Is my dread of the future more about my partner or more about me?
September 23, 2021 8:50 PM   Subscribe

I’m currently feeling a sense of dread when I contemplate a future with my long-term partner. How can I figure out if this is my depression talking or a sign that it’s time to move on?

I’ve been in my relationship for a long time and while overall I’d say I’m happy with it, we have some very different life goals plus I’m not as sexually attracted to them as I wish I was and though it’s hard for me to admit to myself, I haven’t been for most of the relationship. We’ve talked about staying together for the long term and sometimes I’m into it but sometimes I feel a sense of claustrophobia and dread. I am anxious and depressed and in therapy, and I’d always assumed my feelings were just how things are in a long-term partnership. But recently for the first time I met someone else who I could imagine having a happier relationship with. I know I can’t meaningfully compare a new infatuation with a settled relationship, but the experience of interacting with my new crush has made me wonder if my ongoing low level dread isn’t how things have to be. I would welcome any suggestions for how to wade through these feelings. I wouldn’t break up my relationship lightly but I am realizing I’ve been super unhappy for a long time and it’s hard for me me to figure out how much of that is me and how much is my relationship.

I apologize for what I recognize is a cliche midlife crisis question. It feels very real to me though.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Nobody deserves to feel dread at the prospect of a relationship, certainly not at the stage you seem to be. I would strongly consider that. something is telling you that you don’t care for the situation as it currently stands.
posted by Alensin at 9:30 PM on September 23, 2021 [5 favorites]

Imagine your partner had written this question. What would you advise them? (Also, for next time: Claustrophobia and dread are not the "normal" setting of a long-term love affair. Do you have children with this person? If so, it may be more complicated, but if not, there's no reason to stay and waste time making two people miserable.)
posted by shadygrove at 10:09 PM on September 23, 2021 [7 favorites]

I think the main question is, can you imagine your new infatuation being a settled thing - having to agree on dishes and visiting parents and see each other's dirty laundry - and when you do, does the dread come back? What is it you dread, and is it specific to your current partner or more about the situation?

Note you don't deserve or need to live in a state of dread even if it is "no, the idea of having to tell ANYONE where I'm going is equally bad" - we have way more leeway to shape our lives than most admit (you don't have to live together, you don't have to stick to some outsider's recommended chore schedule, you have options IF you can creatively problem solve together).
posted by Lady Li at 11:36 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

No, claustrophobia and dread is not normal and you need to break up. Unfortunately I’ve been there. I felt claustrophobia and dread even before we were first married but went ahead with it anyway…. I’m married now to a different person and wowie!!!! We have our major ups and downs and some incompatibilities and I wonder sometimes about the future in 10 years but I NEVER EVER EVER feel claustrophobia and dread in the way I did in the previous marriage and I have never regretted getting that divorce… I could write pages and pages but that feeling never went away and it kills you to be trapped with someone when you feel like that and in the end it’s so hurtful when you have to get divorced.
posted by pairofshades at 11:39 PM on September 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

How can I figure out if this is my depression talking or a sign that it’s time to move on?

How do you feel about other things in your life? Is it just your relationship that feels claustrophobic or dreadful, or do you feel that way about other things like your job or the future in general?

If you feel generally good about everything else in your life but like your relationship is causing dread, maybe it's the relationship. If you feel the same way about everything then it could be your relationship is past it's expiry date or you might just be looking at everything with shit-colored glasses.

You might consider, if you aren't already, going on an anti-depressant to see if your outlook improves.

But reading this it feels a lot like you're looking for a permission slip from online strangers to do something you already know you want to do. So, consider this permission -- it's your life, and life is too short to suffer through an unhappy relationship.

If you're miserable, it seems unlikely you're bringing great joy to the relationship for your partner. Especially given the comment about sexual attraction. But people tend to stay out of inertia and fear of the unknown, so perhaps they're also silently dreading the future and posting in some other forum about what to do. So take the leap and see what happens.
posted by jzb at 3:08 AM on September 24, 2021 [9 favorites]

This isn't what a long-term partnership feels like to me. I think if you're in a relationship, it should make you happy on balance, and it should enable you to be a better version of yourself. Despite irritating me, my partner makes me feel more confident in life generally, I enjoy spending time with them, and also I am looking forward to being with them indefinitely.

Even your feelings about your relationship are partly influenced by anxiety and depression, you can still decide to leave it. Relationships are fundamentally a little irrational, it is ok to have irrational reasons for ending them as well as rational ones.

It does not sound to me like this relationship is (on average) increasing your happiness, it sounds like it is mainly making you feel worse than you otherwise might. If I'm right about that, that is definitely a good reason to leave it.
posted by plonkee at 3:42 AM on September 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Is my dread of the future more about my partner or more about me?
Maybe both?

Rather than using your feelings about an infatuation as an indicator, what happens if you use your feelings about being alone as an indicator? Do you feel more excited/at peace/energized about being alone, and the challenges and possibilities that could bring, than you do about the possibilities and challenges of being in your relationship?

How much do you think your depression is affecting you? Now double that--one part counts for your sense of depression's impact on you as an individual, and the other counts for depression's traction in your relationship, preventing things from moving forward in growth or good feeling, a kind of suppression field. If that energy were released, dissipated, or transformed into something lighter, what can you imagine your relationship looking like? Does that inspire/energize/bring peace to you?

Spending some time alone, if possible, could help you explore and experiment with both of these aspects of your inner life. It can be difficult to contemplate these things while in the everyday press of a relationship. Good luck.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:51 AM on September 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hello, I have felt claustrophobia and dread in every relationship I've had longer than about 6 months, even the good ones where everything was "right". It took years for me to realize I'm just flat out not suited for long term pair bonding, at least not in the relationship escalator sense where there's an eventual expectation to progress the relationship into things like cohabitation or legally binding partnership. Love dating, appreciate the safety of exclusivity, panic dread and fight or flight response at the thought of trading my independence for any of it.

Maybe it's this specific relationship that isn't right, maybe it's all these sorts of relationships that aren't right and you'll run into this over and over. Doesn't matter except that no one should have to feel like this in any relationship. If you're looking for permission to set yourself free, you have mine.
posted by phunniemee at 5:06 AM on September 24, 2021 [6 favorites]

Another thing to consider is whether the dread is not about the state of your current relationship but the relationship escalator you see yourself on. Are there ways you can imagine structuring your relationship with your current partner that feel good to you? If so, exploring the viability of those ways, instead of envisioning a relationship that develops in the expected/ traditional ways, will be useful.
posted by metasarah at 6:25 AM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

I’m not as sexually attracted to them as I wish I was and though it’s hard for me to admit to myself, I haven’t been for most of the relationship.

you know, one time I went out with a person who told me in a fit of sort of anxious shamefaced flattery that he had never been in a long-term serious relationship with someone he was really attracted to, and that I was a revelation to him on this front (we were not yet in a relationship, but he thought he wanted to be.) whether I believed him is not the point; what is the point is he explained this history by saying he thought he had put himself into these situations by being so depressed he thought he didn't deserve to enjoy being married & so had semi-consciously picked someone who liked him but did not please him. safety and self-degradation all in one.

it will not, I hope, surprise you to hear that all my attention to him went out the window and settled, like a dove into its new nest on mt. ararat or whatever, upon the imagined miseries and indignities suffered by his poor unattracting ex, did he TELL her this in the breakup or did she remember her time with him in blessed ignorance of his secret blend of self-hatred and distaste. I wasn't even worried he might say the same thing about me someday, given the chance, I was just worried about this poor woman I'd never met and was she ok.

my advice to everyone who has this backstory to their relationship question, and there are A LOT OF YOU, is get out. sometimes I say get out because it's horrible and stifling and tragic to not only feel a lack of physical passion but to be afraid of ever telling the truth about it; sometimes I say get out because it's as awful to the other person if they guess as it is awful to you if they never do. but either way, this isn't good.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:49 AM on September 24, 2021 [12 favorites]

When I’ve felt claustrophobia and dread in this context, it’s been because my partner was someone with poor judgement who made lots of short sighted decisions and was not true to their word. Meanwhile, I was making lots of excuses for their unacceptable actions in my mind, to justify staying in the partnership. I wanted to stay in the partnership because I was very anxious about being un-partnered. Meanwhile, I also had that sense of claustrophobia about the present and dread about the future.

Your feelings may be similarly grounded in a basis of fundamental incompatibility with your partner. (And as someone who left that partnership and is now partnered with amazing results — your feelings need not be how long relationships just feel (that was one of the excuses I told myself, too))
posted by Doc_Sock at 10:28 AM on September 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

hi, i could've written this question three months ago. in fact, i sort of did.

there's some tough love in those answers but also some very helpful perspectives. for me, i realized that once i had opened that pandora's box of feelings and desires, i could not shut it again. so i left. i wanted more for myself, but also i felt guilty holding onto a wonderful guy whom i could not fully give myself to.

the last three months have been hard. i hit some real lows but also have experienced so many new things. i read through a lot of mefi posts throughout all this and some lines really stuck with me. one person wrote somewhere that the decision i made was the right one because otherwise i wouldn't have made it. that is what i hold onto now as i'm settling into a new stasis.

i don't have any real advice, other than to say that you're not alone, and that shit is hard either way. i spent two months trying to figure out if i could stay and try to make it work, but i could tell my heart was already out. maybe take some time to really hear yourself if you're able.

feel free to msg me if you want. wishing you the best.
posted by monologish at 10:37 AM on September 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

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