Can't feel love


Can't feel love


your avatar   Mel, 32-year-old woman

As a child I was sexually abused by 2 separate individuals, which has led to some very erratic behavior by me at times. As a result of my abuse, I spent a long period during my late teens and twenties where I really felt like a lost soul and found it very difficult to like myself. I met my partner during this period and I think I clung to him as a kind of security during a very tumultuous time. It has only been in the last 3 years or so that I have been able to accept and like who I am and even learning simple things like what my beliefs and interests are!

My partner and I have been together on and off for about 11 years. In our early years, I was definitely more keen on sustaining the relationship than he was. After dating for a year, we moved in together, but we never discussed our future at all, and never even discussed love, even though I felt I loved him. After living together for about 18 months we broke up, as I had wanted to find out exactly where I stood, and he told me that he didn't love me. Then followed a period of about 3 years of on-again-off-again when he decided that he did love me after all. We finally moved in together permanently after this and have been together permanently ever since. Since then, we have been "engaged" but have never married. I have tried in the past to organize our wedding but was discouraged by my partner's complete lack of interest and enthusiasm in marriage. I have recently started to think that I no longer love my partner, and I cannot understand why this is so. I even wonder sometimes if I ever loved him at all.

I am discovering that I have very little in common with my partner - we have different values and interests, and our lives seem to be becoming increasingly separate - we are living alongside one another rather than together. Sex is a very rare event as I simply do not feel a sexual attraction to him. We never talk - he has never really been much of a talker so I have long ago given up trying. Quite often I feel as though he doesn't like me at all, and that I am just as much his security blanket as he was mine rather than someone he truly cherishes. I find it very difficult to even feel affection for him. That being said, he is a good person and a good father. He does try to be affectionate towards me but because I can't seem to feel love for him, I find it very difficult to reciprocate.

What I need to know is, does this relationship sound at all salvageable? Or is it possible that our relationship has neared its natural end? Why am I not able to love him - what is stopping me?


    Jerry Button, L.M.H.C.

Dear Mel,

You say that you want to know if your relationship is salvageable, but I don't think that is your real question. It seems to me that what you're really asking is whether your relationship can be made valuable and worthwhile. That is a very important question. As I read through your background, I found myself asking why you would want to salvage it. There may be lots there of which I'm not aware. The first thing to do is to take stock. Certainly you have invested a lot of time and effort and feeling in this relationship; determine what you are getting back from that investment. Perhaps a moderate amount of companionship. Perhaps it works well for you financially (you didn't mention finances). You say he is a good father. Is it your children that he is being a good father to? If so, that would be an important consideration.

Next, look at what you would like to get out of a primary relationship. Be realistic. Don't go for things that are fairy-tale material, but things that you could reasonably look for in a very good relationship. Do you see any potential for those things with this man?

Thirdly, focus on growth or life paths - or however you conceptualize the fact that each of us is in the process of "becoming" - over our entire life span. The paths of you and your partner may be close and parallel at one point in time, but not at others (this is true for everyone, not just you two). Where are the two of you in your growth trajectories?

Lastly you have to consider the word love. That poor word carries a terrible burden in our society. My first caution to you is that love just happens. You can not will it! If you don't love him, you don't love him. Period. It doesn't mean that you never did (although that may be true) and it doesn't mean that you never will (although that too may be true), but it does mean that right now you don't. It's not anybody's fault, but it is an indication that you are probably not receiving love from him. It's natural to respond lovingly to being loved.

So, if you've done all of these things, you're now in a pretty good position to decide what you want to do with the relationship that you've got. If you're getting some good things out of it, if it satisfies at least some of the criteria on your fantasy list, if you feel loved or valued and if you believe that the personal growth paths of you and your partner are likely to be compatible over the long haul, then it may be worthwhile to try to try to work with your partner to make things better.

If, on the other hand, you are getting very little out of the relationship - if it's far from your ideal and seems unlikely to change, if your paths are divergent and seem likely to stay that way, and if you fee unloved and not valued, then you are probably better to go on alone than to make each other miserable by staying together in your separateness. I think most relationships can and must tolerate the strain of modest divergence between the paths of the two partners from time to time, but for this to work both partners need to have faith that they will come back into proximity before too long. You are young and you have lots of time to seek a more rewarding relationship.

Good luck!

Jerry Button L.M.H.C.

This question was answered by Jerry Button. Jerry is a psychotherapist, personal development trainer, workshop presenter and relationship coach practicing in Delray Beach, Florida. He believes that the key to quality of life lies in relationships. His approach to interpersonal and emotional problems is relational and psychodynamic. Jerry is experienced working with individuals, children and families and welcomes challenging opportunities.For more information visit:


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