Why your doubts about the relationship may be a sign of growth rather than trouble
One question that comes up often in my practice as a couples therapist is the issue of "falling out of love." You’ve been in love with someone for 6-12 months, maybe longer, and you start to wonder whether this is going to last. Are you going to stay together, settle down, or is it time to move on? If the latter is on your mind, what happened?
At first you couldn’t believe you found such a perfect match. There was the physical attraction, but more importantly your partner seemed to be your best friend, soulmate, as if you were meant for each other. In the beginning you two did everything together, were inseparable, and seemed to agree on pretty much everything.
You may have had some doubts early on—the way she insists on loading the dishwasher, the way he talked down to that waitress—but you hoped they didn’t mean anything, and you dismissed them. Little quirks were cute and endearing, and you genuinely cared more about spending time with each other than making a big deal out of it. You may never have chosen the hotel she suggested, but in the end it’s her you wanted to spend time with, right? He doesn’t need to know you hide candy all over the house, does he? You downplayed your or your partner’s habits or differences of opinion, because in the beginning they didn’t seem to matter. You put your own best foot forward, and your thinking about your partner ranged somewhere between "I don’t mind" to "maybe that will change."
But now things are different. Something in you shifted, and you have some doubts. You still agree to things to keep the peace (taking a dance class together, travel to see his extended family), but you secretly hope your partner doesn’t take you up on them. You’ve hinted at things that are important to you (having children, traveling, career choices), but your partner doesn’t seem to share your enthusiasm, and it bothers you. You wonder: If this is real love, shouldn’t things feel like they did in the beginning? You wonder whether you are compatible after all. Is there is something wrong with you, or with your partner? Have you fallen out of love?
My answer is: Probably not. Rather, you are likely entering a new and very crucial phase in your relationship! The first 6-12 months of a new relationship are the frosting on the cake. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term limerence to describe an "involuntary state of mind which seems to result from a romantic attraction to another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one's feelings reciprocated." This initial phase is very important for your bonding as a pair, but it isn’t sustainable—and it doesn’t need to be!
The little doubts that appear in your head after the initial "symbiotic" phase are reminding you that you are two separate individuals with differences in preference, needs, and desires. Your partner hasn’t seen the real you until you trust them with your honest feelings, and the reality of who you really are. Only then can you be sure that you are loved for yourself. The converse is equally true: You can only truly appreciate your partner for who they are when you have seen all sides of her or him.
Sooner or later, you will encounter your first "dis-illusionment" that makes you wonder, is this who your loved one really is? You will discover each other’s flaws and shortcomings, and feel disappointment in your relationship. This is your first real test as a couple. The million dollar question is: Are you willing to face and deal with the truth, and potentially build a strong and divorce-resistant relationship? Or do you signal to your partner: If this is who you are, please don’t let me know! The longer you wait to show yourself to your partner and ask about the things that confuse or bother you in their behavior, the greater the risk that you will enter into a conflict-avoidant relationship that will ultimately leave you disappointed and resentful.
How do you do take the healthy path of acknowledging your differences without turning into the bickering couple next door? How do you admit you haven’t been entirely authentic about your history, preferences, needs, habits, or weaknesses? One way is to try to say something like this:
"Sweetie, I have a problem. I like _____ (action movies, lingerie, spending money on nice things, etc.) but I’m worried about your reaction, and that you will now think of me as _____ (insensitive, objectifying, shopaholic, etc.). Could we talk about it?"
If this contradicts something you have claimed or agreed to in the past, acknowledge this, and offer your partner a window into your soul—Tell them your reasons at the time, why you want to come out with the truth now, and acknowledge it if this revelation causes your partner hurt.
Don’t continue sitting on things and hope ignoring them will make them go away. Instead, spend some time asking yourself how important an issue is to you and why. People who make a habit of continuously dismissing their own desires lose touch with themselves, and ultimately with their partners. Admittedly, being genuine and acknowledging that you feel differently from your partner initially creates tension and anxiety. Nobody enjoys negative feelings, but don’t let your fear of feeling uncomfortable or your desire to protect your partner from bad feelings deter you both from being real.