Falling in love is such a wonderful, walking-on-air feeling that it is a shock when, one day, you realise it’s disappearing. Your heart used to leap when the phone rang; now you tolerate the interruption. You were absorbed with the thought of your next romantic meeting, now when you meet, you think: “probably be late as usual.”
You wonder whether you are meant to be together after all.
All relationships change in the first few years. Sometime between 18 months and 2 years – longer if we don’t see a lot of each other, sooner if we live together – we fall out of romantic love.
When the intensity in the relationship declines, we may feel confused and disillusioned. It isn’t turning out the way we hoped. Our partner appears to be changing. Often our partner is simply relaxing and revealing more of themself and we are now getting to know the real person. At this stage, they quickly fall off the pedestal where we put them, and we discover they are fallible like everyone else.
Some people faced with this disappointment always finish the relationship and move onto the next romance, where the same cycle of high emotion and disillusionment awaits them. Some persevere when it would be better to let go. But we cannot develop a deeper, durable love without getting through this stage together.
How do we know when to hang on and when to let go?
Let go if there is abuse of any sort. Let go if you find every little thing they do annoys you. Let go if sleeping with them is a chore, if you would rather wash your hair or do your taxes than spend time with them. Let go if they are a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; one side of them you love, the other you hate.
To stay together we need to be compatible. That doesn’t mean being the same but it does mean having similar values and similar goals. It is important that you can be yourself, your true self, within the relationship. You should like who you are when you are with the other person; they should bring out the best in you. And it goes without saying that you need to be sexually attracted. Over time you both need to accept and respect your differences. As long as your values and goals are similar this should be achievable.
If you have all of these then you have a solid basis upon which to build a long-term relationship. The fluttering, heart-felt intensity you had in the beginning may be gone but you will replace it with a strong, warm, comfortable feeling that is durable, dependable love.
Steve and Fiona
Steve and Fiona have been together for 16 months. The first six months together were perfect. He bought her flowers and was very attentive; she was loving and nurturing. Sex between them was so hot they smouldered.
After six months they were so sure of the relationship, Steve moved in with Fiona. Over the last ten months, little tensions have gradually developed between them, coming to a head recently.
Steve says Fiona’s moodiness drives him away. Fiona says Steve ignores her. They don’t know what to do. Should they call it quits because they aren’t suited, or should they persevere?
Steve and Fiona are very attached. They say they still love each other and they still make love. But their day to day existence is hell. They are either fighting or they are cool and silent. It is not clear that they should give up, but persevering is no guarantee of success.
Steve finds he does not like himself with Fiona, he feels hurt and needy and wants to withdraw to protect himself. Fiona wants Steve to help her get out of her bad moods and into a better mood rather than withdraw into his shell. Their basic personalities are not naturally compatible – one wants attention right when the other needs to withdraw.
To stay together, they will each have to change. But changing fundamentally means they lose who they are; they cannot be their true selves within the relationship. Such change is not sustainable over the long term.
Fiona and Steve should cut their losses and get out now. The relationship may struggle along for some time but it does not have the ingredients of a long-term relationship.
They can use this experience to define who they are and their relationship needs.
Get out if:
- You feel you are not your real self within the relationship.
- You lack any tolerance for their mistakes or differences.
- They no longer attract you.
- They are two people, one you adore but the other you hate.
- They are abusive.
- You don’t enjoy being with them.
Hang in there if:
- Your values and goals are similar.
- They bring out the best in you.
- They don’t need to change in any way.
- You can relax and be yourself with them.
- You are amused by their quirkiness.
- Both of you agree on the time you spend together and the time you spend apart.
- You can see yourself living with their bad points.
- You desire them sexually.