Dear Charlene: “I’ve Lost the Spark”
Every month, comic and writer Charlene deGuzman answers your questions about love, loss, and loneliness.
Hi everyone! I’m Charlene deGuzman!
I’ve teamed up with FLOOD to offer you all advice, support, and hope! Every month I’ll be answering any of your heart’s questions on life, love, happiness, and any of the deepest places in between.
Let me introduce myself. I was depressed at age eleven. I never thought I could ever feel happy or lovable. I spent my whole life trying to escape the pain. My life was a mess until I got fed up and did something about it. And now, as a recovered sex and love addict, I am the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been.
I’m here to listen and help. Ask me anything at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your identity will remain anonymous.
I’ve been with my boyfriend for two and a half years and I’ve been feeling really confused. I love him—I really do—but lately, we’ve been struggling. We argue now and we never did before. It just feels different; it’s not as fun anymore. Something’s always wrong with either one of us and it’s impossible to talk about it because someone’s feelings are always hurt. I don’t know how long I should keep trying with this but if something doesn’t change, I don’t want to be in it anymore. And that’s confusing because I really do love him. Every time I talk myself into breaking up with him, I can’t do it. Thank you for any advice at all.
I’m so glad you wrote to me and shared this with me. It’s great and important that you are being honest with yourself and your feelings. It’s the first step to figuring this all out!
You’re not alone. A lot of people can feel confused after a certain amount of time in a relationship. The brain chemical high from romantic love—all that yummy adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin—begins to settle down after two to three years. This is the phase of your relationship where you can finally see your partner rationally, without the “high” and fairytale fantasy. It can be extremely disappointing for some people, which is why couples often end up breaking up. And depending on the foundation you built (or didn’t build) up until this point, your relationship will either endure into a more mature and stable phase, or it will hit a dead end. (Which is exactly how some people end up jumping from one two-year relationship to the next! I’m definitely guilty of this one.)
When you are in a committed, conscious partnership, you will naturally and consistently push each other’s buttons and provoke the worst out of each other. This is the purpose of a healthy partnership; it’s how we grow and heal individually. Having our buttons pushed isn’t pleasant, but, ultimately, it’s a huge gift; in order for us to even take a look at something and deal with it, it has to come up somehow. And usually it’s through your partner.
That’s why it’s so weird to me when couples brag about never arguing. Sure, there doesn’t ever need to be an argument, but if you aren’t facing challenges, having uncomfortable conversations, and expressing differing feelings, you aren’t growing.
It sounds like the both of you need a safe space to express honestly what you’re feeling, and you also both need to feel heard. This step alone, whether you decide to stay together or not, will bring your relationship to a deeper, more intimate level.
Having our buttons pushed isn’t pleasant, but, ultimately, it’s a huge gift.
I know how hard it is to express yourself to your partner. In all of my previous relationships, I stuffed my feelings just to avoid conflict and seem perfect. I was afraid of being abandoned or not loved, so I would hide how I really felt—until, of course, it came out in some explosive, irrational way at some inappropriate time, months or even years later. And whenever my partner tried to express himself, I couldn’t hear him and be available to him because I would take it personally, get defensive, try to fix it, and again be so afraid of being abandoned or not loved.
Seeing a counselor would help this process tremendously; it can be easier when a third party is there to moderate. But if you can’t see a counselor, set up a good time for you to both express yourselves, and set the intention to really listen to each other without interruption. Use “I feel” when expressing your side, and make it about your experience, not what you think your partner’s is. Repeat to your partner what he said, so he knows he was heard, and vice versa. If either of you take something personally or get upset, commit to stepping away from each other to cool down. Maybe one of you can go for a walk, or if it’s really tough, break away for the rest of the day and plan to see each other again once the both of you have settled down and processed. If either person is riled up, there is no use in discussing anything further. Talk again when both people can be available to each other.
And if a commitment to this person still doesn’t feel good, I encourage you to get out as soon as you can. For me, it was so easy to settle for unfulfilling relationships, because I was so afraid of being alone, and didn’t believe I deserved anything better, or could get anything better. I want to remind you that you are absolutely worthy of healthy, happy love, and you are the only person who can give this to yourself or keep this from yourself. Give yourself the opportunity, even if that means facing some fears and walking through some fires. The more you continue to love yourself and choose yourself, the more love you will invite into your experiences.
And if a breakup seems too painful, read my tips on finding happiness after a split.
You deserve to be happy! Keep going! I’m with you! FL
For more of Charlene’s insight into love and relationships, check out her new book Thanks for Listening, the Kindle edition of which you can pick up for free here.