Is Your Long-Term Relationship Over?

The 5 Most Common Struggles For Couples
Beyond the Honeymoon Stage

After a year and a half of dating, Brittany, 29, was entertaining serious doubts about her future with John. The undeniable chemistry of their early courtship seemed a distant memory, and when she looked at John, she wondered where all those stomach-dwelling butterflies had migrated. It wasn’t that the pair fought or bickered—in fact, life with John was pleasant: their mutually secure careers in software and commercial photography afforded them the luxury of a downtown Seattle apartment, and they each maintained friends and hobbies (Brittany bicycling, John video gaming) that occupied their after-hours. By all accounts, it was idyllic. Perhaps that was the problem.

Brittany felt that after all this time,  once-charming John had morphed into a very functional roommate. They lived in parallel, and ostensibly supported one another, but Brittany wondered if there was more to be had—maybe, with someone else. She was starting to surprise herself, ramping up the flirtation with her regular supermarket cashier.

But Brittany wasn’t ready to simply up and leave, though the thought repeatedly crossed her mind. In their early days, John had impressed her with his integrity, sparkling wit, and arresting jawline. Although it had been a long time ago, her attraction to John had been deep and promising like no other relationship. She wanted to be certain of the situation before making a decision.

Brittany was experiencing a couple of common long-term relationship problems. All long-term relationships will invariably ebb and flow after the initial ardor wears off, but some will dead-end in dissatisfaction. The crisis before Brittany was determining if her troubles were the symptom of a fundamentally broken partnership, or just a warning sign. Brittany had never worked with a spiritual advisor before, but when she reached out to me for insight, a few key issues in her story jumped to the forefront of my mind. I’d seen them many, many times. In long-term relationships, it’s usually the same few culprits stirring up unease:

The Most Common Long-Term Relationship Woes

1. You’re not excited about them anymore. When the honeymoon period of fresh love fades,  an uphill battle against chemistry commences. Your heart craves the sparks of a new romance, but your brain isn’t having any of that—the more you see your partner, the less they stimulate all those electrifying hormones. No matter how devastatingly attractive your partner is, your cerebrum inevitably tires of holding a parade every time they come around. The good news is, if your relationship boredom is all about missing the thrill, you can trick your brain with exciting activities and novel situations. Skydiving’s optional, but even a weekend excursion or exotic dinner can recharge the batteries on your love. New mutual hobbies (including those in the bedroom) can also breathe life into a weary partnership. If these antidotes aren’t helping, it may be time to evaluate your feelings honestly. Are you in love with the security they offer more than their personality? Have you naturally grown apart from your partner and now crave independence? For Brittany, I sensed that she still cared deeply about John, but the two of them had gotten complacent and weren’t making real efforts to experience new and exciting activities together.

2. You’re clashing about lifestyle. The intensity of a blossoming attraction can mask canyon-sized differences between lovers. Now that the chemical fireworks in your bloodstream are over, you’re suddenly noticing your dreams of pursuing a physics doctorate don’t mesh terribly well with your partner’s rambling rodeo-clown ways. When one of you feels at home and on the road and the other at, well, home, the future of your relationship will depend on compromise. That’s not always a good thing—disproportionate sacrifices can sow resentment. If you both want very different adventures for the next few years, you may benefit from the freedom to pursue your passions uninhibited by a reluctant partner.

3. You have nothing to talk about. When you first started dating, you didn’t need to talk that much. Sharing back-and-forth googly eyes said it all. Now, chatting up your partner is as awkward as a corporate cocktail party. It’s increasingly apparent that you have zero shared hobbies or interests. This isn’t necessarily a grim verdict for your relationship, but it will require effort to fix. The cure? Become sand-artists together. Learn to paddle a tandem kayak. Embark on a journey that sweeps you both along. For Brittany and John, their entirely separate hobbies, friends, and careers were good for independence, but detracted from their sense of shared intimacy. I was quick to prescribe a joint project to foster some serious together time.

4. You keep thinking about other people. You’ve always been an opportunist at heart, and now is no different. Your co-workers, your barista, the door-to-door magazine subscription salesperson—you’re sizing them all up, wondering if they’d be any better than your current beau. Now that you’ve really gotten close to your partner, the myriad ways they fall short of a romance-novel hunk are coming into focus. It’s normal to notice other attractive folks, but weighing their suitability to displace your lover is a tiring exercise that’s neither fun nor constructive. When you’re thick in the game of comparisons, it’s hard (if not downright impossible) to appreciate your partner. To get past this crippling cycle of doubts, practice being thankful for them. Consciously remind yourself of all the things they do that light up your day, like their smiley face pancakes, divine shoulder massages, and saintlike tolerance of your mania for show tunes. On the other hand, if it’s out of character for you to have wandering eyes, perhaps your relationship isn’t a snug fit.  Brittany’s attraction to the supermarket cashier was mostly a fun diversion. I sensed that it posed no threat to her attachment to John, so long as her needs in the relationship were being met.

5. You’re not satisfied. When your friends ask you how things are in the sack, you think potatoes. Maybe you’re not having enough intimacy, or perhaps your partner’s insatiable drive seems less appealing every day. Have you been clear about your boundaries and desires? If your partner doesn’t know what you’re expecting in the bedroom, they’re probably just guessing.  But if you’re confronting a clear conflict of sexual compatibility, it may be time to seek greener pastures.

When you’re questioning your relationship, it can be hard to sort temporary frustrations from fatal flaws. Take care to invest time in honest reflection, though, so you don’t throw away an otherwise healthy relationship over a fixable foible. There’s also something to be said about intuition—perhaps you can’t articulate the exact way your relationship is failing, but your gut says it’s over. When you feel that way, it’s a sure sign something is amiss.

For Brittany, she reached out to me again a few weeks after our session. She’d discussed her feelings with John and learned that, unsurprisingly to me, he felt similarly disconnected from the relationship! After reaffirming the importance of their bond, Brittany and John made a concrete plan to reintroduce excitement and intimacy into their relationship. They signed up for a weekly cooking class together, and committed to getting out of the house for drinks at a new bar each Friday. By acting quickly and deliberately, Brittany may have saved their relationship—and I’ve got a wonderful feeling about their future.

Are you unsure about the future of your long-term relationship? KEEN advisors can help you illuminate your intuition and find lasting love.

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