When you’ve been with your partner for decades, it’s normal for things to change. You won’t be the same person you were 10 or 20 years ago, so your relationship will look different too.
Though plenty of couples grow together, what happens if you grow apart? Should you stay and make it work, especially when there are children involved? This is the dilemma facing this week’s reader, Jane.
“When your children are grown and you realise that you have very little in common with your partner, can marriage still work?” Jane writes in.
“Will I be happy if I stay for the family, the kids and grandkids, if I’m not in love? If our sexual relationship isn’t meeting my needs would discreetly meeting them elsewhere be so bad?”
So, what should Jane do? Counselling Directory member Victoria Jeffries says wonders if Jane and her partner have always had little in common or or if their shared interests have declined over the years.
What would you say to this reader?
“I imagine that there were times when you felt happy together; what was different then, and could this be recaptured?” Jeffries asks.
“It could be, that being a parent and grandparent, over the years you lost the sense of what it feels to be like a couple, and instead slid into the roles of parents and grandparents, possibly forgetting to nourish your romantic relationship in the process.”
Jeffries also questions if Jane romanticised the idea about what marriage should look like.
“It can be highly frustrating and even distressing to feel you are not getting your sexual needs met, however, ‘discreetly’ meeting your needs elsewhere may have both practical and psychological repercussions that could leave you feeling even more confused than you are now,” she adds.
Before Jane gets to the stage of considering a sexual relationship outside of her marriage, Jeffries suggests being open with her partner about how she feels.
“Why is it that you feel more comfortable with gratifying your sexual needs elsewhere as opposed to expressing how you feel?” she asks. “Could it be that hiding your genuine feelings and putting on a mask comes easier to you?”
How can we work on our relationship if we feel unhappy?
Though it’s cliché, communication is key, be transparent with your partner and share how you really feel. “It may be that your partner has no idea that you are unhappy and therefore will be unaware that anything between you needs changing,” Jeffries says.
“Spend time together. Not just in an everyday, run-of-the-mill way, but quality time. This could be in the form of going out to dinner in a nice restaurant or even going on a weekend break, just the two of you. Being alone together in a different environment may help you to see the relationship and it’s difficulties with fresh eyes.”
Jane should think about what initially attracted the pair to each other. “It is possible that this initial attraction can be rekindled?” asks Jeffries. “Consider what you liked about this person in the first place and what made you want to be with them. ”
When do we know when it’s time to tap out of a relationship?
If Jane has been open and clear with her partner about wanting things to change but her partner isn’t, it could be time to walk away. “While aspects of a partnership, (in particularly marriage and children) are strong ties that hold you together, if you feel you have exhausted all avenues this may no longer be the right relationship for you,” Jeffries says.
“And of course, if any form of abuse is taking place, whether this be emotional, physical or financial, know that this is never acceptable and make plans to safely leave. A counsellor specialising in relationships can support you in doing this.”
Love Stuck is for those who’ve hit a romantic wall, whether you’re single or have been coupled up for decades. With the help of trained sex and relationship therapists, HuffPost UK will help answer your dilemmas. Submit a question here.