The title of a great and popular old Off-Broadway play captures one of the most common sentiments I’ve seen when working with distressed couples: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.If you have discovered that for some reason you and your partner are no longer growing together as a couple, it might be useful to look at why you actually got together in the first place, and how the things that originally attracted you to each other may look different once that initial attraction is gone. For example, if initially you loved that your partner had a great sense of humor, after some time you may see this same trait as obnoxious. If you were once attracted by the fact that your partner was “a lot of fun”, you may now believe that he or she cannot be serious. Take a look at this chart to see what may have changed in how you perceive your partner:
If a trait that initially attracted you to your partner was that of being–>
You may now be seeing that trait in your partner as being
Take charge person->Control freak
Ambitious and successful->Workaholic and neglectful
Life of party->Excessive drinker
Someone who will take care of me->Not allowing me to take any initiative on my own
Relaxed and laid back->Lazy
Orderly and careful->Obsessive and compulsive
Intellectual and smart->Condescending
Self-aware/knows who he/she is->Narcissistic
Good parent->Too enmeshed with kids
Beautiful->Obsessed with looks
Very desirable->Can’t be satisfied with me
Needs me->Too dependent
Sets high standards->Impossible to please
Religious->Rigid rule abider
Makes own rules->Sociopath
Strong ties with family and friends->Has time for everyone but me
Committed to a great cause->Unavailable
Puts me in my place->Abusive
Great money manager->Stingy
In other words, you may now be turned off by another perception the same traits you once found to be irresistible! There is a lot of truth to the cliché “be careful what you ask for.” Very often, first impressions are the beginning of the fantasies of what you come to expect from each other. When I ask people to share with me their first impressions of the partner with whom they are splitting up or having difficulties now, I often get a the “good” version of how the bad relationship is today:
“My first husband was extremely hard-driven and unavailable. So I left him to hook up with my yoga instructor — someone who personified the exact opposite. But he turned out to be so laid back and unambitious that I totally lost respect for him.”
“My first wife was so clingy and possessive that I often felt like I couldn’t breathe. Then I met my present wife. She was extremely accomplished professionally. Her independence really turned me on. But she has now become so distant, aloof and absorbed in her work that I feel totally insignificant to her. The funny thing is she really didn’t change, only my perception of her did.” (Great insight!)
When that delicious initial attraction is present, the glass is half full. But when it leaves, that same “glass” is often experienced as half empty. So consider some of these questions from my book Can Your Relationship Be Saved? How to Know Whether to Stay or Go regarding how your relationship may have evolved over time.
If things have changed, was that change predictable given a second look at those traits that initially attracted you?
Is it possible that things were always this way, but you didn’t notice when looking through those rose-colored initial attraction “glasses” that are normally powered by a “Dopamine high”?
Did you ignore the proclamations, warnings and clues? For example: Your partner tells you she doesn’t want children, or he shares has a hard time being monogamous.
Did you fall for Mr./Ms. Right or Mr./Ms. Right Now? In other words, were you very needy at the time when you hooked up? Or perhaps in a rebound relationship -where, in hindsight, you now recognize that your then new partner represented little more than a strong dose of “anesthesia” for the pain of a relationship you were ending?
Is it possible that you were never really attracted to your partner, but wanted the relationship for reasons other than attraction or liked him or her so much that you were willing to overlook the attraction factor then and now find it unacceptable that there is little or no sexual desire?
Did you marry or commit to a long-term relationship because of who your partner is (this doesn’t change very much), or because of what he or she can do for you (this does tend to change)?
Are there other factors that not only got you together, but also kept you together to this point that you may not be acknowledging?
Could a major part of the problem be perfectionism? One man recently shared with me his wife’s comments after she refused to go into counseling with him: “If we need counseling we should simply get divorced. Period!” Thus, is any imperfection — real or perceived — enough to make you or you partner question, negate, or even bolt the relationship?
After you have reflected on these questions, and maybe added some of your own, you may want to go through them again — only this time as your partner, and take a look at them as they apply to you. Warning: this can he a powerful eye-opening exercise. As you engage in this exercise, use the insights and reflections from these questions as a starting point or to add to your awareness and understanding of where your relationship is now vs. then, and where you’d like to see it go.