Dear Michael: My partner Jim and I have been together four years. We had a really great relationship at first, but things have been getting increasingly strained, especially since we moved in together two years ago.
We get on each other’s nerves and snipe at each other more than we used to, over all sorts of random little things. Also, the sex is not as exciting as it used to be. I’ve gotten pretty bored with what we do but I’m afraid I’ll hurt Jim’s feelings if I suggest something different because he seems to really like our routine.
To make matters more complicated, I am developing a crush on a colleague and had dinner with him last week without telling Jim. We had so much to talk about and I wonder if maybe my relationship with Jim has gone stale and it’s time to move on. But, we really love each other. I had high hopes of having a fantastic relationship, but somehow the one I’m in has become dull. Help! —Dullsville
Dear Dullsville: Many of us fantasize that in our relationship, we will never get on each other’s nerves, always have great sex and be fascinating companions to each other, 24-7. This is the script of many movies and urban legends. When our relationships don’t play out this way, we feel as if we’ve been short-changed or that we’re doing something wrong. And many of us wonder, just as you do, if it’s time to move on.
Here’s the reality: Being in a relationship is tough. You have to live up-close with someone who is quite different from you. It is unavoidable that your partner will annoy you, bore you and drive you crazy at times. And vice versa!
If you can grasp that the always peaceful, happy and hot relationships exist only in fantasy, then you have a shot at achieving an interesting, solid relationship that is frequently peaceful, happy and hot. Why? Because in order to effectively deal with disappointment, irritation and tension in your relationship, you must be willing to accept that their presence is inevitable at times. If you want the possibility of a better relationship, you must be willing to take risks that shake things up.
Consider this: Your fear of addressing your sexual boredom with Jim is one big reason why you have a boring relationship. Most of us don’t want to hurt our partners or reveal things about ourselves that our partners may not approve of or like. But when you keep your dialogue limited to “safe” topics, you’re bound to wind up with exactly what you are now experiencing: a non-intimate relationship where you are frustrated and snapping at each other. By not wanting to address your problem with sex, you’re tying your hands from introducing necessary changes that would improve sex, at least for you.
As far as your budding relationship with your colleague goes, keep in mind that there are big differences between courtship and marriage. Newness is always exciting, so you can’t compare what you feel with a handsome semi-stranger to what you feel with your partner of four years. As a new person becomes more familiar, he will inevitably, at times, become less exciting and more irritating to you. If you were to leave Jim and pursue New Guy, not too far down the road you would have to face the hard task of speaking up about uncomfortable issues with him instead.
In any case, cavorting with New Guy is certainly not going to help your relationship with Jim. So, if you are bored and irritated, but love Jim, roll up your sleeves and get to work on doing everything you can to create a more interesting and intimate relationship with him. It’s premature to consider ending the relationship until you’ve fully explored its potential for healthy change and growth.
Michael Radkowsky is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. Send questions to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.