His motorbike and cigarettes stopped being sexy, and started being clichéd.
My client Sarah thought it was cute that her boyfriend, Mark, was into Harley Davidson. He had a custom bike, attended rallies with his friends and had a beautiful leather Harley Davidson jacket. They went on long rides together. She loved his boyish spirit of adventure.
When they first started dating, Mark loved that Sarah was willing to try new things, but he really loved that she didn't get ruffled easily and had an elegant sense of style.
Then, they got married and suddenly his boyish spirit of adventure seemed immature to her. She could manage his Harley Davidson shower curtain in the spare bathroom, but he often wanted to change plans at the drop of a hat and continued going to motorcycle rallies with his friends (no girls allowed!).
Sarah also told me that Mark didn't understand why she couldn't relax after work (and didn't want to fool around) until all the chores were done. And though he loved how elegant she always looked when she went to work, he told her their interior décor felt cold to him (and could use a little kitsch).
What both Sarah (and Mark) were experiencing was what Penn State Sociology professor Diane Felmlee calls "fatal attraction." That's when a trait you admire in someone you fall in love with suddenly irritates the crap out of you.
But Sarah and Mark aren't alone in experiencing "fatal attraction." It happens often. The truth of the matter is that every positive personality trait can become a negative pretty quickly. Confidence can become arrogance. Hard workers can be workaholics. Helpful can become smothering.
Traits of Mark's that Sarah found initially fun and spontaneous started to seem silly and impulsive. And those traits that Mark admired in Sarah, like her sense of style and her ability to maintain calm, often felt overbearing and stiff.
So what's a couple to do when fatal attraction begins to weaken a relationship? Is the relationship doomed or can the differences be worked out?
With Sarah and Mark, we discovered that it didn't mean the end, but actually became an area for personal growth for each of them both individually and as a couple.
Here are ten things to ponder to see if fatal attraction means the death of your relationship.
- Is there an external factor? When we are stressed or sleep deprived, it's easier for small irritations to seem larger. External factors can include worrying about an aging parent, challenges at work, or slacking on self-care, like exercise and adequate sleep. Acknowledging (and addressing) these worries can help you move past them.
- Are you both just letting your hair down? In the beginning of a relationship, both partners are on their best behavior. However, no one can keep up a façade forever, so it's possible that you didn't see the "dark" side of that admirable quality.
- Is it a minor irritation or is it a major issue affecting the health of your relationship? A minor irritation may get under your skin a little, especially when you're tired or stressed. But a major issue can be something like one spouse being financially irresponsible and putting the couple in debt.
- Is one of you a people pleaser? Sometimes, we turn an admired trait into a liability by trying too hard to please our spouse. Sarah often told Mark how much she liked his sense of spontaneity, so he tried to think of ways to be spontaneous. His desire to make her happy began to irritate her.
- Have you created a couples vision? When a couple gets clear about what they desire and how they define a supportive relationship, it allows each partner to be more supportive.
- Are you avoiding your mirror? In other words, are you only looking to blame your partner for conflict (it's all his fault, if he would only....)? The only person you can change is YOU, so begin with yourself.
- Have you become a complainer? Complaining focuses on an issue, sometimes blowing it out of proportion. I like the 90/10 rule for couples. Express 90% compliments and only 10% complaints.
- Make a pro and con list. What do you love about your partner? What irritates you about your partner? Weigh each item on the con list and decide if it's worth giving up all those items on your pro list.
- Do you balance each other? I'd never say that another person "completes you", but opposites attract for a reason. Often a partner's lovable (and annoying) traits help you be more balanced and enhance who you naturally are.
- Are you committed to making your relationship work? When we fall in love, it all seems so easy at first. Relationships take work. If you're ready to throw in the towel at the first irritation, ask yourself if you want to be married or if you want things to just be easy. There is extreme power in making the decision to "stay in the canoe and paddle."
Mark and Sarah worked things out and, five years later, are planning a second honeymoon. They created a vision about how they wanted their life to look and got better at communicating their needs. Fatal attraction doesn't have to be deadly to your relationship. In fact, it can be the jumping off point to choosing a deeper commitment to each other — and yourself.
A self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, Debra Smouse is a life coach living in Dayton, Ohio. An expert de-tangler, she believes in busting clutter as a path to greater clarity and that within every woman is vibrant, passionate and sexy being just itching to make her inner sex kitten roar.