Our self-help Q&A columnist Athena Lazarides is a qualified psychologist and the author of You’ve Got This. She’s on a mission to help you clarify, heal and embrace your life.
This week, she received a question from Stacey. See what she wanted help with:
Hi Athena, I have been in a relationship for three years. It has been a long road – we have grown and overcome a lot of situations together, and learnt a lot about each other. In the beginning I was so happy and in love; now I feel mellow. I sometimes feel as though I do not love my partner. Don’t get me wrong – he’s great! He’s also more supportive now compared to the beginning of our relationship. The worst part for me is being intimate. I’m just not fully engaged. We’re planning a life together but I’m not so sure I want to get married. What do I do? Do I leave our relationship or work on it?
It sounds as though you feel a bit lonely and confused at the moment. Wouldn’t it be great if you had a crystal ball that could give you the magic answer? Yes Stacey, stay; or hell no, it’s time to go? Unfortunately, I cannot answer this question for you in the way you want. Ultimately, you are going to have to make the decision as to whether you commit to this relationship or not. However, I can dispel some myths that are impacting you. The first one is that you are going to feel exactly the same way as you did when you first met – i.e., that incredible love happiness that comes with new-found romance. Neurologically speaking, our mind is wired to release a powerful blend of oxytocin and dopamine when we first fall in love. It’s like being on drugs. You feel elated, looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses. Your partner can do no wrong. Then, wham: the reality of life and the dissipation of these chemicals, which generally takes a year, result in a ‘how did I land up here, with this person’ situation. So three years down the line, the sex is not as great and a sense of boredom creeps into the everyday monotony of your relationship. That’s completely normal and okay. In fact, sex therapist Esther Perel wrote an entire book on this topic called Mating In Captivity. I highly recommend you read it.
Marriage and relationships take work, and it’s worth it if the fundamental cornerstone of your relationship is love – which from the sound of it might not be the case for you. There’s also the issue of your past getting in the way of your present. It sounds like your partner was not that supportive at the beginning of the relationship, and now that he is it just doesn’t feel good enough because it wasn’t like that from the start. It’s painful not getting the support you need and require upfront. However, not expressing that pain at the time, then carrying it for three years, is a heavy burden to bear.
I suggest looking at how you personally address forgiveness – towards yourself and towards your partner. Can you truly forgive your partner for all the past ‘stuff’ that’s happened, and move forward with an open mind and heart? Don’t land up in a state of resentment because things didn’t play out the way you wanted them to. Your future, your sex life and your everyday being is what you make of them, right now. It may require work but that’s okay. What you have to figure out (for yourself) is whether the work is worth it. Lastly, be critical in deciphering your own role and responsibility in the relationship. After all, you’re not some stranger who all these things are happening to. You are an active participant in the story that is your life. If you don’t like the narrative, write a new script.