Question: Dear Luise: What happens in a long-term relationship? We’re both in our late twenties, have been together for 10 years, but not married. (We tried that once, but he changed his mind at the last minute–I still hold a grudge and will not marry him now. I can’t get past that). He was in the military for more than seven years, overseas. I stayed state-side and graduated from college and now have a high-stress, very demanding job that he does not approve of. I feel as if we have grown so far apart that there is nothing left to do. I know I should leave, but I have no idea how to do it after so many years together. (Once I did try to leave, we had a big fight and he punched a hole in my windshield–I don’t bring it up anymore.) And he can’t seem to see what I see. He thinks everything is fine and we are back in high school again. I have felt for a few years now that my feelings don’t matter; what I say, think or feel has no bearing on his actions or words. He has been emotionally abusive, bordering on getting physical at times. (All of this started when he came back from Iraq…before that he was never physically abusive.) I’ve suggested counseling but neither of us has any free time, nor do I think it would truly help. I almost feel as if I’ve already removed myself emotionally from the relationship, especially after the abuse. What happens after so many years together? I feel as if there is no respect anymore. We do have fun together occasionally, of course–but it’s more like friendship than a serious relationship. (Perhaps we have just grown up differently–a 27-year-old is a lot different from a teenager.) Are the nasty comments, the put-downs (especially about my job, which I love, and I’m not allowed to talk about at home), what happens after 10 years? If I ever have another relationship, is this what will happen after years together? Is there some level of comfort that we achieve that causes us to stop caring or respecting our partner? I know our situation is unique and we have a lot of baggage, but what really happens after so many years? How do couples stay together and make it work? Thanks for listening. Sincerely, Stuck in a Rut.
Answer: Dear Stuck: Relationships age in various ways. There’s just no reliable model. Surely feeling comfortable doesn’t create lack of respect. What comfort?
The red flags I see in your question have to do with keeping score, the lack of forgiveness, not talking about how you feel and the lack of mutual respect. I think we could pretty much predict that such a structure would crumble with time.
The only way another relationship would follow the same pattern is if you do.
You are right, there is a vast difference between 17 and 27, or at least there should be…and there is no guarantee that two people will approach maturity in a like manner even when they’re together. Plus you had seven years apart with you going to college and starting a career while your guy was in the military.
And now it looks like staying together may have become a habit…”after all it’s not that bad!” Are you sure? My take is that you know it is time to cut your losses and move on and you just need to hear that you are thinking clearly. And I also get the feeling that you are a little afraid to move on. Fists through windshields can do that to a person. I suggest that you have a right to have your work respected and to be heard, seen and appreciated. Give yourself a break…and break up. Blessings, Luise