When something feels "off," one of these relationship killers could be lurking beneath the surface.
“Something is missing!”
This is the number one statement couples make about their relationship when they come to my office for counseling. Maybe you’ve even said the same thing about your own marriage or relationship.
Of course, the obvious question to ask these couples is — What is the “something” you feel is missing?
Surprisingly, very few of these couples can actually name what the elusive “something” is.
They reach for surface answers: Sex is missing. Communication is missing. But then they quickly acknowledge that these things aren’t truly the answer. Something deeper is absent. And to their great frustration, they can’t say what. They just know that, in their gut, something isn’t right here.
To make matters worse, they aren’t talking openly and honestly about this issue with their partner. They ignore it and avoid it until the chasm between them widens.
In my book, Rock The Boat, I tackle this topic in depth because I know couples often needlessly fall apart at the exact moment they want most to reunite and rebuild their relationship.
Does this sound like your relationship?
Well, here’s the thing — you can’t learn how to save your marriage if you can't even discuss it. And you can’t discuss an issue you don’t even understand.
To that end, let me offer some insight on what’s really going on when you and your partner say “something is missing” in your relationship. Once you better understand what’s really going on, it’s time for the two of you to talk, honestly, about your next steps.
Here are six brutally honest reasons “something is missing” in your relationship:
1. One (or both) of you isn’t fully committed.
You’re in … kind of. You made a commitment to the relationship in your mind, but not fully in your heart. Perhaps one of you is regularly asking for more, and the other is reflexively withdrawing, withholding, or acting micro-aggressively. Either way, you’re constantly dancing around each other, one of you always chasing the other, trying to pin them down.
2. One (or both) of you just kind of “fell” into the relationship.
How did your relationships begin? Did one of you step into the relationship because the other person had the right set of characteristics, made a lot of money, was “hot” looking, or great in bed? Or perhaps they offered the right family connections or wielded prominence in a certain career. Or maybe your partner seemed like a quick ticket out of town or a way out of a bad situation you felt stuck in.
If any of the above are true, you’re in a relationship of convenience, and one of you isn’t being honest about it.
3. Someone else chose this relationship for you.
Whether it was a parent, friend, or a mentor who ardently endorsed the connection between the two of you — if you aren’t in this relationship for YOU (if you don’t truly chose it and this person), get out now.
4. One (or both) of you just didn’t want to say "No."
You stepped into the relationship and then never knew how to step out. You didn’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. Perhaps you worried that no one “better” would come along. Maybe staying with your partner felt easier because you didn’t want to lose connection with your tight circle of family or friends.
Not wanting to say “no” is not the same as enthusiastically saying “yes.” You’re not doing anyone any favors by sticking around.
5. One (or both) of you is afraid of owning the decision.
Making a choice renders us vulnerable. It opens us up to the possibility of making a bad or wrong choice, of losing, of being rejected, or of ending up with nothing. So you say and do nothing, waiting for the other person to make a move first.
It may feel safer to let someone else choose for you. You think this lets you off the hook of being responsible for the outcome. After all, they chose, not you, so they can’t act disappointed or blame you. Wrong. You’re still responsible. They still feel hurt. And you will never feel good about the outcome when you know you opted for the “easy way out” via ambivalence.
6. One (or both) of you is afraid to want more for yourself.
Wanting more — out of life, out of love — makes you feel even more vulnerable to loss, failure, frustration, rejection, and disappointment. But hiding or denying what you truly want and desire (or passively hoping someone else will just magically give it to you) neither leads you to happiness nor protects you from disappointment.
You’re allowed to want more. You’re allowed to ask for more. And you’re allowed to leave the relationship if the person you’re with doesn’t support you in having it. But ultimately, you are responsible for claiming (and obtaining) what you want for yourself.
So, what’s the next step?
The reality is, even if you or your partner didn't truly, mindfully, and fully choose each other in that past, you still have the option of 100% choosing each other NOW.
Many couples I’ve worked with happily shift from challenge to resolution, from distrust to trust, and from “something is missing” to deep, fully connected love. All it takes is the not-fully-in partner to straighten their spine and say, “You’re important to me! I may not have been fully in before, but I’m in now.”
From working with so many couples, I find that this shift usually happens only after the feeling-rejected partner straightens their own spine, too, and says, "It's now or never. Select me, with all my wonderful qualities and my warts, and all the risks of being in an adult relationship, or reject me. No in-betweens."
For more great relationship advice read Rock the Boat by Resmaa Menakem.