People who question whether they should stay in a long-term relationship are often deeply conflicted about their decisions, especially if the partner they are going to leave behind will be wounded. By the time they come to see me, they have usually struggled with their feelings for a long time, wanting to make absolutely sure they are not prematurely leaving. They've tried everything they can do to stay in love with their partner but just can't seem to bring back the feelings they once had. If they're going to cause pain and sorrow to someone they once loved, maybe they should question themselves more before giving up. How can they tell the difference between a lagging relationship that might have the power to regenerate and one that should end?
"I woke up in the middle of the night and looked at my guy. He still looked exactly like the man I used to be crazy about, except I just didn't feel the same way. It scared me. I think I must have stared at him for hours, searching in my heart for the warm feelings I always felt in the past. He's just as wonderful as always. Maybe I've just not tried hard enough. What if I couldn't find anyone better? Am I running away without really giving it my best shot? What if the problem is me?"
"She reached out to touch me in the beautiful way she always has. I thought I was just tired. I made some kind of lame excuse and she was fine that first night. Then it happened again. We talked about seeing a doctor, but I knew it wasn't physical. I love this woman as much as I ever did, but something is just missing, and I don't know what it is. Christ, I don't want to lose her, but I don't want to pretend I feel something I don't either. I don't even want to tell her because I know she'd be devastated."
If you're the partner who fears that you're falling out of love, please don't beat yourself up. Your feelings did not change overnight, and you might even not have realized it was happening. Relationships are never all bad, and you might have been trying too hard to focus on the things you still valued while you were slipping away inside. You've been struggling with whether you're really done or just need a new way to be together.
You realize that all of your thoughts and feelings could just be fleeting and perhaps just dependent on your current situation. With enough motivation and the hope that things could be different, could you save the relationship? After all, every Intimate relationship goes through slumps, and your lack of connection might not necessarily be the omen of a terminal rupture. But, what you do know for sure is that things are not right.
If you haven't told your partner how you've been feeling, you may also be experiencing the guilt of not keeping him or her in the loop. Your partner may have no idea that you're thinking of leaving the relationship. Often partners who are feeling less cared for are afraid to talk about it. If you've chosen to remain silent and try to work out your conflicts yourself, you haven't given that person the opportunity to fight for the relationship. Whether you are done or still have the chance to turn the relationship around, it is always better to keep your partner informed no matter what the outcome.
If there is still value in the relationship and you're not already involved with someone else, it is always better to try to save what you have, if, for no other reasons, to understand how both of you might have done things differently. There are seven common warning signs that will help you know if you are falling out of love and need to end your relationship, or whether you have the chance of turning things around before you make that final decision. As you read through them, think about where you might place yourself on each of these continuums. At the end of this article, there will be a simple test to help you evaluate what you are feeling now and the decision you should make.
Low Frustration Tolerance
When people are still in love, they often have a great deal of patience for their partner's faux pas and foibles. They are slow to react negatively, quickly forgive, and want to move beyond the error as soon as possible. They focus on the things they love about their partner and use those warm feelings to sustain them when they might otherwise feel more judgmental.
When positive feelings begin to fade, intimate partners not only are quicker to criticize, but slower to heal. They hold on to and exaggerate irritating behaviors. Disappointments happen more regularly, promises not kept are seen as major disruptions in trust, explanations are perceived as lame excuses, and future plans are no longer believed in with the same hope.
When love is new, physical affection and caring emotional expressions happen regularly. Lovers caress each other often and are rarely apart for long without missing each other's touch. It is as if they are one heart, one soul, and one body. What one feels, the other knows, by touch, facial expression, voice caresses, and welcoming body language.
As those connections diminish, partners who once would have not gone without those expressions of love don't need or ask for them in the same way. The difference is particularly noticeable when each sees the other still able to be affectionate with others. For most couples, their lack of sexual frequency and intensity is most noticeable, but there are other areas that may stand out as well.
Less Connected When Apart
Intimate partners who are still deeply emotionally attached stay connected in whatever way they can when they are apart because it maintains the bond that keeps them close. They want to be present in each other's lives even when they are not. The many important things that happen during the day are too precious for them to wait to share them when they re-unite.
When feelings of desire to share fade, partners may still check in, but the content of their messages are usually without much emotion or lingering. Often one of them reaches out more than the other. Reuniting is not accompanied by lingering connections, but rather with logistical and clinical efficiency.
Rearrangement of Priorities
People still deeply in love are a high priority in each other's lives. Though they may be comfortable sharing their partners with others, they both are careful that those decisions are not to the exclusion of their relationship. Whenever either feels the need for the other's time, they rearrange their commitments accordingly. Vulnerable feelings of need or desire are always high on both partner's lists.
When couples are in danger of disconnection in these crucial areas, they are not as available. Often they will rely on other people to care for their partners and choose other priorities that are more satisfying. The once-chosen pleasure to be the first responder in times of need is relegated to obligatory support and feelings of being put-upon.
Loss of Nurturing
When people are in emotional distress, they often regress to an earlier stage of life. The partner feeling those childlike needs often seeks the "loving symbolic parent" in the other partner. When people are deeply in love, they not only easily provide that genuine selfless and unconditional offering of support, but willingly put their own needs aside to focus totally on those of their partner's.
When intimate partners have drifted apart, they are more likely to want to limit how selfless they have to be and reach quickly to solve the problem rather than care for the distress. They're style becomes more like toughening to get the issues out of the way as quickly and efficiently as possible so that little energy is spent.
People in love share vulnerabilities and secrets that are only meant for each other. They have an implicit understanding that neither one of them will ever break that sacred responsibility without the other's permission. They talk about intimate and personal experiences, trusting they will be forever held in reverence. Whether they are about embarrassing or indiscriminate behaviors, humiliating thoughts, or irrational fears, those revelations are held in trust by both partners.
As people become less important to each other, they may unknowingly or uncaringly slip and divulge private things about the other that they never would have done before. They might talk to others about their partner's liabilities or limitations, dismissing their prior sacred agreements as if they no longer are important to uphold.
Patience, attentiveness, enthusiasm, excitement, availability, and presence, are all noticeable attitudes and behaviors in relationships where people still mean a lot to each other. The motivation to be totally available and supportive is boundless and automatically regenerating.
As partners decline in their commitment, these ways of being diminish. There is a lackluster quality to the relationship, as if the partners are living in a series of automatic rituals with little mind, heart, or body involved. Words and movements often go unnoticed, without any significant responses. A wedge of apathy pervades the space between them.
If you believe that you can identify with these seven areas of decreasing attachment to your partner but still care for him or her, you may still be in time to turn them around. To begin more deeply exploring where you are in that process, answer the following questions and score them according to the legend below. The resulting totals will help you decide to either try harder or to begin the painful process of disconnecting.
No = 1
Kind of = 2
Some of the time = 3
Mostly = 4
Yes = 5
- Would you feel more relief than sadness if you ended the relationship? ______
- Are you focusing more on what is wrong now than what you loved in the past? ______
- Have you sold your partner short by not reaching out and sharing your feelings? ______
- Are you absolutely sure that your unhappiness is due to your relationship? ______
- Have you turned away your partner's attempts to care for you? ______
- Have you been withholding your own caring? ______
- Have you made your partner a less important priority in your life? ______
- Have you stopped putting energy into the relationship? ______
- Have you turned away your partner's desire to make the relationship better? ______
- Have you knowingly kept your partner from what you are feeling? ______
- Are you feeling more alive and energetic away from your partner? _____
- Do you find yourself more easily and quickly irritated with your partner? _____
- Have you begun sharing private things you don't like about your partner with others? _____
- Are you tired of trying to make things better? _____
- Do you find yourself more often wishing you were free of the relationship? _____
Add up your scores. If they are:
0 - 15 You are still committed to this person and should try to work your relationship out
16 - 30 You are wavering in your commitment but still find enough in the relationship to wonder if you should let it go yet
31 - 45 You are seriously concerned that this relationship may not have a chance
46 - 60 You are holding on by a thread
61 - 75 You have already left the relationship in your own mind
The ending of any intimate relationship is always a sorrow. Most new lovers start out with the best of intentions and a full commitment to make their relationship great and long-lasting. Sometimes they play out their course and should end. At other times, they are only in a temporary lull and one or both partners is feelings less attached and in fear of falling out of love. The sooner those feelings are shared, the greater chance a couple can explore successful ways to heal and rejuvenate their love
Dr. Randi's free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that keep people from finding and keeping romantic love. Based on over 100,000 face-to-face hours counseling singles and couples over her 40-year career, you'll learn how to zero in on the right partner, avoid the dreaded "honeymoon is over" phenomenon, and make sure your relationship never gets boring. www.heroiclove.com
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