Great communication keeping relationship alive past its sell by date?
August 16, 2018 5:32 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend is an amazing communicator and has taught me a lot. But I'm starting to think our amazing communication has backfired, and I'm also starting to wonder if I'm crazy. Snowflakes inside.

This is the first serious relationship of my, and her, mid 30s, so my previous relationships were at a different life stage and don't seem comparable to the present one. This is the first time that big scary things like marriage, children, shared property, and so on are on the table. While my previous relationships weren't terrible, this is the first time I've started to think that I'm doing good at adulting, and also to feel that none of my previous relationships are a reference point for the current one.

Gf would be a good ask-mefi contributor if she ever went online. She's a hardworking medical doctor who works in a diverse low-income area and prides herself for crossing cultural and class boundaries to smooth ruffled feathers, make everyone understand each other, and feel heard. She's the go-to caretaker and advice-giver to her friends, the referree to her big family, and even has a little formal training in mediation. These are skills that are a big part of her identity, and she's brought them to bear on our relationship. She has a big, giving (sometimes past her limits), sensitive, and empathetic heart that never ceases to take my breath away.

Her communication talents have taught me a lot, and at the beginning of the relationship they made me extremely happy. We've avoided even the slightest wiff of the usual relationship pitfalls - no outbursts, no stewing resentments or nursed grudges, every potential fight was a discussion, everyone's perspective got its due. But lately, I've had the suspicion that we're seriously incompatible, and all this nonviolent communication is making our differences seem more minor than they really are.

1.5 years in, we are still in constant negotiation. What we talk about - she favors people and food-centric subjects while I favor the artsy, technical, and abstract. I want her to support me in my technical/creative work while she prefers a stricter work-life separation. I feel like the culture I consume is challenging and stimulating, but she sees my interests as difficult and depressing. She prefers an enlightened-but-traditional set of gender roles in sex, while I prefer something more fluid. She wants more time together and a deeper integration into her family and social circle, while I like more time to myself and enjoy having a life somewhat separate of my partner. Her mode of connection is warmer and more emotional than mine, mine is more intellectual, and our social circles differ along those lines. I want an "us against the world" partnership, she prefers a vision that's more harmony-and-hearth.

The previous paragraph can go on like that for another handful of big points. Just rereading it makes me think, this couple should have broken up a long time ago. And these issues and others rear their heads consistently. But instead of fighting, we seem to be in a constant process of mining each others viewpoints, histories, and temperaments, demonstrating how no one is to blame, and seeking a compromise we can both live with. And frankly, all this levelheaded adulting is starting to exhaust me. It's working in some ways, as we both learn to modify our behavior to fit the other. But there's a lot of reverting-to-default on both sides, and I feel like we're becoming, as a couple, navel-gazey.

I've brought these worries up. Gf's perspective is that this is the work that a mature relationship requires. And this is where I'm at a loss. I want to be mature, and committed, and put in the work that those things demand, and I think she's showing me how. As I said, this is my first relationship that's this serious, is this just how serious adult relationships go? Or are we stubbornly trying to make square pegs go into round holes? Some part of me keeps leaning toward the latter. And in reaction, some other part of me thinks I'm being naive, ungrateful, and immature. In short, I'm torn and confused, and would appreciate any insight.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Are you happy? Does this relationship make you happy? It doesn’t sound like it does. Doesn’t make either of you monsters if it’s not meant to be.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:39 AM on August 16, 2018 [16 favorites]

I'm not sure if you're into Myers-Briggs typology and cognitive functions (I know some people take MBTI as a slightly-more-scientific-but-still-laughable cousin to astrology, but for me, it's been a super-helpful frame for better understanding relationships), but it sounds like you're an Intuitive and she's a Sensor—which means your ways of processing information are entirely different. You live in the abstract and the artful, she's more "boots on the ground" and looking at the concrete and seeable.

Traditionally, relationships between these two types are really difficult to sustain and do require quite a lot of compromise, especially once the lovey-dovey feelings fade. I love this post on Wait But Why, which posits the "Traffic Test" as a way to gauge your relationship—that feeling when you're with a friend in the car and hoping for traffic because the conversation is so engaging and energizing and you want your time with them to keep going. It's a spark that's not even sexual, really. Just a sense of really, really loving the other person's company. Without that... you guys might not be looking at a long future together. And that's totally okay, of course.
posted by gold bridges at 6:02 AM on August 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Does she excite you? Are you happy when she comes home so you can see her and hug her and learn about her day? Is she interested in you? Does she support you when you're down and finding things difficult? Do you celebrate each other's achievements? Do you do what you can to make sure she's living her best life and does she do the same for you?

Compromises are part of any relationship but there's no sense in your post that either of you are thrilled to be in your relationship. It comes over as a partnership, if a successful one. Those can work for some people but I get a sense that both of you are dulled by this relationship whereas I'd expect to see each of you boosted and delighted by the presence and knowledge of the other.
posted by humuhumu at 6:22 AM on August 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

You guys may have good communication skills, but it doesn't sound like you're that compatible, with pretty different interests ("she favors people and food-centric subjects while I favor the artsy, technical, and abstract") and values ("She prefers an enlightened-but-traditional set of gender roles in sex, while I prefer something more fluid.").
posted by like_neon at 6:23 AM on August 16, 2018

The Truth That Lives Here: Wanting to go is enough.
(This column was written in response to letters from women, but it would apply equally to men.)
posted by Weftage at 6:28 AM on August 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

It sounds like the biggest challenge is that you want a partner who has the energy to engage in a intellectually demanding way with you, but she has a very demanding job and doesn't have bandwidth leftover for dissecting abstract topics and doing emotional labor for your work. She puts what's left of her energy into what she values: her loved ones and nourishing things like food. That sounds fair and healthy to me, but it doesn't jive with what you want from a partner. You want to be intellectually stimulated by your partner perhaps and you want to also have more time for your own pursuits, which conflicts with how she spends her free time.

I am similar to her probably, my work can be intellectually and emotionally demanding and I don't want to have philosophical discussions for fun in my free time. I had a partner who did and it didn't work, if I've been using my brain a lot all day I need to veg in my free time at least a bit, it sounds like you don't need that off time or you get that time through your alone time. I'm with someone who is less demanding of my cognitive energy and more open to my whole life and it's much better.
posted by lafemma at 6:55 AM on August 16, 2018 [32 favorites]

are we stubbornly trying to make square pegs go into round holes?

Yes. Not everyone is compatible, however good you may be at communicating.
posted by Kwadeng at 7:03 AM on August 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

This doesn't sound like it's any fun at all. You should be having fun. What you've described sounds exhausting. You don't need a big, bad reason to break up. Just the fact that this isn't working for you is enough.
posted by poppunkcat at 7:05 AM on August 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

Yes, this is the work that a mature relationship requires. However, you’re not required to do that work. You can decide not to be in the (or any) relationship. No one can predict for you that you’ll leave this one and find another one where you have more in common, but you can try. But almost any relationship will require a lot of compromise. The important thing is - are you happy? It doesn’t sound like it.
posted by greermahoney at 7:16 AM on August 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

This sounds like you're two interesting, nice people who are not a great pairing.
posted by brilliantine at 7:19 AM on August 16, 2018 [11 favorites]

I have to say, nothing in this reads to me like you are staying together because you are so great at communicating with each other. It sure reads to me like you are staying together because despite your otherwise great communication, you are unable to articulate to her that these aren't just "worries," they are in your view irreconcilable incompatibilities.

Because if that is in fact how you feel, and you were able to communicate that, that conversation would BE the breakup.

all this nonviolent communication is making our differences seem more minor than they really are.

I really hope you for you and your partner's sake (this one or the next) that you find ways to recognize the seriousness of topics without needing the communication to become violent.
posted by solotoro at 7:21 AM on August 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

This might be completely 100% off base, and I would say a lot more about this if you want to PM me, but is this a possibility?
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:39 AM on August 16, 2018

No, this is not the work that a mature relationship requires. I felt exhausted and depressed just reading this. You both seem like nice, earnest people who don't belong together.
posted by tiger tiger at 7:43 AM on August 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

You can definitely have this level of communication with a partner and be compatible in the things you would like to be compatible in, it just so happens it's not in this relationship. Think of it in another way, opposite to what you're experiencing: let's say you're extremely sexually (or pick something else) compatible but suck at communicating and constantly have blow-up fights and so on. No one in their right mind would ever tell you that's a good reason to stay in a relationship that you wanted to be a long-term, loving relationship. It works the other way too; just because you can communicate really well doesn't mean you're inherently compatible otherwise.

My marriage is basically described by this: "no outbursts, no stewing resentments or nursed grudges, every potential fight was a discussion, everyone's perspective got its due" but we're also on the same page about a lot of other stuff; for instance, my wife and I are extremely "us against the world." Neither of our personalities would work well with someone who didn't treat the relationship in that way and that's not something behavior can change, it's just a basic aspect of our compatibility.

Anyway, yes, all the Good Communication in the world isn't going to get you past inherent personality incompatibilities and I can absolutely see how talking everything out through that kind of situation would get frustrating. It sounds like it is time for you to use all those skills you've gained in this relationship to make a decision as to where your life is headed with this person and it might be a decision that will suck for the two of you real bad, but nothing you've written here sounds like there's a better scenario available to you that doesn't involve either of you trying (and likely failing) to make huge changes to the kind of people you are and, from what it sounds like, the kind of people you are happy being.

(Also for anyone reading this, nonviolent communication is a specific and defined approach to communicating, not just "communication that isn't violent.")
posted by A god with hooves, a god with horns at 7:43 AM on August 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

Honestly, you just don't sound very compatible as romantic partners. Someone can be a good person but a bad fit for you.

Anecdata: I have a well-established, mature, respectful relationship (10 years and counting) and I think we communicate well, but we don't have to put in NEAR the level of exhausting work you describe. Because we're fundamentally compatible in terms of how we like to spend free time, level of alone versus couple time, interests and conversations, how much family is too much, etc. Every relationship will have conflict points that need this kind of work, but that doesn't mean that every relationship has to have THIS MANY points.

It also sounds like these things are a bigger deal to you than they seem to her. Maybe think about whether you are truly expressing the scope of how you feel, or if you are letting the well-honed process kind of sweep you along sometimes and then feel like you "should" be over this so you just kind of stuff down the lingering discontent and let it simmer.

It doesn't matter if someone else thinks your dealbreakers are "enough" - the only person who gets to decide your dealbreakers is you. Like, if you decide that you cannot be happy with a partner who doesn't want to watch Hotel Rwanda with you and then have a discussion about genocide? You get to decide that. Likewise, if your girlfriend deals with human tragedy all day every day at her job and just wants to come home and make fun of the people on Tiny House Hunters and not Get Into Man's Inhumanity To Man for fun, SHE gets to decide THAT. Maybe it's a dealbreaker for one of you and not the other, and that's all FINE - but it might mean that you guys aren't meant to be long-term. Alternately, if that was just one major incompatibility and the majority of everything else was great, you might decide it's worth compromising in a few areas... but when it feels like you have more compromises than not, it's time to take a step back and think about things like the Sunk Cost Fallacy.

If you are looking for an internet stranger to give you permission to break up and look for a partner who is more compatible with you, consider it granted (though of course you don't need anyone's buy in but your own.)

(Insert link to that Tim Minchin song about "of all the people in the world, you are one of many I would likely be quite happy with" here)
posted by oblique red at 8:00 AM on August 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

Yes, this is the work that a mature relationship requires. However, you’re not required to do that work.

I think this is probably the most real answer - like, I think your girlfriend is right, in that none of the things above you describe seem like irreconciliable differences, and I'm kind of bewildered reading them - none of this stuff is anything I would even bat an eye at, all of it is perfectly compromisable and you say that you are in fact working out compromises.

But you say 'all this levelheaded adulating is beginning to exhaust me'. And that's, you know - also a thing? It's actually a super common thing for men, in particular, who have started their first relationship in their thirties, and haven't had to make small compromises growing up in their twenties or who haven't had a ton of roommates they spent a lot of time with, or what have you. By the time you're in your thirties you do tend to be a little more independent and established, and less willing to compromise, and heterosexual men in particular are finding that they are having to make more compromises in order to find a life partner these days. And - for some people, it's just not worth it to them to be partnered, and it kind of sounds like that's maybe you.

I think there's also a thing that happens to some men in their thirties where they break up with perfectly good partners because they think there's a better person out there who does everything they want and they won't have to compromise, and - just from what I've seen of the men in my life who have done that, this has not been accurate.

This also stands out to me:
I want her to support me in my technical/creative work while she prefers a stricter work-life separation.
You want her to support you in your work, but you don't have the ability or desire to support her in her work, right, because she's a doctor? It kind of sounds like the issue isn't that she prefers a stricter work-life separation while you like more blend, and more that she doesn't want to work hard as a doctor and then come home and do your work too, which is totally reasonable.

But again: just because your girlfriend is wonderful and reasonable and great, it may not be worth it to you to engage in that kind of compromise and growth, you sound tired and like it's maybe too much for you. You may want to break up with her and try casually dating folks and learning to compromise in relationships that seem like they have less high stakes.
posted by corb at 8:10 AM on August 16, 2018 [43 favorites]

Mature relationships do take work, but they also shouldn't be HARD. Constant communication and compromise because you and your girlfriend seem to be on different pages about a lot of important things is hard. There's no shame in breaking this off so you're both free to find someone a little more on your respective wave lengths.


she favors people and food-centric subjects while I favor the artsy, technical, and abstract

the culture I consume is challenging and stimulating, but she sees my interests as difficult and depressing

Her mode of connection is warmer and more emotional than mine, mine is more intellectual

My hackles raise allllllllll the way up when I hear people say things like this. It always strikes me as dismissive, bordering on contemptuous, of the other person to position one's self as the "intellectual" one in the relationship.

I tend to see it the most from people (usually men) who've opted out of emotional labor so hard that they don't even truly recognize the value and, yes, intellectual rigor of it and who genuinely don't realize that having the mental bandwidth for "technical" or "abstract" topics tends to be a luxury reserved for those who don't have more practical shit to worry about.

Communication style differences and preferences are one thing—feeling as though your ALTRUISTIC DYNAMO OF A DOCTOR GIRLFRIEND isn't on your level intellectually because she's unwilling to engage with you on weighty thought experiments or consume political doomsday documentaries after working all day in an intellectually and emotionally rigorous job is a whole other strata of incompatibility.

I know that all sounds harsh, but honestly, if any of this is even a little bit on the mark, you should definitely break up IMMEDIATELY. Your girlfriend deserves more than quiet contempt.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:28 AM on August 16, 2018 [109 favorites]

Gf's perspective is that this is the work that a mature relationship requires.

I do wish no one had ever uttered the sentence "relationships are hard work," because it's become the worst truism ever. It mostly now gets trotted out for people to rationalize hanging onto awful relationships. Yes, relationships can be hard work, but that's over the long haul, not for people who have been together one and a half years. That should still be a period where you're totally in love and having fun (which is not to say you never argue or even have a big blowup or two). Day to day communication is not supposed to be "hard work"; sustaining a loving and happy relationship over 10 to 15 years is hard work. Quite a different matter.

It sounds to me like you've gotten stuck in the trap of thinking that this relationship really sounds good in theory, so you have to do whatever you need to do to make it work. I guess that could be characterized as trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole. It sounds like you're unhappy, not crazy, and it sounds like you've bought into some notion that breaking up this relationship would be "ruining the best thing you ever had" or something similar. From what you've said, though, that isn't true. No matter how good the relationship seems on paper, you have this internet stranger's permission to break up without feeling like you're a bad person or like you're making a terrible mistake.
posted by holborne at 8:53 AM on August 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

I don't think anyone here knows if you are compatible or not; that's for you to decide.

But it sounds like you all are good at communicating! So why don't you really focus on this set of questions: Is this what we want? Is this what you want in a relationship? Am I happy and content and see us together in many years?

The thing is you and your partner may have different answers, but it may be worth exploring together. Communication is good, but it is a vehicle toward answering something.
posted by RajahKing at 9:05 AM on August 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

The big differences you mention are differences, but none of them strike me as fundamentally irreconcilable.

is this just how serious adult relationships go?

yes, but you just used a lot of words to basically indicate that you want out. that's fine. relationships can be positive and healthy and still not work.

I think you need to take a big step back and stop looking at this like your gf's good communication skills are the problem here, and do some real soul searching about whether this person is the person you want to be in a long-term committed relationship with. and if she isn't, then make the decision you need to make and own it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:37 AM on August 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

A lot of the differences you've listed here sound somewhat similar to me and bf of 2 years. In the beginning, I was nervous about the differences because I tend to be the more cerebral one who enjoys talking about esoteric ideas, and he finds that exhausting and would prefer to talk about tv and movies. We also came from very different cultural upbringings and had different orientations toward long-term goals because of them. I would say that for almost the whole first year I questioned whether or not we really fit, but stayed in the relationship because what mattered most to me was that we had SO much fun together and, honestly, my previous relationship was so toxic that I was okay with getting my heart broken down the road if it meant I was finally getting to feel happy.

For us, the fun outweighed everything. And while initially we could list a lot of differences between us in the beginning, as we got to know each other more, we realized that the differences were somewhat superficial and that we were far more similar than different. At the same time, we found areas of compromise about the areas that were really different. Now, two years in, I'm always surprised by my memories of thinking we weren't compatible. But I think we were able to get there because our shared sense of humor was the glue that kept us together when differences arose.

My point is just to reinforce what others have said: the fun really is so important. And, in my experience, if you really are having fun, the incompatibilities aren't necessarily as incompatible as they look on paper. I can't speak directly to your situation, but for me, after two years of having a hell of a lot of fun and feeling happy most of the time, I no longer described us as that different.
posted by orangesky4 at 10:16 AM on August 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

most of those differences would be fine in a situation where you're having fun together. (You do need the fun. Without the fun, what's the point?)

But the part about how you look down on her for not wanting to consume painful and depressing "culture" in her off-hours after she's spent her working day actually doing draining, demanding, altruistic work for real people suggests to me that you fundamentally don't respect her or get what she's about, and that this relationship isn't a long term match.

Marriage is very close quarters. You need it to be mostly fun, because there's (also) a lot of compromise involved, and sometimes some very heavy lifting when outside factors get challenging. Without the fun, without the feeling that you're fundamentally well matched, that your partner gets you, that you get them... no, that's not going to do well in the long term.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:46 AM on August 16, 2018 [13 favorites]

I want an "us against the world" partnership, she prefers a vision that's more harmony-and-hearth.

I think you need to be more specific. Not here, on the internet, in public, but in your own mind and on paper. I don't think I know accurately what you mean by "us against the world", and I would like to be fair to you.

Perhaps her negotiation skills are overmatching yours, with some verbal judo, and you aren't getting what you want when you discuss and debate.

But if you want her to want what you want, or to give up what she wants frequently, that's probably not going to work. I think it can be better if each of you gets some of your needs met by other people. Like the person you discuss serious art with doesn't have to be your sex partner.
posted by puddledork at 11:03 AM on August 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

This question made me think of the story To Room Nineteen by Doris Lessing. The first line goes:

This is a story, I suppose, about a failure in intelligence: the Rawlings' marriage was grounded in intelligence.

I bring it up only because the driving force behind the narrative is about a couple that tries to stay together using their "intelligence." Things do not turn out well.

If you are not happy, despite having great communication skills, you are probably seeking something from your relationship without knowing clearly what that is. What you do conciously know is that you aren't getting "it" whatever "it" is, with this person.

Follow your instincts, not your intelligence.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 11:06 AM on August 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

This sounds like the kind of relationship that ends with a "conscious uncoupling."
posted by headnsouth at 11:46 AM on August 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

It has been my strong opinion for a while that, actually, when a focus of a relationship is 'great communication' it means there are underlying incompatibilities. I know you need good communication in a relationship, but if you are compatible the negotiation isn't constant or exhausting. If you're compatible, you just don't need all that communication.

My friends got married about a year ago and in their vows they talked about their 'great communication'. I was horrified, because behind the scenes, a week beforehand, one of them was telling me she was considering stopping the marriage. Their great communication won out and now they are in an unhappy, incompatible marriage, in which they endlessly communicate about everything like reasonable adults.

I also think lots of people are confused about what 'work' in a relationship means. No, a relationship should not take constant work. The work comes in when big life events happen. When you have kids and have been together for years, there is work to remember to keep turning towards your partner. The work shouldn't be a day to day slog just to stay together. Staying together should be easy, especially after 1.5 years! If it is this much work now, I hate to think what it will be like if something significant happens.
posted by thereader at 12:13 PM on August 16, 2018 [14 favorites]

My hackles raise allllllllll the way up when I hear people say things like this. It always strikes me as dismissive, bordering on contemptuous, of the other person to position one's self as the "intellectual" one in the relationship.

I tend to see it the most from people (usually men) who've opted out of emotional labor so hard that they don't even truly recognize the value and, yes, intellectual rigor of it and who genuinely don't realize that having the mental bandwidth for "technical" or "abstract" topics tends to be a luxury reserved for those who don't have more practical shit to worry about.

If I could favorite this a thousand times I could.

I think your GF has done a LOT of work helping you become a better communicator, which you seem to appreciate, but I think you only appreciate it for what it does for YOU and not what improved communication does for your GF or your relationship. I mean just from here, imagining what your GF does on a daily basis just sounds exhausting. I don't think I could muster much enthusiasm for your "intellectual" interests either. I'd be curious to know who does the dishes, laundry, and cooking at your place. If the answer isn't that you do most of it, I think that you are asking FAR too much of your GF and are being extremely unfair to her.

I mean, if you don't want to put a lot of work into a relationship that's fine, but relationships are a lot of work, and not JUST communication-wise. If you're not up for putting in the work, it's really better for everyone involved if you walk away sooner rather than later.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:20 PM on August 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

Also, to answer this: "is this just how serious adult relationships go?"...No! Serious adult relationships can be silly and fun and messy and passionate and also boring sometimes! Your relationship doesn't sound fun. It sounds like your gf is trying to control too much, out of anxiety perhaps?
posted by thereader at 12:22 PM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Gf's perspective is that this is the work that a mature relationship requires.

Honestly, to me, yes - a mature relationship (especially once you have kids) should require almost constant negotiation and compromise. Being with someone else is a lot of compromise.

But I think the key here is, you should w
(mostly) want to compromise. It shouldn't feel like a constant sacrifice or work (though it will, occasionally).

None of what you described, to me, sounds like a deal breaker - indeed I think having some differences is really critical for successful relationships. You don't want to marry a twin.

But I think there needs to be an appreciation, a value, of those differences. My partner and I complement each other very well: she can't cook a damn so I do most of the cooking. She's more career focused, I'm more home focused. It works. Together we are stronger.

But it doesn't sound like you are really valuing those differences and what they are bringing to your relationship and your own self. And yeah if you don't feel it's a good fit, then don't jerk this lady around, esp at this age when kids etc will be a big consideration.

Best of luck, to me your girlfriend sounds like an incredible woman with amazing values that anyone would be lucky to be partnered with.
posted by smoke at 2:24 PM on August 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you're just not that into her and should move on for both your sakes.

Yes, there is an element of work to long-term relationships but it should be something that supplements, not replaces, a fundamental attraction and appreciation for each other. It doesn't sound like you have those deep feelings for her. You both deserve better.
posted by rpfields at 5:55 PM on August 16, 2018

It looks like you're not feeling it, no amount of deep discussion will change that, and you're getting a bit beaten up here because your gf seems terrific. She may be terrific but that doesn't mean for whatever reason you're really into her.

I think you're getting caught up with the whole idea that relationships are work and you should be able to talk things through. That's nice advice but in relationships there's also a very basic element of attraction, and it seems like you're missing that which is fine, but it also means no amount of talking will change that, you can't force it, and you should just break up.

Yes she's wonderful and she's taught you a lot, but it's not a good fit, so end it.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:32 AM on August 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

... and seeking a compromise we can both live with.
But there's a lot of reverting-to-default on both sides

Okay, so you’re clearly failing at finding compromises you can both live with. You may tell yourselves and each other that you’re ready to make those changes but in reality not so much.

If I were constantly agreeing to do one thing and finding myself doing another I’d be going crazy too.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:48 PM on August 17, 2018

A++ to the people who pointed out you looking down on her for not being intellectual, deep, or abstract enough is the problem here, but honestly, I feel bad for this woman, because you’ve turned her hard-earned, self-taught strength—one that she uses to support herself and her community (but that you point out she “prides herself” on and that she’s made into a big part of her identity so that you can let us know she’s, what, high on herself or something?) into something that’s a fault. Her communication skills (that you kind of take pains to point out are self-proclaimed) are SO GOOD you suspect she’s trapped you in a relationship you don’t want?? Boy, bye. Get out of this so at least you can blame yourself for your dissatisfaction rather than a woman who loves you but is making you miserable by “communicating too well.”
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 6:01 PM on August 18, 2018 [7 favorites]

Everyone here has given great advice that you should consider very carefully. You're not happy in this relationship, so you should get out. But also, you should use this as an opportunity to learn and grow and examine why you're wringing your hands like this.

And to quote my roommate: "Love takes work, sure, but it's not supposed to be a job.""
posted by Zuph at 10:07 AM on August 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was in a relationship similar to the one lafemma describes. My ex had a job that required nothing of him intellectually at a time when I was in a career that required the very opposite. At the end of a long day I wanted nothing more than to take a hot shower together and make a nice meal. But for him, he craved these conversations and they were simply outwith my bandwith at that time in the day. Occasions when I was more relaxed were a different story - by the by, we met during summer hols when I was feeling exactly this and exercising my intellectual muscle regularly. I'm an intellectual person but sometimes life takes over and shit gets tiring.

My ex-partner was incompatible with me communication-wise because I am a naturally a very good communicator which we found 'intimidating'. He said he was simply less emotionally intelligent and he found the emotional labour exhausting. So I personally think good communication is important and really invaluable in a relationship. But like the others I also think it should be FUN, but not fun all the time. What do you together that is fun and mutually enjoyable? If this was how your life was going to be for the rest of your life would you be happy with that - or do you want more?
posted by Willow251 at 1:12 PM on August 19, 2018

I just got out of a relationship almost exactly like this and ending it, though very sad, was ultimately a relief for both of us.

Initially, we both focused on the positives in the other person and tried to communicate away all our differences, but in the end it was too draining. We had to admit there was too much compromising to be done and neither of us were ever going to be satisfied.

The issues you laid out (quality & amount of time spent together, temperament, interests) are just as important as the standards (marriage, kids, finances, values) when considering a long-term, committed partnership.

IMO a lot of what keeps people in a situation like this is simply the desire to be in a relationship, compounded by the timing (being in your 30s), that makes it feel like you should be able to make it work with anyone as long as you both want it enough.

You both sound like great people, but ultimately incompatible and it seems like you both could find a better match for yourselves.
posted by prism4tic at 2:39 PM on October 3, 2018

I also want to add that the OP does not come across to me as though he looks down on his GF in any way.

Yes, she does incredible work in her professional life and prefers to keep things simple at home - we only know this because he took the time to outline what a great person she is. He wouldn't have been able to do that as eloquently as he did if he didn't value her.

Acknowledging that his (totally reasonable) needs aren't being met does not negate that. (And hers likely aren't either.)
posted by prism4tic at 2:50 PM on October 3, 2018

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