Help me find perspective, is my relationship half-full or half-empty?
July 14, 2014 10:30 PM   Subscribe

I've been in a relationship with my boyfriend for about 3 years now, but it seems like we can't seem to find a good "groove". We're satisfied in the relationship for a while and then we get into petty fights and don't resolve them. I thought I was happy with him and really enjoyed his company. However, it's been more and more stressful and I need help figuring out if I've checked out for a while, or if the relationship has run its course. Hope me?

Mid-20s, living together about a year now and I thought I was pretty committed. I was even considering this being a long-term thing where possible marriage is in the future. Big house in the suburbs with a bunch of kids isn't what either of us want, so I thought that was a big plus. We both agree on travel and a few other activities and hobbies we enjoy together. I guess my main issue is I expect him to treat me "like a lady" and he doesn't really know how or get it when I try to explain to him what I need. This is the first serious relationship for both of us and I get you have to learn how to be in a relationship with someone first, but I thought we were past that. Is it that it's just not going to get any better? I know the 5 Love Languages isn't legit or anything, but I resonate with quality time, physical touch, and words of affirmation as something that is important to me. Mainly, I feel like I'm not really asking for much than what is expected in a normal relationship: courtesy, respect, and some physical displays of affection. I miss the fun that we used to have and now feel like we're roommates. It sucks because I miss the boyfriend that I had, but maybe I just thought that's what he was like because I wanted him to be? Or it's like that old pair of jeans that were so comfortable you loved so much except it's so worn out you have to throw it away?

I don't feel like I can give anymore or do anything else to really change anything. I tried mentioning this to him and he's happy with the status quo. I'm so not. I daydream about breaking up with him sometimes and finding a guy that will treat me how I think I deserve to be treated. I'm not asking to be put on a pedestal, but at this point I'm starting to feel like "does he not adore me because he doesn't care? He doesn't love me enough? Am I missing out because someone would be over the moon in love with me and instead I'm with this guy who is happy while I'm in an emotional rut?" Is it just me and I should be happy with what I have? People don't change, so is it my perspective that needs to?

So MeFi, am I asking too much? I don't need him to open doors for me or anything, but why can't he show some love? I'm pretty stressed out and feeling indifferent and I know relationships aren't supposed to be like this. I'd rather be happy alone than unhappy stuck with someone who doesn't want to do anything and everything to make me happy. I feel like I'm settling and I just wish he'd step up to the plate a bit. Are my expectations too high? I do all the stuff he does and more and I feel it's something you're supposed to do. Like regular household duties and stuff, which he does and I tell him I'm appreciative, but I do it too. That's what you do as an adult... ok I'm rambling now. Please help?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think the question you need to ask yourself is this: what would need to change in the relationship to make you happy? What kind of demonstrations of affection, how often?

I know that maybe doesn't sound terribly romantic. I'm not a very emotionally demonstrative person by default, and it sounds like maybe your boyfriend isn't, either. You say that "People don't change," which, eh, is half-true. You can't change who someone is without their cooperation, but people can and do choose to change their behavior for all kinds of reasons, including to make their loved ones happy. After a while, it becomes easier to know when to say "I love you" or hold your partner's hand or whatever, but it needs to start with knowing that's what they want.

I'm having a hard time determining, just from what you've said here, what it is that you feel like you're missing. You say a lot about what you don't want, but very little about what would actually make you happier. I don't know if it's that you're uncomfortable with being perceived as "high-maintenance" (really common fear for women, especially young women in their first relationships, but I've found most people would rather have a partner with a lot of specific expectations than one with vague, lingering dissatisfaction with everything), or if it's more that you're detaching from the relationship for other reasons and starting to view most of his behavior less rosily (which might mean that the relationship has run its course naturally.)
posted by kagredon at 10:50 PM on July 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I trust you. You sound like you know what you want, and you have correctly determined that it IS possible, and definitely a prerequisite for committing to a marriage that will be successful.

Go get it. Start by using your words.

Use the door if using your words does not work.
posted by jbenben at 10:52 PM on July 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

Have you specifically asked him for what it is you want, eg, for me to be feel loved, I'd like you to rub my back and bring me a cup of tea in the morning or not leave the toilet seat up or whatever. You say you'd like him to treat you with respect and like a lady but what does that mean to you in day to day acts? Tell him and then see how it goes. And ask him what he needs from you to feel loved so it's not just a one way street. If you don't get anywhere, he won't or can't reciprocate and this relationship isn't giving you what you need, then you know what to do.
posted by Jubey at 11:24 PM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

My first piece of advice, which is the most important one, would be to let go of thinking about what should or should not be happening. There is nothing that adults 'should' be doing, or how they 'should' act- there are only feelings and needs. Either something he does meets a need of yours, or it does not. It's fun to meet people's needs, but it is not fun at all to meet people's expectations.

When someone expects something from you, do you feel cornered? That's a natural response to a demand- you can either resist or submit to a demand. When we use words like should and should not, wrong, right, good, bad, etc, we are demanding. We are saying that unless the other person does this thing, they are bad. They 'should' be doing this, but they are not.

It's difficult to tell if you may be communicating this to your partner- that anybody who really loves you should be doing those things. It is very difficult to truly love (however you define that) somebody who demands that love from you.

You said: "Mainly, I feel like I'm not really asking for much more than what is expected in a normal relationship: courtesy, respect, and some physical displays of affection." (emphasis mine)

I'm getting a sense that your partner may be getting a sense that his affection is being demanded when he once gave it freely, and now feels that he may not be able to give it freely anymore. This may or may not be the case, but I encourage you to look into what you may be inadvertently communicating. This idea is called Nonviolent Communication. It's a language that assumes love in everyone and is very effective for cutting through all the blaming and judgment we have that obscures our view of other people. It's really beautiful. Here's a great primer for the ideas with practical, real-world examples and audience interaction.

If you have any questions or help implementing NVC, don't hesitate to ask. Good luck!
posted by drd at 12:30 AM on July 15, 2014 [18 favorites]

What's changed since you were in love enough to move in with him? Can you pinpoint things that he used to do that he doesn't do any more? Are there different stressors or different issues within your relationship?

Relationships are partnerships, where two people dedicide that they are accompanying each other on life's journey. You want your companion to respect you, to love you and to allow you to feel safe, no matter what is happening outside of your relationship.

Do you feel like partners? Are you making decisions with each other in mind?

If you feel like you're settling, I believe that you have your answer.

You've approached him with your dissastisfaction, you've told him what you need to feel loved in the relationship, and he hasn't done anything differently.

It may be time to move on. I will say that if you do decide to break up, the minute you do, you'll be flooded with regret, especially if he's unhappy too and promises to change, etc. This won't be easy. There will be times where you'll wonder WHY you thought it was so terrible that he'd play WOW instead of cuddling with you on the sofa. But, those moments will pass.

There is someone out there for you who will love you the way you need to be loved, and who will inspire you to love him the way that he needs to be loved.

In the meantime, find things that aren't romance related to do with yourself. Don't jump into another relationship, take time to really explore things as yourself. As a single person. Really understand what you like, who you are and where you want to go. Travel. Study. Read. Do art.

The more developed you are as a person, the more you'll understand what you need in a relationship and the less you'll be inclined to settle.

Good luck to you!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:09 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I feel like I'm not really asking for much than what is expected in a normal relationship: courtesy, respect, and some physical displays of affection.

You say you've talked to him and he's happy with the status quo, but have you talked to him and told him what you need? To me, "like a lady", "courtesy" and "respect" are super-vague and not actionable, but "physical displays of affection" is something that can be understood with examples.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:32 AM on July 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

You read the five love languages, did he? What are the "languages" he speaks? It does sound like you have discussed this several times but he feels no urgency to change anything because his needs are being met. Your whole post reminds me of Sudden Divorce Syndrome, where your complaints about his behaviour have been blown off by him because you haven't left, so he interprets them as not serious complaints and instead just nagging - but at the same time he would greet the end of your relationship as some great shock that he never saw coming. You said he is a mid-twenties guy in his first relationship, does he have positive male role models who are willing to teach him how to be an adult in a relationship or does he just not see that as something that is important/necessary? Have you considered couple's counselling? Otherwise, if you have told your partner you are unhappy and given them specific actions to take and they haven't... yeah, you can stop trying to be a "cool girlfriend" with no needs and leave him. There are a tonne of great, loving men out there.
posted by saucysault at 6:27 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have you two thought about couples therapy. This is pretty much what it is good at helping with, spring out different communication styles, helping you both work out what you need and how to give it to each other.
posted by wwax at 6:45 AM on July 15, 2014

I think it can be normal to feel like roommates at times when you're living together. If I could return to my twenties when my husband and I were dating, I would have gotten off his back more. Many guys are fine with the status quo and don't understand what the problem is. I didn't understand how the male mind works.

From your question it doesn't appear that you're nagging him, but it's hard to tell. It's also hard to tell exactly how much physical attention and quality time you're getting and if the quantity of sex is satisfying for you.

You say you want to be treated like a lady. It may be helpful to ask yourself if you're treating him like a man. If we demand that our partners do things to show their love, it's not a genuine demonstration, it's not natural, and our partners are going to feel manipulated and controlled. No male wants to feels forced into doing something -- it's emasculating.

Behave in a way that inspires him to give more affection (drop demands and complaints). When he does it, thank him for it. You can absolutely tell him when you're feeling lonely or when you would like more affection. Sometimes you'll get it and sometimes you won't. The best kind of affection and attention is when it's genuine.
posted by Fairchild at 7:15 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know the 5 Love Languages isn't legit or anything, but

I dunno. In my opinion, the 5 Love Languages isn't legit as a literal document you should bring to your partner (or maybe it is!) as much as it's a tool for understanding and communicating our needs. It's helped me meet my partner where he is, rather than where I wanted him to be (thinking in "shoulds"), and it's made a world of difference.

You do a lot of backpedaling and apologizing in the text of your post, and that signals that you (maybe) don't feel "allowed" to have these desires. The response above that discusses young women's fears of being perceived as high-maintenance? That is absolutely true, and it is ridiculous bullshit that women are conditioned to accept as the terms of getting a guy to love us. Heather Havrilevsky wrote a wonderful response to someone in a different situation but still wondering how much to ask for from her guy.

Basically: communicate in specific terms what you want, and meet your boyfriend where he is, and try to accommodate his desires, too.
posted by magdalemon at 7:38 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you should bail. You're in your mid-twenties, which is a time of big growth and changes. Your world should be opening up, not narrowing down. What you are describing sounds claustrophobic and unhappy-making...more like a dissatisfied middle aged couple or something.

Go your separate ways. If you both later find that you really, truly miss what you had together, you can regroup in a year or so. (But wait a good long time to make sure it's really what you think you want, not just loneliness and fear driving you.)

There are many men out there who you can love and be in a happy partnership with. It's just as easy to love and live with a guy who is more in sync with your needs, and vice-versa.

And yes, being single is infinitely better than being locked down in a frustrating live-in relationship.
posted by nacho fries at 8:33 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think one of the reasons your language is vague around what you want is that you probably have never experienced it. You have a sense that what you're experiencing with him is not quite right, but since this is your first serious relationship, you have never actually had someone treat you "like a lady".

I would use this as an opportunity to try to turn your abstract feelings into more concrete images. Try to imagine, in great detail, what it would look and feel like to be adored by your partner. Look at couples around you, or in your life, that adore each other in the way you desire. How do they treat each other? Write it down.

Once you have this very clear description, share it with your boyfriend. If you discuss this with him and his response is still that he's happy with the status quo then this does not bode well for a future together.

When you express unmet needs to your partner, they should be concerned about your feelings and work with you to address them. If that's not happening now, after three years together, you should probably move on.
posted by Gray Skies at 9:07 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

A relationship is a living thing. It needs living, responsive, authentic people to show up as they are in order to stay alive.

We're satisfied in the relationship for a while and then we get into petty fights and don't resolve them

Do you feel 'allowed' to talk to him about this stuff after the dust has settled? Do you feel comfortable enough to bring it up? Are either of you defensive? It could be the weight of 1,000 little petty fights inside you that is making you shut down, or the fights are hiding some deeper unhealthy dynamic and you two have turned to avoidance to cope. You two have got to start talking about these issues and then you'll see if this thing has any legs. And by talking, it doesn't mean listening until you hear what you want to hear, but really listening & understanding each other's pov, even if it's uncomfortable to hear at first. What does he want? What does he feel is lacking? Your relationship has to be built on the right foundation otherwise it is a shell of a partnership, which of course is unsatisfying to everyone.

I need help figuring out if I've checked out for a while
When you feel withdrawn or checked out, does your partner notice & ask what's up?

I miss the fun that we used to have and now feel like we're roommates.
Maybe he's withdrawn too? Consciously or not.

There's not a lot of detail here about what he is/isn't doing, so it's hard to tell if you're asking too much or if the spark has really died. I think it's unreasonable to expect adoration & the unending high of love, but you both should treat each other like you are special to each other. You should be able to say to him "I feel like we're in a rut" and then a useful conversation should grow from that where you both find ways to do something new.

I can say over time it does get kind of dull (no more will-they, won't-they etc) but it's still interesting because you're called to bring more of yourself to the table, you know them deeper, you can help them more. It gets better & richer but not in a "he brings me flowers all the time swooooon!!" kind of a way.

Rather than ending it right away, and since this is your 1st serious rel, you can use it as practice grounds. Use your words, face any fear, and bring out into the open all the issues. Examine together what is truly there between you, and decide if it is enough. It could be that you both haven't really formed a partnership yet, it's two "me" and not a "we." It could be that this relationship has run its course. But take it as a learning opportunity either way and examine what is there openly & together. good luck.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:29 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

If I were you I would start thinking about moving on.

First, destroy the status quo. Look for somewhere else to live, and move out to that place. Say something like "I'm unhappy with what you're giving me and need some space," or whatever. Keep it short.

Then wait a bit and see what he does. He steps up to the plate, pursues you, sends you roses? Good. Carry on the conversation from there. He does nothing? Well, you have your answer.

You're far too young to be stuck where you are. There are literally millions of men out there who would be falling over themselves to accord you courtesy, respect, and physical displays of affection.
posted by Pechorin at 10:31 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

This was almost exactly me 7 months ago although I had been in the relationship for 6 years, living together for 4. Breaking up was so hard to do and I was in a rough spot for a bit but I'm dating someone new who gives me exactly the things I need that my previous relationship didn't provide. I'm in the happiest and most fulfilling relationship I have ever been in. I cannot believe I wasted as much time as I did trying to get my ex to be someone he was not. Some people just aren't verbally and physically affectionate and that's okay but I wasn't willing to put up with it anymore. You're much younger and the best years of your life are just ahead, don't waste them on your current boyfriend, move on. Memail me if you want. And you are not expecting too much.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:01 PM on July 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

In my work with something that isnt official psychology but uses a ton of legitimate psychological techniques, love languages is a big, big tool we teach people how to show love to their partners. I'd say its legit. And that I came in here to say love languages sounds like what youre missing.... but if you know about them, and express them clearly while giving him his love language... well..... yeah.
posted by Jacen at 8:21 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing to keep in mind when determining whether the love languages ideology is appropriate for you, individually, and your situation as a couple, is the background and bias of the person who came up with that construct. (Bias isn't being used as a negative here, just to get that out of the way.)

The author of that book series developed it in the context of his work as a religious personage, and it is deeply influenced by certain interpretations of Christian values that prioritize the preservation of the traditional family unit. If those are your values, then it may sync nicely with your worldview; but if not, it may be worth noting that there is a strong undercurrent of "turn the other cheek" which isn't appropriate for all people in all circumstances.

Because you mention upfront that you aren't into a big house and lots of kids, it may be that your approach to relationships doesn't constrain you to certain notions of loyalty, sticking it out for the good of the family, etc. Because you are young, and don't have children together, your options and trade-offs for opting out rather than toughing it out are different than those who are operating within a faith-based structure.

Just wanted to toss that out there. The love languages thing is frequently brought up in an unquestioning way, but I think it is worth questioning. (Not to dismiss those who have had it personally helpful.)
posted by nacho fries at 11:31 AM on July 17, 2014

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