There's a relationship guide I really like called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. The book outlines the five ways that people express their love for their partners; through Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.
Many of us will want a mixture of these acts in our relationships but there tends to be one that is of greater importance than the others. The book is useful because it allows you to identify your love language as well as your partner’s preference, and it helps you to understand how you can both better satisfy one another’s needs.
It can be difficult if you’re someone (like what I suspect you are) who desires Words of Affirmation — being told ‘I love you’, hearing words of praise and compliments — and your partner is someone, for example, who expresses their affection through Acts of Service — cooking, cleaning, taking out the rubbish bins, etc.
The key difference in the scenario you’ve outlined, however, is that your partner isn’t necessarily uncomfortable with saying he loves you, but manages to show his love in other ways. In fact, he’s told you outright that he doesn’t love you at all. Many people reading this column today would feel crushed by such an admission from their partner but I’m interested in how it made you feel. Were you surprised? Did you suspect he felt that way? Were you angry? Hurt? Did you numb out? How much does being told that you are loved actually matter to you?
These are important questions to ask yourself right now because I sense from your letter that you’ve dissociated somewhat; you’re still very much focused on your partner, his needs, his feelings, his words. Where are you in all of this? It’s been three years since your partner dropped this bombshell and yet you’re still together, still living in the same house and co-parenting (I have to admit, I was very concerned reading your letter when you said your partner won’t commit to a future together. You have children — I’m not sure what could be more of a commitment than that).
You say you’re ‘intimate’ so I presume you are still having sex; is the sex good for you? Really, what I’m asking is — is all of this enough for you?
There are many ways to have a relationship and none of them are the ‘right’ one.
We’ve been told that it should just be between two people, pledging loyalty to one another while forsaking all others, but really, monogamy isn’t the only way to be in a relationship. There is no ‘normal’, as you asked in your letter.
There are couples who are asexual, experiencing relatively no physical desire for each other, and lead perfectly happy lives. For others, polyamory, where they have intimate connections with more than one partner, is what makes them happy. Others find an open relationship suits them best, or bringing another person into their bedroom. It doesn’t matter what the relationship looks like, or how outsiders view it, as long as the people within it are comfortable and satisfied with their particular arrangements, and don’t feel pressured or coerced.
What is it you want from a relationship? Is that the same as what your partner wants? Have you had that conversation, being completely honest with each other? Have you tried couples counselling? If not, I would highly recommend that you do so in order to talk out all of these issues in a safe environment where you both feel able to be vulnerable and open.
Many couples see miraculous results from talking to a professional. If you have tried therapy and your partner is still clear that he doesn’t love you and will never love you, then my instinct would be to tell you to leave. If you were my friend, I would say that you deserve more than this, that you deserve someone who will treat you with infinite kindness and tell you how loved you are.
I would tell you that being alone is better than being in a relationship with someone who is indifferent to you. There is a huge difference between being alone and being lonely and there is nothing lonelier than being trapped in a relationship that doesn’t fulfil your basic needs. But really, it’s not my place to tell you whether you should stay or go. Ultimately that is your decision, you are the only person who can affect change in your own life. I don’t know your family, I don’t know your partner, I don’t know your circumstances. So, I’m not going to tell you to leave. Instead, I’m going to advise you to take some time to sit quietly and listen to your gut. A
gain, I ask you — are you happy to live like this? Are you happy with the way things are? I would suspect you are not, just by virtue of the fact you have written to me asking for advice, but I cannot answer that question for you. You’re in your late 40s — you’re still a young woman! Let’s estimate you have another 40 years left on this planet. How do you want to spend them? And with whom do you want to spend them?