How do I know if I am in love "enough" with my partner?
April 30, 2014 7:34 AM   Subscribe

How do I know if I am in love "enough" with my partner? Snowflakery to follow

(Note: commencing therapy this week)
My partner of 1 year (lived together 6 months) is always telling me I don't love him. I'm not always sure if he's fishing for compliments (he also says he's not handsome when he knows he is) or serious or both. I think both. He often says I love him but am not in love with him, or that I'm not sexually attracted to him. It's really annoying and also makes me question myself more than I already do.

The problems:
*he feels loved and accepted when we have sex. This probably only happens once every week or two at the moment. I previously had an extremely high sex drive and was promiscuous when I was single, but now I have a new business and am exhausted most of the time. I am also on ssri's which I KNOW are impacting my sex drive. I hate feeling pressured to be all sexy when I just want to sleep. I am less sexually attracted to him than I was at the start but I still think he's handsome and sex is generally satisfying. I Do find confidence and stereotypical masculinity attractive and he's not exhibiting either of these at the moment. He talks in a baby voice when he's affectionate which I think is very cute but doesn't make me want to jump his bones. He knows I like sexually dominant men. I have bought things for him to tie me up with but he's never done it. Vanilla sex is OK but doesn't drive me totally crazy. In general though I'm upset about feeling like I've lost my sexuality (I rarely masturbate anymore either, having previously been a 2-3 times a dayer. I have seen a doctor and am on a new ssri that seems even worse. I can cut but it takes a while, it used to be effortless.) - I don't feel confident to be sexually in front of him until we are having sex (to initiate I just ask, I feel to awkward to seduce him. I have intimacy issues - see below. Everyone always says sex is better with a partner but I always found it much more exciting with strangers, even if it was not physically better.
*My last relationship ended 5 years ago and was very unhealthy and cruel and broke my heart very badly. It took me a long time to even consider WHY someone would want a boyfriend after that, let alone get to the point of trusting someone. This makes me unclear whether any doubts I have about the relationship come from my leftover issues or whether I hold onto the relationship because it is so good and I'm afraid I could never find another man who is as good hearted again.
*I don't have "the spark" with him and never really did... In my experience I've only had that intense throw-you-off-balance feeling with people who were unavailable or emotionally unavailable, so it made sense to me to go for someone who made me feel calm and happy and loving, rather than someone I wanted to impress. He is upset that I don't want to impress him. Occasionally I will get that feeling with a random person and it makes me wonder whether I need that feeling/wish I had that with my bf. Recently he noticed me being very attracted to a waiter and was beside himself and upset with me.
*he is an introvert with no close friends. I am a massive extrovert with a million things going on. I love how calming he is in my life and that I don't have to be "on" around him, but sometimes I wish he was more exciting/had more of his own life so I wouldn't feel bad when I accept invitations by myself. There's no "pull" in the relationship because he is always there. I told him this and he said I don't love him for who he is and I wish he was someone else.

The good:
He is the kindest, sweetest boy (we are 30 but that's how I think of him if that helps) I know, our values are the same, he treats me very well, I love spending lounge around time with him, we have a lot of silly fun together, he smells delicious, there is nothing about him that could ever disgust me, I love his body and I always feel a pull that I want to cuddle into him or always be touching him in some way. Whenever I see him sleeping I just melt. He's open to being more dominant in bed and says he gets off on it when he does.

I don't want to waste his time or hurt him (more) but maybe he's right, maybe he is 80% of what I'm looking for. I feel like I've become very boring since I started my business (working very long days will do that I guess) so some of my quest for excitement may be about myself, not him.

But how do I know if I love him enough? If this is enough? I would miss him so so so badly if he was gone, so many little things would remind me of him and I would just want him back. I know, I tried to break up with him once before. But in some ways I wish i didn't love him so i could just start over and not have these complications (good luck I know!)

Do you think I love him enough? Do you think the sexual chemistry stuff can be worked out?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

I don't think you love him enough for his comfort level. He doesn't feel the same connection he had with you before. And you aren't completely into him as much as he needs.

So this is a classic "his needs exceed what you can give" scenario. It's not something that is your fault. It's not something that is his fault. It's incompatibility. So unless one of you is willing to change, you have to be open enough to him to say "Where are we if I can't give you what you want?"

I suspect the end is close, sadly. Liking him isn't enough for either one of you. He needs more and so do you.
posted by inturnaround at 7:43 AM on April 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Rule of thumb: When you're summing up everything about your relationship like this, what you say last is how you really feel.

But in some ways I wish i didn't love him so i could just start over and not have these complications (good luck I know!)

Break up with him. Do it gently. Use Miko's Breakup Guidelines.
posted by Etrigan at 7:45 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

He is (let's pretend) now eighty-five and has a variety of health bothers. You: sigh contentedly thinking how nice it would be for the two of you to be there for each other fifty-five years on? Or are you knee-jerking disgust at still having to deal with his crap?

The behaviour certainly sounds annoying. I don't personally know of any ongoing 'you don't love me [enough]!' scenarios that did not eventually result in 'You know what? You're right. Goodbye.'
posted by kmennie at 7:46 AM on April 30, 2014 [15 favorites]

It sounds like your only problems are that you are stressed & on new meds.

The rest is part of going from 'dating' to a more serious partnership: knowing what you need and communicating it to your partner.

You need to make it clear to him that it's a hard time for you and that you need support from him. You are feeling so depleted that you aren't giving back what you want to. Tell him you love him & are nuts about him; tell him "I love spending lounge around time with you, we have a lot of silly fun together, you smell delicious."

Tell him this constant "you don't love me" is puzzling you and you want to understand where its coming from.

You want kinkier sex. This can be worked on. Communication. Watch some kinky movies together and tell him that's what you like.

This guy sounds fine, he sounds like a regular good guy. You sound stressed, so just talk talk talk. This will bring you guys closer.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:46 AM on April 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

He's asking for things that you are unable to give him. Some people are just black holes of need. If he's unable to understand that your work schedule and SSRi are both making you tired and less inclined to sex, and yet he's pushing for his needs, that ain't good.

You have issues, but we all do. I'm more inclined to kink than Husbunny is, but that doesn't diminish my attraction to him. I tone down to his comfort level and I'm perfectly okay with it.

All relationships are trade-offs, and that's okay. But if you feel that you're making all the compromises, and he's not appreciating what you need, then it's not working.

Sometimes you walk away from a relationship that has a lot of positives going for it, but in the end isn't what you need. It really sucks because you may still love the person, but not enough to commit to them for the long term.

Do you see yourself being with him forever? Would you rather be with someone who is more in-line with you sexually, and who still is sweet and kind and generous?

This is not the last man in the world for you. The good news is that you're picking folks who are good at the core, it's just a matter of fine tuning things.

I'll say it, because I believe it. Only move in with people you're willing to make a lifetime committment to. It would be so much easier to break up, if you didn't have to move in the bargain.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:54 AM on April 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

If he weren't constantly telling you you didn't love him, would you even be asking this question? Are you genuinely independently questioning the strength of your feelings for him, or his HE the only one questioning your feelings?

In the first case, a year in, you should probably break up.

If it's the latter, the problem is that you aren't showing him love in the way he needs. That may be the sex - once every week or two is pretty sparing. Can you get him off even when you're not in the mood?

Have a conversation about the baby talk, tying you up, and being dominant in bed. Do it in a non-sexual context (cooking, in the car, going for a walk.) "I know we haven't been having sex as often lately. I have some ideas for things we can try together to make it hotter."
posted by amaire at 7:57 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oof, this does not sound like a relationship I would want to be in. I would absolutely not be able to deal with someone telling me I didn't love them, or didn't love them enough. Either what he's saying is true (in which case why isn't he breaking up with you?), or he's got some serious insecurity going on - either of those would be deal-breakers for me, if they weren't ever going to change. Maybe it's something he can work on on his own? Have you talked to him about how his constant need for reassurance is wearing on you? If he were able to get that under control, would you feel better about the relationship?
posted by mskyle at 7:58 AM on April 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you you decide that you love him enough, will he believe that you love him enough?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:01 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Most Relationship Filter questions get DTMFA answers because the relationship being asked about is obviously fucked, but to be honest it sounds like you guys have a sweet, if imperfect and frustrating relationship.

[TRIGGER WARNING: "consentual non-consent" roleplay description]

This isn't gonna solve all your problems, but a game that sounds like it might work for you guys is "you are drugged/helpless, he's a selfish top who is going to use your helpless body to satisfy his needs." This can be anwhere on the silly-to-realistic spectrum you feel comfortable; he's an alien and you're his abductee, you're a drunk sorority girl and he's a piece of shit frat boy. You get to feel overwhelmed and dominated and your sleepiness actually works, and maybe when you're checked out of yourself, in a character, with a blindfold or whatever on, some of your "omg jerky stranger" arousal will kick in.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:04 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

It kinda sounds like your relationship is in a vicious cycle right now. Your boyfriend sounds like he doesn't have a lot of confidence in himself to begin with, which turns you off, and then he senses that you're turned off, and loses more confidence, and so on.

My sense is that this dynamic could possibly be turned around but I think it requires both of you working on it. If he's worried that you don't find him desirable (and sees your lack of interest in sex as a reflection of that), you could try complimenting him more, e.g. "you look hot in those pants" etc. (if that's a genuine sentiment).

But he also needs to stop with the "you don't love me enough" because that's not helping. He also needs to accept that you're more extroverted/social than him and be ok with you going out to see your friends sometimes. If he's not really content being a homebody/less social, it would probably be good for him to find some kind of thing that's his own, like a hobby with a social component.
posted by Asparagus at 8:13 AM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

But in some ways I wish i didn't love him so i could just start over and not have these complications (good luck I know!)

I know this feel. My gut says stay with him and work through this stuff. Everything you mention sounds like it can be worked out if both of you are willing to have some difficult conversations, get really specific about your own needs, do some creative problem-solving, and accommodate each other a little bit.

I've had a partner say "you don't love me." During a quiet, relaxed moment, I used an I statement: "when you say I don't love you, I feel hurt because I do love you. I feel like I'm failing because I can't convince you that I love you. The way I show you my love is stuff like [specific examples of recent words and actions], but you still say I don't love you, and I don't know what else to do. What do you need me to do so that I can show you that I love you?" He eventually realized that I was doing everything he asked and he still wasn't feeling loved, and he decided to get therapy.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 8:14 AM on April 30, 2014 [21 favorites]

So he's using "You don't love me any more" to pressure you for sex? That is the opposite of loving and he should cut that crap right out.
posted by Georgina at 8:25 AM on April 30, 2014 [12 favorites]

Why not just tell him straight up that of course you love him, is he crazy? Because it sounds like you love him. You're just busy and a little run down these days.

There is one thing, though, that I think would contribute to my own feelings of being unloved if I noticed it in my partner, which maybe you could think seriously about. The thing where you're an extrovert and always have a ton of people, projects, etc in your life. Obviously having your own life independent of your boyfriend is vital, but if my partner never had time for me (and sex once every two weeks definitely falls into that territory), but then they were always out doing other things with other people? I would feel like my partner was putting everything else ahead of our relationship. Which would make me feel pretty insecure.

I wonder if you're taking your boyfriend for granted a little, is what I'm getting at, here. Maybe you should make an effort to tell him and also show him that he is loved.

Or maybe you realize you don't love him, and you move on, but honestly it doesn't sound like that's the problem here.
posted by Sara C. at 8:35 AM on April 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Your partner sounds insecure, but in the fairly specific way many of us get when we know we're in a thing that isn't working, that isn't balanced. I was prone to this in my younger years. It's a kind of panic in which you push the other person for affirmations and displays of affection to quiet your own doubts about whether the pairing is actually working.

The reason why you get a nagging little voice in your head saying, "Maybe this relationship isn't working," is very nearly always, because it's not fucking working.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:44 AM on April 30, 2014 [15 favorites]

On the one hand, his "I know you don't love me" is manipulative and unfair. It puts you in a position of having to prove love in a way he does not. An imbalance is established. All your ways of showing affection become not enough. Basic parts of your personality and the ways you interact with partners become flaws and signs that you don't really love him, not like he loves you of course. In his mind, his love is true and yours is flawed. He needs to knock that off and start taking a good hard look at his own insecurities.

On the other, from what you've written it doesn't sound like you respect him all that much. He's 30 and you think of him as a boy. He's probably picking up on that. Being an introvert, kind, and a little vanilla in bed is not unmanly. It's just who he is. If your response to his worries are along the lines of, "well, I usually like this other thing and I think that's what I really want," you're only feeding into his insecurities. But maybe you've just been dealing with this for so long that you've bought into his framing of the relationship.

Your unhappiness with your diminishing sex drive is a whole other issue that's getting wrapped up into the rest of the problems. You know the medication is messing with that, try to keep the insecurities (his and yours) out.

These kinds of issues can be very difficult to sift through. I'll say, this does read like you love him or at least really like having him in your life. Don't let him steer the relationship with his insecurities.
posted by AtoBtoA at 9:02 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're taking SSRIs, it doesn't just kill your sex drive, but also your feelings of sexuality and ability to give in to feelings of lust. If your partner was used to and/or has normal sexual needs, then there is an impasse. Other than briefly mentioning you're on SSRIs, you seem to then make the rest of it his fault. Do you think it might be difficult for him to try and get you to enjoy sex, when you are literally taking drugs that make you disinterested in sex? I mean, that seems like it would be aggravating to me. Well, I know it would be, since I was on SSRIs before.

If you are disinterested in him sexually, that will hurt his confidence. As a man who tries to take the confident/masculine persona seriously, both in and out of a relationship, it can be really hard to not get the affection and desire you would like. Because if you ask for more, the women thinks you're not confident and that you're weak. If you don't say anything, you're miserable. Back in the 1950s I guess you would fuck your secretary instead.

It's easy to be masculine, aloof, and disinterested. It is great for getting women to swoon for you. Eventually if you settle down with a women, those traits aren't all that great anymore. Sounds like you want a strong man who doesn't have sensitive needs and emotions and has no problems with whether you're distant or not. But if you are being distant he reads your mind and just throws you on the bed and gives you softly dominant porno sex, and just smiles and is confidently happy with his women.

I'm not even saying this guy is right for you. But you get out what you put in to a relationship. And that often requires communication. And good communication requires a man to open up sometimes. But this is why we often don't, and why I often don't. If we talk about our needs and wants too much, we look less confident, and shit, that's a turnoff. It's usually easier to just work out and go after another women to inspire jealousy and passion.
posted by jjmoney at 9:20 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Did you ask what it is he needs to feel loved? Maybe it is not the sex per se, but touch in general? There is this concept of love languages (gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch). It sounds like you used to come on to him physically, seducing him vs. now you just ask if he wants to have sex. Maybe he misses being physically close to you in a non-sexual way?

I also agree with Sara C. about the possibility that he feels left out if you prioritize other people/things outside the relationship over him. But since you just started your business, it seems natural that you work more and have less time and energy for everything else.

However, he needs to understand that it's his turn to step up a bit to be a good and supporting partner. A new business and new meds are two serious changes and it takes time to find balance again. Just tell him what you dislike and what you need as well. From your description it does sound like you could find a compromise that works for both of you.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:44 AM on April 30, 2014

Relationships don't have to be (and shouldn't be) so hard. You shouldn't have to convince yourself to love him. The fact that you said you never really felt a spark for him (but have and do for others) makes me pause. And he sounds incredibly needy and insecure, and that alone can wear a person down and taint the relationship. It is possible he is so insecure and doing the constant "You don't love me" thing because he is picking up on what you are describing here. Or maybe he is just insecure and this is how he is in relationships. Regardless, he needs to find a better, more productive way of dealing with it. Badgering you to yet again convince him that you love him isn't good.

That said, your SSRIs may be having more of an affect than you think. If you are taking them to treat depression I would also stop and think about how effective they really are. Maybe talk to your doctor to see if a different family of SSRI may be possible, or possibly adding an adjunct (Welbutrin I believe is a common one) to counteract the libido killing side effect.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:46 AM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like the main thing this relationship is giving you is comfort (a refuge from your busy job and life and being "on") but you also resent how comfortable it is.

Regardless, it doesn't sound like this is the relationship for you. What he wants/needs is not what you want/are able to give. Relationships with unequal engagement never work out in the long run, unless the more engaged parter can be extremely, inhumanly cool about it.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:59 AM on April 30, 2014

No one knows how you feel but you. Not us (Do you think I love him enough?) and not him (My partner of 1 year (lived together 6 months) is always telling me I don't love him.) but you. Do you love him? Love and respect are closely intertwined in my view. Do you respect him? Love and acceptance are also very related. Do you accept his insecurity and neediness? It's ok not to. Having an insecure and needy partner is very draining.

This relationship sure does sound like a lot of unnecessary stress for you, and also for him.
posted by sockermom at 10:03 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I could have written this exact question a year ago. Now I'm (happily) divorced.

The biggest problem in our relationship (11 years), was almost exactly what you described. He didn't think that I was demonstrative enough of my love for him, and I got resentful of having to "fake it" to make him happy. I was not the kind of person that would say I love you 800 times a day, and that was what he wanted. He used to threaten to leave me if I didn't kiss him more. I show affection through cooking, cleaning the house, and sex. He wanted constant verbal affirmation that he was the greatest husband ever.

It was like we were speaking different languages.

We worked on it, we struggled, and everything got so out of balance that I was saying I love you even when I didn't mean it, and I definitely did not express my unhappiness directly because I was afraid of making him more insecure. I was unhappy and it came out in depression and stress, instead of productive conversations about what I needed.

Anyway - my advice is that if you're already not on the same page about how you express your love for one another, it's probably not worth sticking with it.
posted by elvissa at 10:30 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm wondering if part of the reason you aren't feelin' him sexually has to do with him making sex/his emotional needs one more item on your to-do list, so that instead of being a true source of succor, he's instead another task? Like, he's not owning his feelings of "unloved" as being his own, and is, like, trying to fob off that as another project for you, to make him feel loved.

I don't know how to fix that, but I think if that's the case, it's such a messed up way to approach his own issues with feeling unloved that he might need to start with his own self work.
posted by spunweb at 10:41 AM on April 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Sounds like he's continuously whining at you. That's going to wear anybody down, and it's going to kill your attraction for him.

He needs to stop pestering you for reassurance. It's become a habit, a bad one, and he needs to break it. He probably knows it's bad. If he's willing to take on the task of breaking the habit, you can help him. Instead of reassuring him every time he goes fishing, remind him that he's being insecure instead.

Sex once every week or two is not very much, not for 30 year olds. It's reasonable for him to be upset about this. I think you should have sex more. Usually having sex more keeps the fires burning and you'll want it more often also. If you don't, and you're not willing to do it as a relationship duty, I think you should assume this is the new normal, tell him, and let him decide if he can accept it. It is unlikely that you're going to get less stressed as you get farther into your 30s and you're probably not going to get off SSRIs. Be honest with yourself and him about what to expect.
posted by mattu at 10:45 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you think I love him enough?

According to your partner, as you've described him here, it does not really matter to him if what you feel for him inside actually is or is not "enough" - he cares only about how you behave, because he can read your mind.

He's saying that you keep doing it wrong. From where I sit, the guy sounds like a bottomless pit of need. You either accept that or you don't.

"I tried to break up with him once before"

If he were a great match for you, I don't think you would have tried to get rid of him once, and you certainly wouldn't have written this post. I'm with @Georgina - I'm deeply troubled that he's using "you don't love me!" to pressure you into sex.

The real question is does he love you enough?
posted by hush at 12:18 PM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I will suggest you not make this decision yet. It is not clear in part because of the medication issue and in part because of being exhausted. I will suggest you pick a date in the future to make this decision and, in the mean time, work on some of those things.

I will also suggest that getting to the place you seem to want -- where cruelty and being emotionally unavailable are not your big turn-ons, where you can have a nice relationship -- requires that you spend some time being baffled and confused as to why you are with a nicer man. It takes time to adjust.

I will suggest that you have a lot more work to do on yourself, regardless of the man you are with. It doesn't matter how clear it is to other people here that you "should stay" or you "should go." It needs to be clear to you and this Ask is not likely, by itself, to give you clarity -- though it is probably a good step to take along way in the long journey of shaping yourself and your life into what you want it to be.

My experience is that the person who "feels in love" is the one being treated well. In other words, feelings of love grow out of the other person taking loving action. You can behave in a loving way towards another and not feel in love. You can feel in love (because of what they do) and not behave in a loving way. I have sometimes been the one doing the giving while the other person felt Big Feelings towards me. I have sometimes been the person with Big Feelings because I was getting well taken care of in some way. (I would like to arrange a relationship where we both take good care of the other person so we both can feel in love equally much, but I don't know how to get there from here.)

Your lack of "feeling in love" implies to me that he is falling down on the job in some way. But it could also be partly an artifact of you walking away from bad habits and not yet knowing how to respond to nicer treatment. I seem to still be somewhat prone to finding abusive assholerly and emotional unavailability hot. But sticking to my guns and refusing such men is reshaping my internal landscape. So I think you can find that path forward as well.
posted by Michele in California at 12:36 PM on April 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

My partner of 1 year (lived together 6 months) is always telling me I don't love him.

Whenever a partner has said something like this to me, it always turned out that they were right.

Now, I can't say if it's chicken and egg and I ultimately subconsciously found this questioning annoying and off-putting, maybe it's because my way of demonstrating affection didn't match their love language needs, or hell, maybe they were really perceptive and they could tell that I didn't love them.

In any case, whenever this line has been introduced in my relationships, it's signified the end.
posted by kinetic at 1:15 PM on April 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

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