I’ve been with Susan for almost a decade and I’ve always believed that we have a great relationship. But a few months ago, she told me that she’s thinking of leaving me unless she sees some changes, because she’s not attracted to me anymore.
I’ve put on a fair amount of weight in the last few years. But I am getting older, my metabolism is slowing down, and as I’ve gotten further into my career, exercise is harder to find time for. I do what I can, but am not achieving the results that she’d like to see.
Susan says I spend too much time in front of the television — true, but I have a stressful job and like to veg out for a few hours when I come home at night. And she says I drink too much. I see her point that alcohol is empty calories, but don’t think that two glasses a night (my maximum) makes me an alcoholic, and again, it helps me relax after a tough day.
I definitely don’t want to lose her, but I feel that she is asking something of me that is impossible: to stay as fit and attractive as when I was 30.
Is this a valid reason to leave a loving partner?
First, if I were talking to Susan, I would say: People inevitably change over time. You may like some of your partner’s changes and you may dislike others. You don’t have to stay married. But if you do want a happy long-term relationship, you need to find a way to accept some things about your spouse that you really don’t like.
I would also say that threatening your partner to get her to make changes is a bad approach, simply because threats and hostility lead to more threats and hostility. A better approach is to explain why the change that you want is important to you, keeping in mind that your partner gets to make her own decisions about what she does.
Turning now to you: How do you make sense of Susan’s unhappiness? When you talk with her, is it mainly about your stressful day? How much do you interact with her when you come home, versus watching television? After you’ve had two drinks, how engaging a partner are you? Do you make regular effort to be physically intimate?
You are describing yourself as having checked out of your relationship, to a fair extent; and I can well imagine that Susan’s criticism and unhappiness may be leading you to further withdraw. Certainly, it isn’t easy or pleasant to interact with someone whom we feel is judging us. But then of course, considering Susan’s possible perspective, it isn’t easy or pleasant to interact with someone whom we feel has been shutting us out, and perhaps ignoring our requests for change.
The two of you are a system: both of you contribute to the quality of your relationship through your behaviors, what you say and what you don’t say. And, either of you could improve your relationship simply by making a move to do so.
Would you like to be a more engaging partner? Would you like to be more fit? Would you like to alleviate stress through activity rather than through numbing yourself and shutting down? If so, it is worth doing all you can to accomplish these goals, both for yourself and for your relationship.
Begin a conversation with Susan about the unresolved and undiscussed issues that lie between you. For example: How long was Susan unhappy before she told you she was no longer attracted to you, and that she was considering leaving? How long have you been aware that you were withdrawing from Susan, without discussing this with her?
Beginning such a conversation may help the two of you start to live in your relationship not as silent adversaries, but as loving collaborators.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.