She Said, He Said: After the pursuit, he still needs to show up and not complacent
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My boyfriend and I met a year ago through mutual friends. I wasn’t interested in dating anyone at the time, but he put an incredible amount of effort into convincing me to give him a chance. He sent me cute little gifts, surprised me at work with lunch, and talked about the places he’d like to take me. I caved and eventually agreed to date him. The first few months together were exactly what he promised: romantic dates, thoughtful surprises and fun adventures. The energy he was putting into us really inspired me to bring my best self as well. But after I became invested in the relationship things started to shift. He gradually got less romantic, and now the tables have turned so I’m the one that is always having to plan things. For months he hasn’t been the romantic guy he sold himself as. What do I do?
He’s Phoning It In
Lori and Jeff: For many long-term relationships, romance dwindles over time. Once couples move beyond the honeymoon phase, comfort and security take hold. The motivation that was once there to captivate our partners falls away because the amount of energy put into romancing a new love interest just isn’t sustainable for the long haul. But there needs to be a happy middle in which both partners can ease up while still letting their lover know they are special.
Jeff: Men are sometimes at their best during the pursuit phase of a relationship, and then regress to a less appreciative and more apathetic state once they’ve acquired their target. In her book “Mating in Captivity,” Ether Perel emphasizes the need to maintain a low level of tension and mystery in a relationship. “The grand illusion of committed love is that we think our partners are ours. But, at best, they are on loan with an option to renew.” Keeping that slight tension, through conscious acknowledgment that you both are making a choice to be together each and every day, is a good reminder that you don’t “belong” to him. He still needs to keep showing up in ways that meet your needs.
For men in this kind of situation, vulnerability usually plays some kind of role. Perhaps he’s worried that continuing to show his softer, romantic side will portray him as less of a man. Or he could be struggling to maintain his open and giving mind set. Either way, he’s probably experiencing some difficulty in expressing himself and what he might be needing from you.
Lori: Women in your position can be easily pulled into trying to play the right game to get him to re-engage: “Do I put in even more effort so he learns through me what a relationship should look like?” “Do I pull back to make him notice?” “Do I flirt with other guys in front of him so he sees that I’m desirable?” But none of these approaches will get you what you want. If you try to send signals, you’ll waste energy and feel even more resentful. You need to be direct with him; compassionate, but direct.
Tell him what you appreciated about him before, be clear about what your expectations are now, and stay curious about why things have changed. Ask him what’s different. He may be experiencing some internal dynamics that have made it harder to show up for you. If he’s feeling a little depressed, anxious, or has taken a recent hit to his confidence, he may need to prioritize taking care of himself for a minute. But it’s also possible that he has just become complacent. If that’s the case, set a mental target date for yourself to see if he can get it together. If not, cut your ties.
Lori and Jeff: Sometimes when we see something we want, we’ll bend over backward to make sure we get it. Once we think we have it, things can shift significantly. Make sure you’re both still on the same page about why you’re together, and share what you need from each other to move forward.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.
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