The couples who reach a point of dissatisfaction with their romantic relationship that they find themselves considering the need for professional help, or selecting self-help titles such as “Awakening To Your Soul Mate: A decision to be IN Love ©” have probably known for some time that something is wrong.
It’s generally safe to assume that something is amiss in your romantic relationship if your thoughts, feelings, and desires leave your longing for a real romantic connection. For the couples that’ve lost the loving feeling, you can read it in their journal writings.
Mary’s Journal Entry:
“I am lost. I don’t know what happened to the closeness that Harry and I used to enjoy. Could it be that we were young and immature and easily impressed by the excitement that came so spontaneously in our marriage? Perhaps the kids have preoccupied too much of our time, love, and attention. I miss my partner and long to see the excitement in his eyes when I walk into a room. Nowadays, he seems disinterested in me. He ‘politely’ tolerates my questions about his work and social activities, but my interest in his life does not appear important to him anymore. What is going on??”
Journal entries of this type are common for romantic partners that have become aware, like Mary has, that something is missing in the relationship. The alarm that is raised in them by what they’ve written may stimulate efforts to renew the bond, or renew the excitement, by planning a trip or scheduling a date night.
The same couple is likely to find that date night commitments all too frequently lose their fervor, and the memories of the romantic vacation have faded within a month of their return to the reality of career, home, and family. They return to the demands of parenting or career challenges and find themselves once again on the treadmill of life. Something causes one or the other of them to drift off in private thoughts.
A peak into Harry’s solitary thoughts finds him scheming about a new romance, and his reaction is one of terror. Let’s do a little eavesdropping.
Harry’s private thoughts:
“I need to get a grip of things. My marriage is dull, boring, and an awful lot of work for very little return. I don’t find Mary as attractive as I once did and my eyes are frequently wandering around looking for a younger and more mysterious woman to exchange a moment of innocent fanciful intrigue with. I do not believe that I will ever have an affair — I love Mary — but life with her is not exciting and our relationship makes me feel old and undesirable. I know I am not the young man I once was but this marriage is beginning to feel more and more like a prison than the romantic getaway. I want and deserve to feel differently.
“Sally (a workplace project partner) makes me laugh and finds my insights amazing. I feel more valuable to her than I do my own wife. What is wrong with me? Maybe nothing! There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel important and desirable. Besides, the relationship is harmless, she knows I am happily married — I tell her all the time. Nothing is every going to come of our attraction to each other, but why does her interest in me matter so much and why do I so thoroughly look forward to our time together?”
Harry’s private thoughts are alarming to him but he’s been building quite an extensive system of rationalization and will eventually minimize his concern and silent the alarm until the wanderlust for romantic fantasy is satisfied or worse — surfaces again with greater force.
Harry, like many partners in a struggling romance, is unhappy and looking for personal fulfillment and excitement. He may be finding it in what has come to be known as a “work wife.” There may be nothing sexual or overtly romantic that happens between work spouses for sometime – or ever, but the risk of infidelity looms large for the partners that look for emotional mates at work or in their community service work. If the work marriage does not result in a betrayal, there is still great potential for harm. If meaningful communication and emotional intimacy is so very easy to accomplish with a colleague or social contact, then why work so hard on opening up to one’s spouse?
For many couples like Mary and Harry, the thought of betraying each other is frightening enough to cause one of them to begin reading books on relationships or searching the internet for couples counseling. Some partners deal with the fear by driving the desire for a new romance into the deeper recesses of their being, along with the lack of fulfillment that they feel in their current relationship, and they just get busy with other things in life.
There are still others who are engaging in what they believe to be harmless flirtations. They will miss all the signs that indicate they are having an emotional affair by rationalizing that there is no harm in having intimate relationships with people other than one’s spouse or partner. Or they decide that there can be no harm in having an emotionally intimate relationship with someone other than your romantic partner as long as you and your partner have an intimate bond that is mutually satisfying.
It’s not likely that a romantic or sexual affair is born out of a magical moment when two lonely throbbing hearts meet across a crowed room. It may work that way in the movies, but in real life affairs are likely to occur after a sort of unspoken courtship period in which the prospective partners decide, supposedly by accident, to take their secret attraction to the next level.
The next snapshot reveals the progressive nature of the dissatisfaction and emptiness that can develop in a romance despite our efforts to avoid the truth.
Donna’s morning prayer:
“Thank you God for the opportunity to wake up sober for yet another day. I am so very grateful for all that I have been blessed with in recovery that I feel somewhat ashamed of myself that I am resentful that I have lost my friend and husband to his isolation and depression. It has been so long since we were able to talk in an intimate way about subjects other than the children or the needs of our extended family members. I feel so alone. I want what Doug and I had a couple of years ago; I want to be safe and to be able to lean on each other for support and rely on each other as an accountability partner. Please bring back the relationship and bond we once shared.”
People like Donna who struggle with permission to acknowledge the loss that they feel when they are emotionally distant from a romantic partner are likely to keep denying their needs until a betrayal occurs or a romance dies.
Some will be fearful of saying the words “my spouse and I are in trouble” because they are worried that the acknowledgment of romantic problems will be admitting failure. Other people will be bombarded by negative self-talk when they try to bring their concerns up to others because they will feel ashamed of being dissatisfied with their marriage when they have so many other blessings to be grateful for in recovery.
Now, let us turn up the volume so you can hear the conversation she has with herself shortly after completing the prayer above when the “critical committee” inside Donna’s head challenges her for daring to speak the painful truth.
“What is the matter with you? You are so ungrateful! Doug is a good man. Anyone that you know would be thrilled to have him as a spouse. He works around the house as a full partner and is not concerned with doing what your friend’s husband’s call woman’s work. Doug provides well for you and loves and cares for his kids in a way you only imagined a family behaving when you were a kid. He is home every night, does not gamble and does not drink; and you would never — ever have to be concerned about him being unfaithful.
“What is your problem? Are you not going to be satisfied until you drive him into the arms of another woman? So he is not open and vulnerable with you and does not know the first thing about emotional intimacy. So what! You knew that going to the altar. It was you that thought you were going to change him. He did not mislead you. YOU MADE YOUR BED, NOW LAY IN IT.”
Donna is repeatedly reassuring herself that she is not only wrong for feeling romantically unsatisfied, but she has only herself to blame for her situation evolving the way it has. Still, others will block out the unhappiness and concern with anger or denial of the need for a more emotionally intimate romantic relationship. Regardless of your approach, it’s safe to say that there’s a real problem if you find yourself praying about it.
It’s wise to respond to the concerns that you or others raise about your romance, regardless of the way in which those concerns come into your awareness. Try and refrain from comparing your relationship to those you see around you. Try also to refrain from comparing your relationship to memories of past relationships that you have experienced or observed.
Feel free to compare your relationship to the way that you would like it to be.
It’s all right to have great expectations for your relationship with your romantic partner. Those who might claim that your discomfort is coming from your unreasonable expectations and are quick to tell you that you want too much from your romance are probably in a relationship that you’d find unattractive, or have spent years in their own unfulfilling relationship. Do not settle for less than honesty, openness, mutual support, respectful and loving treatment, intimate communication, being able to count on your partner – if these are in fact the attributes you are looking for in your relationship.
Simply put, you should be concerned if you are concerned. You should certainly be concerned if you’ve lost that loving feeling.