Dealing with uncertainty in relationships
December 20, 2021 1:03 PM   Subscribe

How do you strike a balance between enjoying a good romantic relationship in the moment/short-term future, versus looking objectively at possible (but not certain) incompatibilities in the future?

Right now, the relationship that my boyfriend (26M) and I (29F) have feels great - if I could somehow freeze us in time and have our relationship always be this fun, nurturing and loving, I would do it in a heartbeat. That said, I generally have some anxious tendencies toward overthinking and ruminating, and I worry about our future together because we are both in somewhat transitional phases of our lives that might cause us to grow apart, not together. We are also planning an international move together, which adds to my feeling of urgency to get this all sorted out sooner rather than later.

He is just embarking on his professional career (and killing it, I might add), and has big ambitions for the future. I've been working at a high-pressure job for a few years and feel pretty burned out on it, realizing that I'd rather step back and devote my time and energy to other, smaller things. Again, right now things are good but I worry about a future where this mismatch grows until one of us resents the other. Further complicating things, in some way I felt the same as he did a few years ago - I worry that by staying with him I'm subconsciously hoping/expecting he'll follow the same path.

We have talked together about some of these things, and he doesn't feel that they are as big of an issue as I do. That said, he is much more of an optimist than I am, and admits that he tends more toward under-thinking things rather than overthinking. He pointed out that by constantly fixating on these things, I could be turning them into self-fulfilling prophecies. I see his point - on one hand, I want to keep my heart open and enjoy what I have in the moment instead of being consumed by worry about the future. But at the same time it doesn't feel right to just stick my head in the sand about things that could go wrong, especially now that we are at the point where we are negotiating moving, jobs, careers - things where making compromises for each other could impact the rest of our lives, together or separate.

How do you deal with these feelings (and facts) about uncertainty, when we both want to say "I want to spend the rest of my life with you" but can't quite see what that life would look like?
posted by btfreek to Human Relations (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The course of a life is most accurately like whitewater rapids -- you can make general intentions about your course but the bulk of your life will be rapid adjustments to things in the moment. The more anxious you get about the fact that those adjustments may betray your intended course, the more you become paralyzed towards making those adjustments, and the more effed up your raft is going to be. It sounds as if you have a good partner in your boat. Go ahead and try to chart your course – it's necessary and not unuseful (and we are pattern-matching machines, so it's in our nature) – but be aware that you're going to be adjusting things as you go, and that that's just the nature of life.
posted by MollyRealized at 1:16 PM on December 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

He is a keeper. When you sense yourself going to a dark place, take some breaths, look outside at the day, and get something going in real life. Ruminating is exhausting and it feeds something unknown, but it does not add to your joy or security, fire it, let it go, serve notice. There are more positive relations with self then rehash, or fortune gessing, or pre-failing.
posted by Oyéah at 1:21 PM on December 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

My husband and I had very settled ideas about what our life together would look like, and then, eh, actual life happened.

The important things aren't in the house you have or your careers.

Do you have compatible values?
Would he take you to the ER at 3 am, even if he has an important meeting the next day?
Can you resolve conflict?
Is he your best friend?
Do you agree on whose turn it is to plunge the toilet?
How do you manage each other's families?
posted by champers at 1:37 PM on December 20, 2021 [15 favorites]

You are going to change, and so is he. Don't look for a partner who wants the life you want and expect there will be no changes. Look for a partner who can ride those waves of life.

He pointed out that by constantly fixating on these things, I could be turning them into self-fulfilling prophecies.
He's not wrong, but it's not simple, is it? I have a colleague who seems to do this: it's like she almost manifests things into being by being so stressed about them. But telling people "Don't worry" doesn't do anything to help them not to worry. Do you find you're anxious in other parts of life? If you have some cognitive distortions or ruminating patterns, then I'd encourage you to work with a therapist to figure out how to interrupt those thought patterns.

In the big picture, I think the thing is to embrace uncertainty in everything, or at least work to accept it. So much can happen to change your life in ways you can't predict: an injury or illness; an unexpected windfall; a natural disaster; chance; a worldwide pandemic. So, maybe it goes like this: "I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and I'm not sure what that looks like, and we'll figure it out together."
posted by bluedaisy at 2:38 PM on December 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

How long have you been together? If the answer is less than a year, you're not at all overthinking things to be wary about international moves and similar kinds of commitments. Especially as a woman thinking about giving up potential career paths to benefit the career of a man. The general advice I would give is that if your relationship is good, a period of time where you stay together but are separated geographically while you continue building things and figuring out what you both want individually would be completely appropriate. Unless there's an urgent situation, there's nothing stopping you from delaying any permanent decisions six months or a year while you figure out what you want.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:45 PM on December 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'd recommend getting a copy of Eight Dates and working through it together! It has a nice way of structuring relationship conversations to cover several of the big topics in life (money/work, family, adventure, etc) in not a super-heavy way, suited to people in a happy relationship who are interested in figuring out if they're really compatible for the longer term. It goes well with this book about attachment. They're both relatively short and easy reads.
posted by dreamyshade at 7:51 PM on December 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Communicate neutrally without hurting the person. Try to leave room for a positive long-term interest, regardless of what form it takes. Echoing others.

There's only so much you can do, but if you set a good, strong positive precedent, even if you do grow apart, you're setting strong likelihood or possibility you'll see the person again, even if you lose one another awhile. Probably the less pressure, the better.
posted by firstdaffodils at 9:17 PM on December 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

You can't, that's what makes life exciting. Both of you need to spend time together and communicate.
posted by GiveUpNed at 5:50 PM on December 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Addendum: you basically have to talk with the person. A bunch of abstracts won't clarify or articulate anything, especially for a long game.
posted by firstdaffodils at 6:26 AM on February 6

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