Where Did The Fun Go?
Dear Coach Fabulous
I need your help! I am 27 years old and am in a total rut. My boyfriend and I have been together for four years now and bought a house a year ago. Ever since then I've felt trapped and like my life is all laid out for me – my family keep expecting a wedding announcement any day now! I love my boyfriend dearly but sometimes he winds me up so much! He's so negative about everything (not us, but just the world in general) whereas I try to see the good in everything. We've almost totally stopped having sex (3 times in the year since we bought the house!) and I feel like we're drifting apart. I don't want to leave him as I do still love him very much, but I feel like something’s got to give! On top of this he may be out of work next month (he's a junior doctor) and I think that will put a huge strain on our relationship. I keep blaming myself and trying to change things about me (losing weight, taking up exercise etc) but I give up on these things after a couple of weeks as they seem pointless. The lethargy that's infected our relationship is eating into my professional life too and I find it hard to concentrate for more than a couple of hours.Please help!
Dear Bored Stiff
Well, the first flush of love has definitely worn thin, but all is not lost. The big issue here is that the intimacy has gone out of your relationship – and I don’t just mean the sex. I mean that depth of interest that keeps you fascinated, loving their quirky ways and wanting to do thoughtful, caring things for each other. It’s natural that the heady days of new love turn into something more mundane, but that doesn’t mean you have to live without fun, thoughtfulness, affection or intimacy. You and your partner seem to have slipped into a habitual way of relating that’s sucked the fun and excitement out of your relationship. The good news, of course, is that a habit can always be changed. Sometimes, when the purpose of your being together has been exhausted, there may not be enough will on either side to resurrect the love you had, but in your case it sounds like there’s still plenty of love left, but it’s just getting lost in the dull details of how you’re living your life together day-to-day.
First of all, drop the habit of blame – it’s really not doing you any favours. You’re ricocheting between blaming him for being annoying – which just frustrates you as well as making it harder to see him in a loving light – and blaming yourself for not being able to fix it, which simply erodes your self-esteem. What’s going to help you heal this is an attitude of taking responsibility that doesn’t apportion blame. It’s about saying to yourself, “OK, I’m not happy with the way things are, so how can I do things differently?”
Take a look at what happened when you bought the house. If you’ve been feeling trapped since then, it’s probably an unconscious issue around marriage and long-term relationships that’s been triggered. Is there a part of you that’s afraid of either repeating the pattern of your parents’ marriage if it was a difficult one, or not living up to the same standard, if it was an enduring, happy partnership? Plenty of couples manage to sail along very happily until they make a form of commitment that triggers those unconscious patterns. Patterns like these wreak havoc in your life when they’re unconscious, so the best thing you can do is start paying attention to how you really feel about commitment, marriage and relationships. Be honest with yourself about what you’re afraid of, what you think making a commitment might mean for your own independence and what you really want from a relationship or marriage. Look into your beliefs about your parents’ marriage – did you want the same type of relationship or something completely different? However much you think you moved on, your parents’ way of relating with each other is your earliest model of a relationship and the most deeply ingrained, so you will find yourself repeating many of those behaviours unconsciously. When you bring them to light, you can start to act differently.
The next step is going to work equally well on your partner as it does on you – reward behaviour you like and ignore what you don’t. Let’s start with him: let’s say he’s annoying you by being very negative about something, so instead of getting annoyed with him, withdraw your attention. As soon as he moves on to something more positive, engage with him again. Don’t nag or tell him to do anything differently, just reward the things you like about him. At the same time, start remembering the things you liked about him when you fell in love with him and start noticing those more than the annoying stuff. Put your attention where it’s going to pay off – on the good stuff.
You really need to be doing this with yourself as well. You’ve been trying to fix yourself and your relationship by criticising and blaming yourself. That’s a very, very bad habit that’s only going to make you feel worse. So start using the same positive reinforcement on yourself: when self-attacking thoughts arise, focus on something good about you and when you’re feeling judgemental about how the relationship’s going, start focusing on what is working. It’ll be tough at first, but once you’ve cut a new groove it’s going to feel natural to think that way.
If you think your partner would be open to it, talk to him about how you want your relationship to be. Be gentle in your approach, because no-one reacts positively when they feel like they’re being taken to task. Maybe you could remind him how much you used to love doing something together that you’ve fallen out of the habit of doing, and suggest you make more time for each other. Whatever it is that you’d like to have happen, make sure he knows that it’s because you care for him and want to be closer to him. That can gently open the door to more intimate conversations where you can both safely express how you feel without anger or blame.
Even if your partner doesn’t seem to want to work on the relationship, you can still shake things up by changing your own attitude. By dropping the blame and appreciating small, positive things, your relationship will change. It might not seem fair that you’re doing all the work initially, but someone’s got to get the ball rolling. If you sit around hoping for things to get better of their own accord, you’re going to be in for a very long wait. To get some excitement into your life, start doing more spontaneous things. Get away somewhere different even for one day, try a different restaurant or a type of food that’s new, change your style of clothes – just shake it up a little. The changes you make individually will make you interesting to each other and the changes you try together will give you new things to share.
As for the sex life, that will re-ignite when you become more intimate with each other, sharing your thoughts, interests, hopes and dreams. It’s all gone a bit dull, but when you both begin to feel that you’re appreciated and desired, the passion will kick in again. Sex is never just about sex – it’s as much about feeling supported and cared for as it is about physical desire. Without the fuel of real intimacy, sexual attraction can’t be maintained over time.
You’ve got the love and the will to make this work, so don’t be discouraged. Be kind to yourself, notice how you’re relating to each other and make different choices. Honour the good things about yourself and your partner and forget the rest. Even just that is enough to bring about a miracle in your relationship and give you the strength of partnership to handle whatever life throws at you as a couple.
If you have an issue you’d like guidance on, need some help finding direction or could just do with a bit of inspiration, email CoachFabulousCo@aol.com and a little cyber-coaching will appear, as if by magic. Of course, the names will be changed to protect the innocent (and the not-so-innocent). All material © 2007 Alison Porter