There’s not much in life that’s strictly black and white. If we’re honest about almost every situation or relationship, there are nuances and shades of gray that are sometimes difficult to understand.
With romantic relationships, black-and-white situations make it easy. If the two of you are totally in love, happy and committed to each other for the long-term, congratulations! On the flip side, if you’re miserable, one of you is not committed or simply not in love, well… the decision is straightforward if not easy — get out.
Then we come to the nuanced relationship. It’s not bad. It’s not terrific. You’re comfortable but not particularly happy. Your partner doesn’t have any outlandish flaws, they’re just not quite the person you always thought you’d end up with. Overall, things aren’t bad enough to leave, but not good enough to stay. What to do?
First, step back and look at the big picture. Gary W. Lewandowski Jr, Ph.D., describes it as “The 3 L’s of Being Adrift in Love.” Writing for Psychology Today, he says “You need to figure out what’s going on before your relationship is permanently destroyed.” He then goes on to discuss various aspects of the three L’s.
“Lonely.” We all have busy lives, and work can be exhausting. So it’s easy to get into some habits that are simply not conducive to conversation or deepening a relationship. Lewandowski describes a situation that’s probably far too common. “Perhaps as you watch TV with your partner sitting next to you, they’re not really there,” he says. “You’re offering observations and making predictions, but they are oddly silent. You glance at your partner and find that they’re otherwise occupied, checking social media, email, sports scores, stock prices, or simply sound asleep. You want to share, but they’re just not there. They are emotionally unavailable despite being nearby.”
Keeping some passion in a relationship is not automatic. The key is being interested in your partner. If the two of you do not express that interest, you may end up feeling lonely while you literally sit inches away from your partner.
Longing.” At its core, longing stems from desire. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Desire can inspire you to achieve a goal, or you can channel it into a constructive, lifetime ambition. But if your longing is for a relationship or connection that is missing, that’s a red flag.
“That mismatch,” Lewandowski writes, referring to a longing for connection with a partner who is emotionally unavailable, “creates a sense of longing, or wistfully wanting what you can’t quite have. You yearn for what you hoped your relationship would be but recognize that you’re falling short. Specifically, you’re longing for more connection, intimacy, validation, recognition, respect, nurturing, and growth.
The real frustration is that you probably had that connection early in your relationship but it’s somehow dissipated. Lewandowski sums it up by saying, “But now, there’s no denying that your connection with your partner isn’t what it used to be. It’s confusing. What you want is possible and within reach, but you’re just not getting there. While you have enough to survive, you lack what you need to flourish.”
“Languishing.” That word flourish is telling. We all want to flourish. It’s growth, thriving, all the ways in which we want to progress. The opposite of flourishing is languishing. Stagnation. Sluggishness. Basically, if you’re languishing, you’re stuck.
The answer to reinvigorating a languid relationship may be long and complicated. But here’s a first step. Commit to four hours per week dedicated to the two of you truly communicating, says Lewandowski. Deepening your relationship — expressing and showing an interst in each other. If that doesn’t work, the writing may be on the wall. If you’re making progress things are getting better, then it’s time to turn to turn your relationship back into a deep, committed — and happy — one.
Read Lewandowski’s full article here, including links to a discussion of the “4 Hour Relationship.”