exactly did he say? Did he give any reason?), you have to ask yourself, can you accept that? Can you learn to be happy doing your own thing and buying yourself flowers etc?
posted by missmagenta at 4:29 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Refusing to do anything that would make you happy seems like a deal breaker.
posted by heyjude at 4:40 AM on July 10, 2012 [17 favorites]

The most basic question that this makes me ask is: is he willing to engage with this project with you as a partner? If so, I have gret hopes for you and your relationship. But if he isn't, then it's all on you ... And that ain't a relationship, at least not one of peers, which it sounds like you want.

Talk to him forthrightly and explain that this could be a deal breaker for you, that you're committed to making it work, but you need him to be willing to participate, change, and grow.

The outcome of that conversation is likely to clarify your options.

Good luck!!
posted by rosa at 4:43 AM on July 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

We have been trying for a baby for the last two years with no success, but there is no obvious cause for our infertility and we're unlikely to go ahead with assisted reproduction

Don't under estimate the impact infertility has on a marriage. Most people choose life partners at least in some part because they think that partner will make a good parent, and assume they will be able to parent together. When that does not happen, it drastically changes the narrative of your life and causes many people to re-evaluate everything, including their choice of spouse.

You don't mention if you're considering adoption. I have found the above to be true for couples who are considering adoption, but even more profoundly true for people who opt not to have children. Either way, the situation invites you to re-consider your spouse from a new perspective, and "Well, fuck; if I'd known we wouldn't be having kids, would I still have married you?" is a pretty common thing to ask yourself. (Everyone says "infertility puts a lot of stress on marriages" but the ways in which does so are not always obvious or even spoken about.)
posted by DarlingBri at 4:49 AM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

On and off over the last year, I’ve been considering our current life together and wondering if this is really what I want.

Though you present this as simply trying to make a rational decision about what to do, I suspect that you are actually quite angry at him but are hesitant to get "emotional." You say that causes him to "shut down" but I'm not sure what that means. Rather than discussing your requested changes, I think you need to first discuss how you talk to one another about what's important to you. He needs to hear how you feel about this, not just plans and suggestions, and you need him to be present--i.e. not shut down for the conversation. If the two of you can't have that kind of talk, you may need someone (e.g. a therapist) to facilitate it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:02 AM on July 10, 2012 [12 favorites]

My wife and I also struggled with infertility. So I know from personal experience that it's an incredibly stressful thing, and it can color how you see everything, even if you're not aware of the connection.

It sounds as though your husband hasn't changed; he's still the person you loved twelve years ago. And if he has changed some-- well, it could very well be that he, too, is reacting to a tough and stressful situation.

And so, while I don't want to seem like I'm invalidating your feelings, I do think they may have at least something to do with this huge issue that's hanging over you.

I have a rule: never make major decisions at 4AM -- it's a time of night when everything seems a little hopeless. And if you've been trying to have children for two years, and have recently concluded that you are never going to have them... You are in a sort of 4AM of the soul.

I would strongly encourage you hold off on making any major changes until you feel like you've reached a spiritual 8AM, if that makes sense.
posted by yankeefog at 5:14 AM on July 10, 2012 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Is he aware that breaking up is on the table? Some of these (flowers, kisses, holding hands) seem like very trivial things that he might not enjoy but would probably do if he realized how non-negotiable they were to you. Different people place different values on how much they want (or don't want) certain things, so something that (for example) you want at a level of "8" he might dislike at a level of "2" but because he doesn't realize how MUCH you want it (he thinks you only want it at a level of "1") he refuses to do it. Does that make sense.

My concern is that you'll decide that he doesn't care about you (a legitimate grievance), gradually prepare yourself for a breakup, and by the time he realizes how serious the problem is there'll be no chance to fix things because you'll have emotionally disconnected. That's sort of unfair, so I would strongly recommend making him aware well in advance that this is "dealbreaker" level territory. To have a successful relationship, you need to emphasize not only your needs but also how IMPORTANT each specific need is to you. This is critical to the negotiation process that all relationships go through.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 5:23 AM on July 10, 2012 [32 favorites]

Keep asking for what you want and be clear about it. Tell him you want more non-sexy time physical affection from him, too.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:39 AM on July 10, 2012

I think the infertility thing should get credit for about 30-40% of what you're feeling -- from society's viewpoint, a) you're in the 'perfect' situation and b) it's what we're 'trained' to do next -- get spouse, job, house, have kid. There are no architypal storylines out there for what happens if you don't have a kid. I know there was a while there for me when I couldn't envision anything past caring for a young child -- as a woman, it seems like the subconscious message is that breeding is the pinnacle of the mountain, and everything after that is down hill. Even when you logically KNOW better, it takes the subconscious a while to find peace with that. Secondly, you've been working on it for two years and it seems to be coming to an end. That's going to feel a little crappy, even if what was driving you was not a 'burning desire'.

So, yeah. What now? Well, part of what now is that you examine you marriage -- and sometimes the motivation to examine your marriage comes from a normal checking-in type space, but sometimes it comes from one 'plan' coming to an end and not having anything new to think about.

So I think a little time to absorb the child-free future, mixed with finding a new exciting life goal for yourself, would take care of some of these feelings.

That said, something is a little /off/ with your husband. Spending every weekend on the computer, while extremely common, is not really healthy for him, or your marriage. And the anti-social thing sets off warning lights in my head -- not every one yearns for companionship the same way, but this seems maybe to lean towards depression and/or social anxiety. Those things would mean that he's less able to honor your requests for affection & flowers -- you still absolutely deserve them, but the lack of them *might* not be personal. I would consider asking him to check in with a therapist, and absolutely seeking couples therapy.

Relationships do age, and feeling like room-mates a couple weeks out of each month is pretty normal -- but when it's good, the room-mates aspect doesn't feel like something's missing, it just feels like ebb and flow. You've felt like something is missing for a while, and part of that might be feeling like a baby is missing -- but I think part of that is that something IS missing.
posted by MeiraV at 5:57 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does "refuses to hold hands" mean he fails to take your hand, or does it mean he grimaces and pulls away when you take his? Does "refuses to buy you flowers" mean doesn't buy you flowers, or that he hears you say you'd like flowers but never gets around to it, or hears you say you'd like him to buy you flowers and says that he will not? Maybe he's a bit passive, or not much of an initiator, or maybe you are. If things just don't occur to him, you can initiate and/or request. If he actually refuses, he's kind of a jerk.
posted by Occula at 6:07 AM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Husbunny was an only-child and therefore the universe revolves around him. He walks around in a fog, oblivious to most things. Frequently I have to remind him to hold doors for people, get ME a glass with ice when setting the table and other prodding merely to understand that there are other people in the room.

Understanding that this is who he is helps a lot with the frustration factor. He's not ignoring me, he's listening to a cow playing an accordion in his head.

You have to negotiate this stuff with your husband. Remind him that there are two of you in the relationship and that he will sometimes have to do something for you EVEN IF HE DOESN'T WANT TO! This is the part he currently does not understand.

You naturally will do stuff that doesn't light your fire, simply to keep him company, while he won't reciprocate because he thinks that you ENJOY watching Comic Book Hero movies. Seriously.

You must set him straight and bargain with him to do stuff he doesn't like merely to make you happy.

One thing Husbunny has an issue with is children. He doen't like them. We have Godkids. I tell him that I expect him to do X during a visit. Interact with the kid a little freaking bit. THEN, you can sequester yourself in the office with You Tube for the rest of the weekend.

We work it out. I find that I have to explicitly tell him what to do. "Dude, I want you to clean the downstairs bathroom. That means take everything out of it, wipe it down with cleaner and make it sparkle. The floor too." He'll even ask me to inspect his work.

Ask your husband why he's not willing to do things just to make you happy. Not confrontationally, but informationally, "Sweetie, what keeps you from buying me flowers, just because you know I like them? It would mean so much to me to be surprised that way."

You should feel free to discuss anything with your husband, even the hard stuff.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:08 AM on July 10, 2012 [23 favorites]

Husbunny was an only-child and therefore the universe revolves around him. He walks around in a fog, oblivious to most things. Frequently I have to remind him to hold doors for people, get ME a glass with ice when setting the table and other prodding merely to understand that there are other people in the room.

As an only child myself, this sounds very familar (and so very true). It's not that I don't care, just that my upbringing means I've never needed to worry about other people, so it takes an active effort to remind myself to consider my impact on other people, rather than it happening naturally.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:33 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have tried expressing the above, carefully, because being too emotional causes him to shut down.

This really stuck out to me. Sounds like he's trained you to suppress your needs for fear of inconveniencing him. From your description, he sounds withholding and self-absorbed. I mean, come on, he shuts down completely because you have normal human emotions? Sorry, but that's bullshit. You should be able to express your feelings to your spouse. How do you think he would be able to deal with a kid who can't rationalize yet? Or cope with your having a difficult pregnancy or PPD? Take kids off the table right away. From what you've said, you need more of an emotional connection than he's able to provide. That's ok. "Funny" and "gives good birthday gifts" are not substitutes for emotional intimacy, they just look like it. Do you realize you're walking on eggshells when it comes to voicing your needs because he's made your emotions a scapegoat for all the relationships' issues?

You are feeling like roommates because he isn't sharing intimacy with you. And it sounds like he's actively resistant to showing affection to you. You said you feel like you're putting in all the effort to spend time with him; well that's because you are.

Couples counseling. Enough of this nonsense about shutting down when it's convenient for him. He either learns to accept your emotions as legitimate and just as real as his own or he GsTFO. Sorry this is harsh, but I have been in a similar situation and I only wish I'd DedTMF years earlier.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:56 AM on July 10, 2012 [25 favorites]

Best answer: My concern is that you'll decide that he doesn't care about you (a legitimate grievance), gradually prepare yourself for a breakup, and by the time he realizes how serious the problem is there'll be no chance to fix things because you'll have emotionally disconnected.

Please don't let this happen.

Swallow some pride and tell him in no uncertain terms What You Want. It may seem like you're insulting his intelligence, or trying to control him, but that's better than writing him off because he continues to fail a test that he doesn't even know he's taking.
posted by General Tonic at 6:57 AM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

1. As others have said, tell him in clear language what you want. Current husband taught me that and it's been one of the keys to our happiness together.

2. If you have told him what you want and he refuses to make an effort... just before I married husband #1, there was an event in which all the participants traditionally get flowers. I love flowers. I asked for flowers. I was told they were too expensive and they die so what's the point. I offered to pay, reiterated that I really love flowers and that I don't usually ask for them but this was a special event, etc. Day of the event, I was the only person without flowers. Engaged, theoretically happy but sad and lonely and flowerless.
After the divorce, I realized that I should have listened to what this told me about him. I would never have gone ahead with the marriage and could have saved myself several unhappy years of continued displays of selfishness and disregard for my happiness and eventually the cost of a divorce.

If he knows what makes you happy and won't try;
If he knows what makes him happy and insists that you try;
This is not a marriage of equals.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:13 AM on July 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Kitty Stardust makes an excellent point. If you guys have a kid, someday that kid is going to turn into a teenager that runs out the room yelling "I hate you!" and slamming the door. This thing about him not being able to handle feelings is really, really not going to work then, so it's better to move past it now. Couple's counseling is a great venue for having difficult conversations.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:21 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Favorited Kitty Stardust's post for truth - Ragged Richard's also. Other people have given excellent advice about getting couples counseling and clearly stating your needs to him. I just want to add:

- Please think twice, three times, a thousand times about having kids in a relationship you are not sure will work. When you have a child, you are giving your child a parent, and the kid has no say in the matter. You can choose whether to stay in a marriage; a young child is saddled with a parent for good or for ill.

Don't have a child with anyone who YOU wouldn't want as a parent. Would you want your husband for a father? How will he deal with a young child (who is, by definition, an emotional being) or a moody teenager? How will you feel if your husband and your child never really get along? If a possible bad relationship with your husband spills over into an estrangement or semi-estrangement with you both?

Hold off on the child issue until you have resolved your couple issues. They could very well be fixable with counseling (for both of you) assertiveness (on your part) and willingness to meet you halfway (on his).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:38 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I was in a relationship for 2.5 years with this exact guy, right down to the issue with flowers! So you have my back on the not being satisfied part.

I could never get him to even acknowledge the lack of intimacy in our relationship. Literally, he'd give me a blank look and change the subject. If I really tried to force it he'd go into eyes glazed over mode and wait for his escape. I can only speculate on what the underlying problem was, his parents had a roommate styled relationship and maybe that's just what he thought it was supposed to look like.

After struggling with it for over a year, I realized I had never had this issue in a relationship before. I didn't know how to manufacture intimacy, it had always naturally happened. And if that was the case, the problem lay with him, and not me. And you can't change other people against their will, and it was very clear he had zero desire to change.

Considering how long you've been together, and the fact that you are dealing with unknown fertility issues (don't underestimate how deep that pain goes), I strongly encourage you find someone to walk you two through issues before making any major life decisions. Having a third party there means he can't continue to ignore the problem, and they won't allow him to shut down your expression of emotions.

The guy I was dating made it known he was against any type of therapy for any reason and refused to go. I think the thought of dealing with his and other peoples emotions was terrifying to him.
posted by Dynex at 7:42 AM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

I could have written your question myself, within the last few years. Except for the fertility issues (we didn't have or want kids) you describe my husband and our relationship very accurately. What happened? Divorce. And I'm much happier now. I'm not saying that it's the right solution for you, but in the real world, people grow apart, and sometimes starting over is appropriate. I hope your relationship issues are resolved for you, one way or another.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 7:45 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Slightly different perspective from some of the others, I also could have written your letter in the past - but we're good now and I'd like to ask you. Are you happy? I mean, outside of your relationship. Do you have enough friends? Is your job fufilling you? You say you don't have a burning desire to have a child, but are you disappointed, even if only because you have "failed" at something that's "supposed to be easy"?

It's super easy to "blame" your spouse for the fact you aren't happy. It's even easy to find supporting documentation for it (he refuses to bring me flowers) I'm not saying that type of thing couldn't be a real problem, but think about the last time you guys were happy. Was he bringing you flowers then? You've been together 12 years, did he change, or did you? I was dealing with some pretty heavy depression issues and I ended up projecting a lot of my disatisfaction with life in general onto my relationship. I'm not saying my husband WAS bringing me flowers, but he never has. It's not one of the ways that he shows affection for me. But he does send me little emails during the day occasionally, or share a favorite song, or clean the kitchen so I don't have to, or let me take a nap on Sunday afternoon while he takes the kid out.

If you WERE happy with the way your husband showed affection in the past (and 12 years is an awfully long time for you to have been putting up with it) why aren't you now? If he's doing less that's one thing, if your needs have changed thats also a legitimate thing, but it's worth examining if you're unhappy for other reasons and not seeing the good things that you used to appreciate.
posted by dadici at 8:15 AM on July 10, 2012 [9 favorites]

Best answer: It is natural for a relationship to change and evolve (or, devolve...) as time goes on. This is natural. However, many people don't know how to handle said change.

I think the things you can do to help are: communicate, learn and use love languages, and get yourself into therapy. Also, communicate. Then communicate some more. Maybe setting boundaries.

As for him... well, there are certainly some issues on his side, too, I'd say. If he is willing to work with you, I very much believe the marriage can be saved. If not.... get yourself in the best possible place, try your best, and forgive yourself if it doesn't work. At worst, you are in a much better place for your next relationship. Not ideal, I know, but... realistic.

love language quick guide: Physical touch, quality time, gifts, services, words of encouragement. A lot of time, people don't know their partners language, so they try to give in their own language, and both parties end up feeling unloved.
posted by Jacen at 8:52 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

It’s not like these are huge issues

I disagree; they are significant issues. Not the flowers or hand-holding per se, but what they (and the other issues) represent. Simply put, you are not being met with the basic daily requirements of affection, and your needs and feelings are not being acknowledged. These are among the basic prerequisites for a happy, healthy, sustainable relationship. (This author calls them the "5 A's" -- Attention, Acceptance, Appreciation, Affection, and "Allowing.")

You feel like something is missing from your relationship because it is. Don't try to talk yourself out of your very human need and desire for real connection with your partner. I don't know if you can achieve it with your husband (I hope there's a way), but there is nothing wrong with you for wanting it and for doing what it takes to seek it.
posted by scody at 9:10 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Husbunny was an only-child and therefore the universe revolves around him.

Self-centeredness is not a defining trait of the only child. It is merely the defining trait of a poorly parented child.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:35 AM on July 10, 2012 [18 favorites]

Been there, done that, sent the postcards: "Wish I wasn't here." Thankfully, my husband and I found a way out. Here's what worked for me, but YMMV.

TL;DR: Try isolating what you need from what you want. Think about what you need from *a* relationship and see how it matches to what you have now. Approach your partner with the list, letting him know that you're starting to think deal-breakers, and see what solutions you can develop together.


1. Detached a bit - got a bit of my own life. Not so much as to completely render the relationship useless, but I went out with friends, took some classes, generally did things that made me happy without much consideration for his opinion of it. Again, not in a nasty way, just in a doing-something-for-me way.

2. Really thought about what I want from *A* relationship, separate from what I wanted from *THIS* relationship. I wrote it all down, and then matched that list to what I was getting from *THIS* relationship. This was good for a few reasons. It helped me to see what was still working for me in this relationship - sometimes we get so focused on what's wrong that we forget what's right - and it also helped me with the next step.

3. My husband is a really smart guy, but he also has a tendency to freeze in emotional discussions. I realized that I'm an extrovert and he's an introvert. I talk to figure out what I think about things, whereas he has to think before he talks about things. I realized that when I would want to talk about stuff, it would end up sounding like this wall of sound, like a Charlie Brown parent. I started thinking stuff out BEFORE talking with him, so that I had a clear idea of what I wanted to talk about and what resolution I wanted. So when I did the exercise above with the lists, I thought about it, picked the important things, and could go to him and say, "This is what I need that I'm not getting. What can we do to fix it?"

Example: Previous style: "So, like, I'm feeling kinda... I dunno. Like we're having issues and I don't feel so close, and I don't want to be roommates, because that's a bummer, but there's just some stuff and I was hoping that maybe we could be more romantic, you know?"

New style: "We haven't gone out in a few weeks and I'm feeling disconnected. I know I've been really stressed about work. Would you like to go to dinner tonight? I'd love to hear about that book you've been reading."

4. Pick the things that matter, and let go of the things that don't. I do this a lot with socializing. It's not important to me that he go see "Brave" with me - I can do that with a friend, or on my own. It is important that he go with me to a friend's engagement party. I'm very clear about these things. "Honey, I was thinking about going to go see Brave tonight. Would you like to go? No worries if you don't want to come with me, but I thought you might like to see it as well." versus "Hey, Alex and Jessica's engagement party is on the 19th. It's really important to me that you come with me. Can you block it off on your calendar?" The flip side of this is that he made the commitment to me that if I specify something is important, he'll do everything he can to make it happen. At the same time, he trusts me to not put everything in the "important" category. There has to be some give and take.

5. He may be doing things to show you that he loves you that you're not picking up on (see above recommendations to learn about love languages). We got into a discussion once about why he doesn't bring me flowers. It just doesn't occur to him - but he did point out that he does do stuff to show me he loves me. For instance, he cleans my car off *every* time it snows, because he doesn't want me getting cold and snow covered before I go to work. That's still love, even if it's not what I immediately recognized as a gift. Now, if flowers were really important, I'd put them on the important list and we'd be back at #4. However, I just needed SOME sign - so now every time I get into my non-snowy non-ice-covered car, I'm happy and feel loved.

Now, not all of this was done in a vacuum. It required thought, and time, and trust on our parts, and it didn't happen all at once. But I think - if you're both willing to say, "This is where I'm at and this is where I'd like to be; how do we get there together?" I think you have a chance of getting your needs met and feeling much closer than you do now.
posted by RogueTech at 10:08 AM on July 10, 2012 [24 favorites]

Best answer: Whatever you decide, keep in mind: you are in your early 30's, have no kids, have a good job. Those are crucial facts.

There is NOTHING holding you to this relationship - you can divorce with relatively few complications, since you have no kids, you have a good job, so you don't have to stay for economic reasons. That's also true for him. And being in your early 30's you have your whole life ahead of you and enough time to make radical changes.

You should decide what you want to do, before getting kids or deeper into this, because it will limit your options and complicate things horribly.

Ask yourself - is this all that there is? Do you want the rest of your life to look like this relationship? Is it perhaps worth rolling the dice again, or do you think this is the best you'll ever be able to do? Do you want to "work" on a relationship which is not delivering the bare minimum: affection? As a data point - no, it is not the rule that relationships must inevitably devolve into tense and hopeless boredom - that's a horrendous thing.

Life is short. It's a big world out there. The only thing limiting your horizons is your imagination. Is this relationship the best you can do?

If yes, by all means, go "work" on the relationship. But if you decide that you want more from life, then you are in an excellent position to spread your wings.

You should make your decision as soon as possible - either way - because the sand is trickling down the hourglass.
posted by VikingSword at 11:25 AM on July 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: This happens with every relationship. Have you ever thought what YOU can do to change this relationship and what YOUR are not contributing to it. Blaming the other is always easy. The patterns that you and he are set into didnt happen overnight. You and he didnt nurture the relationship from day one, making sure that the weeds were taken care of early on. The result is a garden full of weeds. And of course you want to leave because that is the easiest way out. Besides everything looks better outside. What about your vows that you too? Did you think that marriage was going to be for a couple of years and then you would move on and find something better? Marriage is a joint collaboration and you BOTH need to contribute to it. He has set himself into his patterns because he was either not aware of it and you didnt say anything before but now that he is set into it, you have suddenly realized it isnt what you want.

Sure you can spread your wings but running away from one situation will not guarantee that you will find something better out there. You will keep running into the same situation. So let's say you leave today and find a great guy tomorrow. 12 years later that great guy will have his own issues that you will be once again posting here.

Not sure why the first option for couples is always to leave. What happened to staying and making a change and respecting the vows they took in the first place?

You are stuck in a rut and it will take superhuman effort to break through. But that is what we sign up for, to support our loved ones and ourselves through thick and thin. And not to run at the first sign of trouble.
posted by pakora1 at 1:29 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: And not to run at the first sign of trouble.

I think this is a profoundly unfair characterization. The OP has been with her partner 12 years, so this is clearly not some minor "first sign of trouble" that she's considering running away from. Moreover, it's not automatically a moral failing to consider leaving an unsatisfying relationship. Not every relationship is built to last for life -- yes, even regardless of the marriage vows people may take (and may mean with all their heart at the time). It can be a cruelty to both partners to continue in a relationship that is fundamentally unsatisfying.

People are allowed to end their relationships (or to consider ending them) without it being a referendum on their decency as human beings.
posted by scody at 1:58 PM on July 10, 2012 [13 favorites]

This happens with every relationship.

No it doesn't. There are plenty of marriages and relationships out there, which only get better with time. Plenty. And they don't require yeoman's "work" to function. In fact, I'd say the opposite - the more backbreaking "work" a relationship requires to satisfy one or both parties, the worse the prospects. The relationships that work best, are between people who are the most compatible - that's what the stats say, however popular the "opposites attract" model seems to be. When people are compatible, it cuts down on the amount of "work" - adjustments and compromises - the couple need to do. There is always going to be some shifting, which is more clear over time, but it's the kind of shifting that's done in a happy pursuit of mutual satisfaction, done out of love. It is not a miserable, teeth-grinding, begrudging and painful compromises which all end up in failure eventually. But the OP is already unhappy and the husband is not shifting at all - this is not a recipe for success. How do you adjust happily? It's when both parties try to take the lead in making the other's happiness their priority - when the only arguments they have is when each wants the other's wishes to prevail. This is obviously not what is happening here.

Is it possible to rescue a relationship gone awry, or should one always flee? The only time you can rescue a relationship that's actually worth having, is when the problem is misunderstanding and lack of communication. If, for example, the husband simply had no idea that the wife wanted flowers, because the wife was not communicative, or the husband is just not tuned in (some people are just less aware of other's moods and wishes) - BUT the moment he was told, he moves heaven and earth to get her flowers. That will work. But not, as here, when he's been told umpteen times, and simply does not care or make it enough of a priority to do anything about it. The latter shows basic incompatibility. And when you have basic incompatibility, you will always have a compromised relationship - you'll forever be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole - and you need to bail, pronto.

Here's a vignette to illustrate the difference: imagine that you inadvertently stood on your partner's foot, causing pain. Partner: "ouch! you're standing on my foot!" - what would you do? You'd JUMP and say - oh my god, I'm so sorry, let me see, are you hurt? Wow, I'll really pay attention next time!" What happened? You messed up, stuff happens. Maybe she stuck her foot in the wrong place, maybe you were careless, or maybe you are less space aware - whatever the case, it was not done out of maliciousness - because if the latter, then it's doomed... would you want to be with someone who deliberately hurts you? No - that's an immediate goodbye. So, things can go awry in a relationship, but it's important to know why they went awry - that it was not through ill-will or lack of caring. But that's not enough. It's also important what happens next. Imagine that when told that you're standing on your partner's foot, you ignore, them - or argue, or go "why, you don't say..." and you KEEP ON STANDING and causing pain. That's unacceptable. That's also a 'goodbye'.

There is zero obligation to stay in a bad relationship, with someone you are not compatible with. This is not the middle ages and you're not living in a medieval theocracy. People make mistakes and marry someone and only later realize the truth. Sometimes people change. But whatever the reason, the key point is: it's not working due to fundamental incompatibility, that was either there from the beginning, or only appeared with time.

You have one life. You owe it to yourself and to your partner to pursue your life to its fullest.
posted by VikingSword at 4:33 PM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This does not sound fulfilling or stable. It sounds draining.

I think you should tell him EXACTLY what you told us here, including that you are thinking of leaving. Total honesty.

You have nothing to lose at this point.

- Yes, it sounds like this relationship is on life-support and not getting any better.
- No, you are not wrong to want more out of an intimate relationship.
posted by jbenben at 10:36 PM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all for your feedback and advice! Everyone's been most helpful and given me a lot to think about...I found reading the differing perspectives and interpretations of what I originally wrote to be particularly interesting and informative.

I need to have a good think about everything that's been said. I intend to read about love languages before talking about this more with my husband since maybe I'm missing something here. Thanks to wolfdreams01 (and several others) I realised I'm in danger of disconnecting and withdrawing without giving us a proper chance to work together and change things.

I don't know where this is going to go but thank you all for contributing and giving me your guidance!
posted by eloeth-starr at 3:45 AM on July 11, 2012

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