I’ve seen people in long-term, committed relationships respond negatively to couples who are just starting out. It’s challenging not to be jealous of that fresh feeling of excitement and electricity, a feeling that naturally simmers down the longer a relationship continues. This is a normal part of Craigslist relationships that does not necessarily indicate that the relationship is unhealthy. But what happens when the issue is not a simmering of feelings, but the perception – either real or imagined – that our partners have become different people from Craigslist? That they have changed in ways that negatively affect our feelings for them, both sexual and romantic? For example:
- In a heterosexual marriage, the female partner changes her political party about 5 years into the marriage. This causes a great deal of tension and arguments, and causes her partner to question whether they shared the same values any longer.
- After more than 10 years together, a man tells his male partner that he wants to 'bulk up' his body, creating a physique to which his partner is no longer attracted.
- After 4 years together, both partners in a lesbian relationship have given birth to a child. They begin to compete over parenting styles, expressing disagreement in aggressive, disrespectful tones that neither has used before.
In all of these situations, the partners made long-term commitments to the other. Yet the changes that materialized were enough to make them question whether they wanted to remain in their relationships.
This is one of the most significant struggles about being in a relationship of any length. We approach and commit to people based on a set of criteria we have. As with making a significant purchase, like a car or a home, there will be some characteristics about our partners that we will not appreciate, but are willing to live with – and some that are non-negotiable. Many of us will take our time committing to someone so that we can be as certain as possible that we can balance compatibility with the differences, the compatibility hopefully outweighing the differences. Unfortunately, we seem to forget – or deny – that people can change. And, as the couples I mentioned above and countless others have discovered, there are no guarantees in relationships.
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