DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My girlfriend of 4 years and I are on the verge of breaking up. She says I’m not as funny or as fun as I used to be and that I treat her more as a friend than as a girlfriend. I honestly don’t see it.
I admit that recently I’ve been feeling generally bored with my life and may be showing it in my attitude, but she’s the best thing to happen to me ever. Do you have any advice on how to show her I still care about her and treat her more like she wants to be treated?
Spark’s Gone Out
DEAR SPARK’S GONE OUT: You’re girlfriend says she’s not feeling appreciated and that you’re treating her more like a friend and less like a girlfriend. You’re not sure you see it.
Ok… can you accept that even if you don’t see it, she does? That her feelings are valid and accurate, even if you’re pretty sure you’re not doing things differently? If you can, then great… you’ve passed the first test: accepting that your girlfriend’s feelings don’t require your buy-in to be real.
The NEXT step is to address what she feels is missing in your relationship. And how do you do that?
Communication, communication, communication.
You need to sit down with your girlfriend and have an Awkward Conversation about what’s going on between the two of you. You have to explain that you understand and accept she’s unhappy, but you sincerely aren’t sure what she means when she says that you’re treating her like a friend and not like a lover. Let her know that you genuinely want to treat her like she deserves and make sure she feels loved and validated and you would appreciate her guidance in what she feels is missing and how you can change that. And then be prepared to wince; it’s probably not going to be pretty.
Some of this could be down to your not expressing love in the ways she is accustomed to receiving it, and you’ll want to make sure that you’re saying “I love you” in a way she understands.
But it could also be that you’ve been settling down and getting used to her. This isn’t unusual in a relationship, especially a long-term one. The early days of a relationship are wonderful, but that initial rush of passion does fade eventually, and the New Relationship Energy dims after the first six months to a year.
Relationships are living things, and living things need to be tended to. Nothing kills a relationship faster than apathy and neglect, which may be what’s happening here. The line from boyfriend to just-friend can sometimes be a thin one, especially over the course of years. While the first days of a relationship are wild and passionate, when the NRE ebbs, couples naturally drift towards a deeper, if calmer relationship based more on connection and intimacy than passion. It can be easy to become comfortable in a relationship to the point that you let things slide; you’re a little more lax about trying to look AS good for her, she doesn’t necessarily feel the need to plan exciting dates and nights out as she might have in the early days. And while the passion WILL come in waves – sometimes high, sometimes low, it still feels different from that all-consuming tsunami that lovers feel in those frantic early days. She may be missing the way things were in the beginning or she may just be yearning for that spark that comes with new relationships.
What can you do about it? Well a good start is to embrace your inner Gomez Addams and fall back in love with your girlfriend. Stop treating her as your girlfriend of four years and treat her the way you did when you were first trying to convince her to go out with you. Take yourself back into the courting phase; flirt with her, pay compliments, make an effort to impress and wow her. Give her the occasional gift just because you thought she’d like it. Reintroduce some surprise and unpredictability into an otherwise predictable and staid relationship.
The reason why Gomez and Morticia are relationship role-models is that they actively maintain their love for each other, even in the face of the tedium of the day to day. You want to take that same energy and joi de vivre and bring it to your relationship with your relationship and give it the same care that you did at the start, whether you’re newly infatuated or you’ve been together for fifty years.
But you should also take a look at your own life, too, and apply some care there. You say that you’re bored with your life, which could well be showing in the way that you’re treating her… so it’s time to shake things up. You need to have passion in your life, not just for your girlfriend but in your every day life. Passion is contagious; when you’re excited about your life, it will spill over into your relationships. You don’t necessarily have to turn your life upside down, pull up stakes and start a brand-new life in the off-world colonies, but find the places where you’re the most bored or dissatisfied and see what can be changed. Maybe it IS time to look into another career. Or perhaps you need something that isn’t work to look forward to – a hobby you’ve neglected, a dream you’ve put on hold, something that makes you excited to get up in the morning and attack the day, knowing that you’ll be able to do this cool thing that you love. Finding that sort of passion easily translates to passion in other areas too; excitement rarely stays contained, after all.
Just having a goal and making progress towards it can bring back that spark you’re missing in your life and in your relationship. If you feel more in control of your life and feel more excited about your future, the more that feeling will bleed into feeling excited about your future with your girlfriend.
But none of this can start until you and she talk about what she feels like she’s missing. Start with that conversation, and you’ll have a good idea of where you can start letting her remember that you see her as the sublime being you fell for all those years ago.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com