Not Relationship Material?

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

I know that I am covering a lot in this post, and I am probably mixing up several issues because I have several things going on in my life right now.

I am in my late 40s. I have been married three times; the first two were very short marriages, the current one has lasted well over two decades. I have two children that I love dearly, and I have a good relationship with my immediate family (parents and siblings). However, sometimes I can go for days or even weeks without talking to them and not miss it too much. I have never been in an abusive situation, either in childhood or as an adult. I consider myself considerably above average intelligence. I have a good job that is challenging and mentally stimulating. I am not a social creature, preferring to spend my free time online and doing other solitary activities such as reading, knitting, etc. Social situations make me uncomfortable. I am not a good conversationalist, and I tend to talk too much about myself when I do have conversations with others.
I am currently considering leaving my husband. I have no feelings for him, and haven‚t had any for years. I probably started this process before we even married. I do not want him to touch me; I don‚t care about spending time with him. In my mind, the reasons I have stayed in the relationship are: 1) our children, 2) convenience, 3) not wanting to be a failure once again, and 4) fear that I wouldn’t‚t find any more happiness elsewhere than I have now. But now, the kids are out of the house, and I am thinking that I might not be able to stick with the relationship, that I might need to give it up and go looking for something more.

I cannot be happy in a relationship. I become bored easily. I focus too much on physical appearance, both my own and my partner‚s. I am a perfectionist. I think I am unattractive, and that makes me very sad. I also cannot handle imperfections in my partner‚s appearance ˆ weight, teeth, etc. I do not think I am capable of real romantic love.
I have no interest in sex with my spouse, but do still have an interest in sex in general. I had an affair about 6 years ago. There were no real emotions involved, was purely physical. When that ended, I went back to „live with what you’ve got and just don‚t think about what could be‰ until recently.

I am now in another affair/relationship. The man cares for me a great deal, and is very kind, considerate etc. However, after only a few weeks, I am already feeling the need to move on. I don‚t know if this is because he‚s really not right for me, or if it is because I have issues that will not allow me to feel love toward him. He texts me and emails me a lot, tells me he loves me and wants me a lot. Tells me how beautiful I am, how well I sing, etc. That sometimes makes me feel like he is too needy. Sometimes I think that if anyone cares that much about me, they are probably not worth having. There are physical characteristics that are beginning to turn me off about him. I sometimes think he is not smart enough for me. Other times, I think that he could be very good for me, and that I should give him a chance.

I find that I am crying a lot during this new affair. Is it because I don‚t love him and don‚t want to hurt him? Is it because I feel that I will never find love? Is it because I realize how unhappy I am in my current marriage? I don‚t know.

I don‚t know if it is self-worth issues, or other issues within me that are the cause of me not being able to have a good relationship, or if I just haven‚t found the right one yet. It seems like eventually I decide that my partners are either not physically attractive enough, or not intelligent enough, or not „something‰ enough.

Is there a way I can get over my perfectionism, both toward myself and toward others? If that isn’t the problem, is there a way to understand why I cannot seem to feel true love?

A: Thank you for being so honest and exposing these parts of yourself here for some help. I certainly can understand the difficulty in not feeling love.

Yes, I do think there are several issues here that are impinging on the situation. The perfectionism, I think, is rightly identified as the central issue to be tackled. Years back the thinking was that depression was underneath — causing perfectionism. Some research over the past decade indicates it may actually be the other way around: Perfectionism may be the cause of the depression.

All this having been said, the very simple answer has to do with the misalignment of your behavior. Imagine a car with the front wheels pointed in different directions. How would you expect it to move forward and drive smoothly? When you are in one relationship and having another, nothing good can come of it. Happiness and contentment are often measured by the degree to which we are congruent with our lives, in a flow and on purpose. At the very core of your life you are pointing the wheels in different directions; no wonder it feels like you are not making progress.

One way of understanding the perfectionism in this case is that you are trying to get the perfect car, with the perfect engine and tires and premium gasoline, but have neglected to get the wheels pointing in the same direction. You may have a Maserati, but no matter how good it looks and how good the quality, it isn’t going forward.

I would use the “find help” tab at the top of this page to begin looking for a therapist to help you find out how the wheels got this way, get them realigned, and be sure they stay that way.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Dec 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Not Relationship Material?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/12/14/not-relationship-material/