Life Lived To The Max: Opening the Cage Door

Dear Yours Truly!

How do you know when you are 7 year itching and when you should really get out of a relationship? I’ve been with my husband almost 7 years. I don’t know if I have an itch or if I am feeling like things have run their course and it’s okay. Is there a way to know? People talk about the seven year itch all the time like it’s a natural thing that happens to everyone. How do people deal with it?

We started dating when I was 27 and he was 29. So neither of us were stupid young and we’d both had some actual real life experiences prior to finding one another. We got married after only a year and a half, though. My husband is a great human being. I just feel in general, though, that I’d be just as fine being by myself. I started feeling this way about six months ago. Probs not good to feel that way when you’re married!!!!

It is the feeling of ennui that I’ve started having in the past 6 months that I find alarming. Is it just a normal sign of being with someone for a significant length of time or is it pointing to something deeper? I took getting married seriously but don’t want to feel this way for the rest of my life! We don’t fight like cats and dogs, we are able to communicate well and I can tell him what I’m thinking. The sex is probably pretty standard for folks who have been together as long as we have. I feel totally comfortable telling him what I’m needing in the bedroom, though, so I don’t think that’s really an issue. He definitely has some characteristics that drive me crazy but I am also able to admit that all men do (and that I’m not perfect either). That said, I do find myself thinking that the grass would be greener elsewhere. It probably wouldn’t be, though.

From,
Confused

Oh hell. What a dilly of a pickle!

Love and marriage! What are they, and how do people do them? Some people stay together for 65 years and are happy. Some people stay together for 65 years and loathe each other. Some people don’t like monogamy but feel pressured into it by society and are unhappy because they keep making their partners unhappy with all their crazy cheating and they can’t find a way to come clean about it and just be poly. What does it all mean?

Culture. Culture says you fall in love, get married or otherwise partnered up, and stay together until one of you dies and then, to paraphrase Louis C.K., the other one “waits for [their] turn to become nothing.” In actuality people fall out of love all the time. How can love end? I have pondered this a lot. It is inconceivable, when you’re in love, that it could ever end, and yet we have all experienced that very thing. How can love go away? Where does it go? What was it in the first place?

My belief is that a relationship “built to last” is one in which, due to some accident of luck and chemistry and time/place, you both happen to be able to change together and in complementary ways. This has the effect of making you feel like the cage door is open, which in turn makes you not stressed out about being in the cage. If you know you are free to become whatever you’re going to become–and if you’re willing to give him that same freedom–then you don’t feel so oppressed. But I think this is very hard to just decide to do–it has to happen organically. How can you know if this is possible, when you first meet someone? You can’t. You find out later. This is too bad for most relationships.

I think a lot of relationships, even when they are nice and both people are very nice and there is no fighting, can still somehow become cages. I think even if on the surface everything is pretty much great, you can still feel constrained/constricted/oppressed. And it’s actually WORSE, to be in a decent relationship where this happens, than it is to be in an obviously shitty relationship! When your friend who’s dating the complete asshole is like “I’m not in love anymore,” you’re like “DUH.” But when your friend who’s dating the great guy says it, it seems inexplicable and sad. AND YET.

I know this feeling, of just experiencing a relationship as kind of a drag, for reasons you can’t totally put your finger on. You’re just sort of bored and bummed out, whereas your life partnership is supposed to be exhilarating and deeply rejuvenating. But you can’t really point to anything that needs changing. It’s not like, quit drinking or I’m going to leave you. It’s not like he’s doing something “wrong.” It’s just being in the partnership, the concept itself, that is harshing you out.

To answer one of your questions: No, I do not think this is just necessarily how it always goes for long-term relationships. My parents are still in love. Really in love! I know lots of older couples who still get a huge kick out of each other and prefer each other to all other people on the earth. And, speaking personally, I can say that although I have only been with my old man for 9 years (a drop in the bucket, compared to my parents, e.g.) I have never once–never one single time, not even for one second–ever even vaguely felt anything like “I’d be just as fine being by myself.” Thinking about not being with him makes me feel the deepest sorrow. He makes every single aspect of my life better–every one. He’s made me a better person. I love doing things with him, everything from cleaning our house to having sex to sleeping through the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari while he delivers a monologue about expressionism and never realizes I am asleep. He rules! He makes me laugh so hard! Every day with him is a blessing. I legitimately still get excited to see him when I know he’s about to get home. And yeah, the spark of crazy sexual chemistry fades, but if you’re patient and don’t panic, I think what can happen is that something else takes its place, and that new thing is awesome and deep and real. Different, but not worse. You go through the different phases of life together. Things change, you change, your bodies change, and you love each other more and more because of all that, you love the familiarity and the deep knowledge and the tenderness that comes with spanning time together.

I don’t know if this is how it is “supposed” to feel, or even if this is how everyone would LIKE it to feel–what do I know about everyone else? I only know about me. And also, who knows if it will go on feeling this way? Maybe it once felt this way for you, and now it doesn’t. That’s awful. But all I know is that my relationship has changed a lot and yet it still feels good. And that what you’re describing doesn’t sound like it feels good. It doesn’t sound like he makes you excited at all, sexually or otherwise. And like, if you’d be just as happy alone, then I don’t really see any reason for you to stay together. You don’t even have kids, right? There’s no reason we should stay with people who don’t make us legitimately happy. There’s no point in being partnered up if it’s just the same as being alone.

I think if you fantasize regularly and vividly about being alone, that’s a bad sign for your marriage.

“7 Year Itch” means you specifically want to fuck other people/somebody else, and it doesn’t sound like this is what you’re talking about. You’re describing a pervasive, general, oppressive malaise about the whole concept of being in a relationship. This doesn’t seem to me like the garden-variety boredom or irritation that of course sweeps through a relationship from time to time. Yes, everyone gets bored with each other periodically, but it passes–it doesn’t FEEL like a problem, because it isn’t. What you’re describing feels like a problem. Six months of all-encompassing ennui and the desire to be alone? I can’t even imagine! That seems maybe like not a great sign.

The thing is, relationships can weather storms, and they can overcome obstacles, but you have to actually want to be together in order to do this. You have to get something out of being in a relationship, to want to stay in one. It doesn’t sound like you are, right now, and, while I might advise you to give it a little bit more time, I do think it’s good you’re pondering this stuff and trying to get to the bottom of what’s really going on.

Just because someone is a wonderful person, it doesn’t mean you have to like being partnered with them. “Getting something out of the relationship” is different, very different, from “he’s a great guy.”

One thing you don’t mention is: Have you talked to your husband about any of this? It could be that a really intense painful sit-down with him could be amazing. Sometimes I think blockage in communication leads to feelings of blockage elsewhere. when you unblock your communication, it can feel like this rushing warm liveliness comes back into your feelings for each other. How do you know he’s not feeling this exact same way? Talking about it could be awesome. I mean really really talking about it. Facing up to it and naming these things you have named to me. Have you done this? You should do this, if you go on feeling this way.

I often wonder how other relationships work. Isn’t it fascinating? People who aren’t fascinated by other people’s relationships are crazy. It’s so fundamentally interesting, and it’s so delightful to compare notes. I genuinely want to know how often people have sex; I want to know how often they fight and what the fights feel like; I want to know about people’s routine together and what they enjoy about each other. Every relationship is such a weird uncharted territory, baffling to outsiders but intimately familiar to insiders. It’s wild!

If your letter had said: “My husband is amazing and I fucking love him, but I am just really bored with our sex life” maybe I would tell you to spice it up in the bedroom, or talk about non-monogamy, or even see one those sex-positive therapists Dan Savage is always recommending. I think sexual boredom can totally be overcome if both people are willing.

If your letter had said: “My husband is amazing and I fucking love him, but he drinks too much,” I would have told you to deliver an ultimatum, to help him get therapy, etc. etc. I think devastating personal behaviors can be overcome if the person wants to overcome them, and I think relationships can bounce back from dreadful calamities.

If your letter had said: “My husband is amazing and I fucking love him, but I’m having these weird insatiable urges to make out with other people,” I would probably have written a really long thing about how beautiful sex can be when the spark is replaced by something deeper and more based on familiarity and trust. How it’s sad, but also beautiful, the way things change. How you have to embrace those changes and look for what they bring, not just for what is lost. I would have told you to look into non-monogamy. I would also have told you that periodically having an outside crush is perfectly normal and is not evidence that your relationship is irredeemably ruined.

But your letter didn’t say anything like any of these things. It just said you’re bored and oppressed and would be just as happy being alone. It’s like, you lack even the passion of rage or longing. Even your problem is passionless. You deserve to have passion in your life and I don’t think you need to feel obligated to stay married just because people are supposed to stay married. Who even made that rule anyway, Moses? Who cares!

Concepts That Might Be Helpful:

– go on a solo trip! Like, go to Paris! I don’t know how rich you are. But you can afford to go somewhere even just for a weekend. Alone! Go to a hippie hot springs and take yoga.

– take a trial separation. Difficult and sad, but could be great. Actually move out! Get a sublet. Be like “I need three months to not be married to you” and see what happens. Your husband has the right to be totally devastated by this, keep in mind

– thing to think about: people who feel the way you are describing often end up cheating. Cheating is bad. It’s lying! It’s hurtful. It’s destructive. It makes you feel bad about yourself, too! I am a big fan of getting things out in the open before cheating happens. Open up your marriage so that it’s no longer cheating! Break up so that it’s no longer cheating! But whatever you do, don’t just sit around feeling like shit until you cheat, because I swear it won’t make you feel any better

– definitely talk to your husband at some point soon. That’s a hard conversation but you’re going to have to have it anyway, unless this problem magically resolves itself, which actually could happen, you never know.

– don’t go longer than a year feeling this way. Life’s too short.

LIFE IS SO SHORT YOU GUYS.

Don’t do shit that makes you feel bad, if it’s not for some sort of greater good. God, can you even imagine how it must feel to be 80 years old and look back on all the stupid shit you spent years of your life worrying about? We probably can’t avoid it, but we should at least TRY to avoid it. Don’t stay for years with someone who bores you / hits you / is just some random dude. Don’t stay for years in a job that sucks! Don’t wait to do the things you know are right; the things you want to do. Reach out for the better life, the cooler choice. Open yourself up to the world and everything in it, the joy and the sorrow. When you’re dead, there’s nothing else! This is all we have, this fleeting time on earth, we should try to do it to the max. Life is too short to live in a cage if you have other options. Get out of that cage, one way or another, with or without your husband.

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3 Responses to Life Lived To The Max: Opening the Cage Door

  1. dalas v says:

    “Sometimes I think blockage in communication leads to feelings of blockage elsewhere. when you unblock your communication, it can feel like this rushing warm liveliness comes back into your feelings for each other.”

    Preach. Real solid advice as always. I think the solo trip is a great idea. Ideally more than a week. I always feel like I have to cycle through one week and start on a second week before my new situation starts to feel “real”.

  2. Been there says:

    I have been in a similar situation, though as Yours Truly beautifully points out, every relationship is a “weird uncharted territory, baffling to outsiders but intimately familiar to insiders.” So my experience may or may not apply…

    I have been with the same person for about 7 years and there was a time last year when I was feeling the same way you are. I had this same sense of loving my partner but feeling like I’d be just fine on my own, too, maybe even better.

    I actually think that feeling like you’d be ok on your own is ok/good– yeah, of COURSE you’d be ok on your own. You’re an intelligent, well-rounded person, life moves on, love will come again, being independent is fun and freeing. What it came down to for me is how much I valued my partner, which is to say A LOT. I value our history, our ernest desire for growth and goodness, our shared community of friends, and more than anything, the way we have so much fun and make such a good team, especially when things are good between us.

    So what I ended up doing was going online and finding this book called “I love you but I’m not in love with you”. It’s a horrible title. The book has a hideous and embarrassing cover and quite frankly, it’s a tad sexist in it’s presentation. BUT it has super solid advice and good exercises to help open up your brain to the other partner and see them as a dynamic, sexy, interesting, person. I really recommend it. If you’re in Portland, I’ll give you my copy; it’s not something I proudly display on my living room bookshelf!

    Other random ideas that may not be good:
    – Have a huge ass fight and see if that sloughs some of the layers off.
    – Go somewhere you’ve never been (another country, extreme landscape, whatever) and see what he looks like there.
    – Fake it ’til you make it? Start acting really romantic– like overly so– and see what it stirs up!

  3. Sarah says:

    1. I think these feelings are completely normal for most long-term relationships. The key is how you decide to engage and react to these feelings. If you really love someone and you feel the relationship is worth it, it can be a great catalyst for open, honest communication about how to improve things.

    2. Not to sound too Ann Landers or anything, but couples counseling can be an amazing thing. Do it!

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