We’re More Friends Than Lovers… What Can I Do?

“My boyfriend of 3 years told me that he isn’t sure if he loves me anymore. This came pretty much out of the blue, and I was obviously completely crushed. He assured me there is no-one else (and I trust him 100% there) and that he still likes me/finds me attractive. He feels like this is something that we should work on. He is keen to make things better and thinks that this may be something that we have let happen through laziness/becoming more like friends than lovers. I completely agree with him and together we are taking steps to make our relationship more exciting and get that spark back! However, I’m really struggling with staying positive. My last serious relationship ended in exactly this way, with him telling me he didn’t love me anymore, except he broke up with me immediately rather than trying to work things out. I guess I’m just finding it really hard to stay happy and give this my all when I keep wondering, ‘What if?'”

Three truths to consider.

1. This is his issue, & contrary to what you may initially think, it has nothing to do with you. Who knows what he’s looking for? You came into the relationship with honesty & authenticity; you are who you said you were when you first met. If that is not something he wants anymore, that is not something you can take personally. In other words, don’t internalise his dilemma, as difficult as that may sound. Additionally, trying to second-guess his reasons or motivations will drive you mad.

2. At the same time, relationships are complicated. The road is seldom smooth, & the bumps (or potholes!) are an opportunity to take your relationship to a new place. So here you go. Here’s your chance.

3. Other people will give you different advice. When I brought up your situation on Twitter, about 60% of the responses said, “Work on it” & 40% thought you should cut your losses & leave. Perhaps even more surprisingly, at least 3 of the women who advised leaving are married! But the internet is not in charge of your relationship. You also didn’t ask whether you should stay or go — you have made your decision. You said you want to keep at it, & work on it. So here are my thoughts on how to do that, & stay sane.

Take a breath. This change within your relationship — this flux, this instability — happens to almost all couples. Don’t feel like you are out on a limb, or some kind of freaky relationship failure unit. You are not. Relationships are always changing; this is simply part of life. The bond between best friends can break, the closeness of a family can vary, & romantic liaisons are always being tweaked. This situation is almost shockingly normal — the only constant in life is change.

I think that your guy is a keeper. Your previous boyfriend was clearly not au fait with the nature of adult relationships — i.e., that they require work & effort in order to thrive, & that it’s not sparkles & unicorns all the time. While it definitely hurts to hear, “I’m not sure if I’m in love with you anymore”, I give him props for having the personal bravery & courage to tell you that. If nothing else, at least you know he’s being honest.

I wanted to get as many opinions as possible so I could answer your question with as much depth as I could muster. A couple of people on Twitter said that when it comes to love, either you know or you don’t — & if you (or they) are unsure, you should get out immediately. While in theory I agree with this advice, & I think waiting around for someone else is immensely painful & damaging to your self esteem, I also don’t believe love is so black & white. People have issues, & it would be na├»ve of us to believe that these issues don’t colour our relationships or the way we conduct ourselves.

Guys who can’t commit are one thing, & it pains me to hear from girls who are waiting around for their boy — emphasis on the word “boy” — to grow up & decide to settle down. (Quite often, this never happens!) But from your email, it sounds like your boyfriend is serious about you. You share a house, & you’ve been together for three years. I don’t think he is afraid of commitment, & I believe you when you say you trust him.

It’s almost impossible to speculate about what your boyfriend is going through, or where it started. So try not to dwell on it, or on things you both did in the past which got you here. Don’t woulda-coulda-shoulda yourself into analysis paralysis. Instead, think about how you can improve your intersecting futures.

I’m not going to lie to you: sorting through a relationship & repairing the parts of it which are weak or strained is a lot of work. It takes immense courage & personal bravery to sort through the detritus of a relationship, to dismantle it & discover what makes it tick (or explode).

It’s definitely much easier to just scrap the whole thing & start fresh with someone else — but if you never learn how to deal with the fact that it’s not love & rockets 24/7, you’re simply going to have the same problem over & over again.

The truth is that sometimes lovers become best friends, & eventually, the fluttering of butterflies fades. It can be sucky to discover that just showing up isn’t enough to ignite a firework display anymore. Thankfully, you’re not the only one who has ever had this problem. Bookstores across the world are stacked with tomes on how to reinvigorate a relationship that has had the volume turned down. I know you’re not married, but you could have a look at these titles in your quest for information: How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, Starting Your Marriage Right: What You Need to Know in the Early Years to Make It Last a Lifetime, or Fighting for Your Marriage: A Deluxe Revised Edition of the Classic Best-seller for Enhancing Marriage and Preventing Divorce. The reviews for those titles are immensely positive, & as long as you put the principles into practice, you should find success!

Another thing you might find useful in this new era of your relationship is an article I wrote last year: When The Magic Fades & The Doldrums Set In: How To Avoid Becoming One Of THOSE Couples!

Beyond that, it’s important to focus on you, & your wants & needs.

How can you stay positive in the face of change?

One thing that might ease the anguish is the knowledge that the chemicals in your body which create all that crazy-sexy-love stuff last two years from start to finish. Once the hormone levels start to decline — & this is a biological certainty! — we’re more inclined to cuddle than to engage in rampant sex. So, don’t feel like you’re somehow deficient or lacking because this has happened to you. It happens to everyone!

While the two of you are sorting through your relationship & where it falls short, remember to take care of yourself & make yourself happy. There are many excellent reasons for this!

First & foremost, your happiness is the most important thing. Relationships don’t work if the people in them don’t know how to love or please themselves!

Secondly, if you’re constantly obsessing about the problems in your relationship, it will overshadow your entire world — & it shouldn’t. Remember who you used to be when you were single? You went out & had adventures all the time! You got dressed up! You had strong friendships & you took spontaneous trips away. Go get that girl back! It’s really important to invest this time in yourself.

Thirdly, a person with her own life & interests is so much more sexy than someone who hangs on her boyfriend’s every word! You’ll feel about a million times better about yourself when you really make an effort to put yourself first.

Sometimes getting through this phase of a relationship is as simple as switching up your daily routine, adding some variety to your sex life & having a few good conversations. I read something once which said that people are more inclined to have truthful, deep conversations if they are next to one another but not LOOKING at one another — which is one reason why it can be so beneficial to go for a walk & talk it out!

…But sometimes it isn’t that easy. You might want to think about visiting a relationship therapist or counsellor if you’re having trouble communicating with one another.

Use some of that time you’re spending channelling your inner single girl to work out what you want out of the relationship. It’s oh-so-easy to accept the status quo, & the truth is that you are steering the ship just as much as he is. Really spend some time thinking about it — do you want to stay in the relationship because you truly love him, or is it more that it’s convenient, or you fear change? If you decide you really do want to stay, what areas of the relationship are dissatisfactory or could use improvement?

This situation is not all about him — it is the perfect opportunity for you to get some things off your chest, too. That way you can both move forward into a new era of honesty & happiness.

It is totally okay to be pissed off, confused & feel nauseous all the time. If you want to scream & smash cutlery, GO FOR IT. (Though, preferably in private! It tends to scare others… !) It would be absolutely normal for your boyfriend’s confession to make you feel uprooted & ill. Try not to judge your own emotional process; just go through it. You need to feel all these things so you can move on.

Your boyfriend is keen to make changes, which is fantastic… But if he’s putting in all the work & you’re pissed off & punishing him for it, you’ll get nowhere fast. It’s important to recognise that you both need to work on your relationship if you want it to be a success. This is not a one-person show!

This article — about a man who said he didn’t love his wife any more, & how she decided she didn’t believe him — is absolutely amazing. Every time I read it, I get chills all over my body. The comments are amazing too, with a lot of talk about how “you didn’t allow his personal difficulty to be your point of insecurity” — a fantastic point. It is truly a story of “for better or worse”, & it is immensely inspiring.

Here’s some more reading: How the brain reacts to romance & the science of love.

Hello, magical Twitter coven!

I asked my magical Twitter coven (!!!) whether they had been through anything similar, & what their advice was. Here are some of my favourite responses.

@pincurlgirl Advise her to think of something that makes her happy instead of focusing on negative thoughts about him. It will help.

@erinloechner oh gracious poor girl. tell her to take a solo trip while he makes up his mind. she’ll need some perspective in a new space.

@ashemischief Having gone through something similiar– which lasted for 4 years– spend time on yourself. Be confident in what you do. and I fully believe that if he’s between 25-28 (ish) it’s not that he doesn’t love her, he just loves himself more right now! which goes for girls too–I think unattached people in that age range often go through a selfish phase & want them time first. I’m in it right now and boy does it make being in a relationship interesting at times! ;)

@jessicamahna If he did fall out of love, there isn’t anything wrong with her. They’re his feelings and she shouldn’t take it personally!

@dandyLionevents all relationships are in a constant state of flux. learn to grow with them.

@Allisomething You don’t fall out of love into friendship, you develop a deep friendship and then it’s up to you to nurture more intimacy.

@MzAray “not sure” usually means those feelings have been building. don’t wait around demanding a final answer. be honest + communicate. see also: “What It Truly Means to Love Someone”.

@fragiledesigns when all else fails, there are 1000s of ways to love someone, and no one is better than another. what’s hard and painful is transitioning from one to another. that’s what you break your heart over (before you start to put it back together).

@Liizzziie Too often people drift apart without really understanding why. Keep being honest with each other, whatever the outcome. Try to woo each other all over again! If it doesn’t work out at least they’ll have memories full of fun instead of fighting!

@gnat23 Need to get adrenaline going. Get outta town, skydive… Like in the movies, after a big carchase/gun fight, guy and girl kiss.

@AHaefner It’s ok to be friends while you figure it out! It’s also ok for her to be very hurt and he should be understanding. My sweetie & I went through something like it….sometimes it works out! We’re living together now :)

@kirbyamour need to learn how to take turns bringing sparkles into the relationship, if it’s just one person it won’t work! Balance.

Ultimately…

No one can gaze into a crystal ball & tell you how this will turn out. Will you survive? Will you rise from the ashes, triumphant? Or will you walk away covered in scratches?

The truth is that relationships are difficult. When two people tangle their hopes & egos, the results can be unpredictable at best. But relationships also give us the opportunity to grow & evolve beyond what we ever dreamed possible. Maybe in time you will be able to see this less-than-stellar situation as a window to a new future.

The really wonderful news is that love advances, transforms, & most importantly, deepens with time. Trials & tribulations are, eventually, the things that strengthen bonds & cement two people as partners — & the knowledge that you can overcome problems together gives you both the confidence & fortitude to tackle larger obstacles.

Hopefully, this will be but a brief hiccup on the path of everlasting lurve! & if not? There are hundreds — no, thousands — of men who would fall all over themselves for a chance to hold your hand during a movie!

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