My partner’s a catch, why don’t I feel relationship satisfaction?

Guest post by Sara K
By: jdhancockCC BY 2.0

I remember the first time I talked about my partner (I will refer to him as “H”) soon after we met. I was in graduate school, talking to my friend about my first few dates with him. I remember having a lot of doubts — our compatibility, shared beliefs, and common interests. While we got along nicely, I questioned if we were truly in sync — a true match where we have chemistry.

Some of my initial doubts about being with H are doubts I still have today…

Three years into the relationship, we broke up because I didn’t think that he and I were right for each other. We were broken up for one month. In that month, I hadn’t taken the time to make up my mind. What did I want? What type of person did I see myself with? Meanwhile, H was fighting to get me back. I caved in, even though I wasn’t 100% sure about my decision to come back to the relationship. It was a true gray area that I’ve never resolved.

And three years later, when I was proposed to, I questioned it before ultimately saying “yes.” When what I thought about saying was “I guess.”

He is an excellent catch, so why do I not feel confident in my decision to be with him?

So here I am now. We are compatible in many ways — we work together well to accomplish tasks and our shared hobbies are enjoyed together. We care for a pet together. He is my rock — the partner who provides stability for me. He makes me feel safe and protected. We work well together. We are organizers, hard workers, and delegate tasks to each other. We can clean an apartment with ultimate efficiency and a sense of humor.

What I find difficult is that my soulmate is not quite there. Many of our conversations are the same: happening over and over again.

I find myself wanting… more. More stimulation, intellectually as well as emotionally. Deeper conversations. A greater connection. The kind of connection that feels like you’ve known someone for years. The kind that makes your heart hurt just thinking about that person. The kind of connection where both people “just get it” — and get each other. No words needed. No explanation. No feelings of not being understood. This is missing.

I know I am capable of giving him insight, sharing wisdom, deep thoughts… but H doesn’t appear to need it for himself. And I know H cares, it’s just that maybe he doesn’t always verbalize what’s on his mind. But even when he does, it’s as if I’m looking for a certain answer and he is not capable of providing that. We’re more like friends, rather than two people who want to grow together (both as a partnership, but also help each other individually).

Is this something that happens when you get married? Does every couple experience this with their relationship satisfaction? Do your relationship needs and values always match? What do you do when you have unmet needs?

…Leave your answer in the comments!

If you’re dealing with similar challenges in your relationship, here area few books that may help you in your process:

Comments on My partner’s a catch, why don’t I feel relationship satisfaction?

  1. I HAVE BEEN THERE. I dated a great guy for years. We got along just fine, had the same sense of humor, and we lived together very harmoniously. However, I never got that “soulmate” feeling. I felt very comfortable and secure with him though, and I thought that was enough. 4 years later, he ended up leaving me for someone he met that he DID have that spark with. I’ve since met my true soulmate, and I knew within the first 24 hours that it was meant to be. So, if you have ANY doubts, trust your instinct! Sure, you could be happy with him, but once you meet your soulmate, NOTHING compares. Good luck!

  2. Your description of your reaction when he proposed reminds me of when I got engaged. In the moment I thought of the alternative. Breaking up, uprooting my life, moving out… and decided to say yes, because it was comfortable.

    My ex-husband and I had many issues. Some related to things that it sounds like aren’t present in your relationship, but I did tell myself lots of things like ‘there’s no such thing as soulmates’, and ‘this is just the reality of every relationship’, ‘everyone has flaws’.

    All those things are true, no doubt, but they didn’t negate the fact that despite ticking the boxes of what I thought I wanted, and feeling very safe, it was not a good marriage and it was slowly strangling me and making me a bitter person.

    Now that I am divorced, and dating someone else, someone who I have true passion for, I recognize that I probably should never had said yes in the first place. My current relationship may or may not turn out to be long term, but it’s been passionate and deep and intense and intellectual, and all those things that I was missing. I prefer this to the security of the marriage that wasn’t a good fit.

  3. I honestly don’t think you can have all of those things. I have the clear connection, the “your heart hurts when you think about that person” love, the working very well together (we travel together beautifully), the feeling I’ve known him for a long time (and I have – 18 years). We do still have good conversations but when you’ve known someone for 18 years, been together for 9 and married for 6, you can’t expect that you will have deep, meaningful conversations all the time. Sometimes, sure, but often your lives become so intertwined that part of it is just existing together. Nobody has enough insight and thought to keep intellectual or thoughtful conversation going all the time for the rest of their lives, you need down time too, to just be around someone you trust and love.

    I’ve decided that I actually prefer this – it feels like it’d be exhausting to just always be talking or sharing insight. I’ve learned to just exist and love my husband even when we go a week mostly talking about the weekly banalities of our lives. There is comfort in it. I don’t have to be ‘on’ or be insightful all the time. It’s a good thing.

    But, yes, the strong connection, the obvious love – the knowing you couldn’t conceive of having this with anyone else – and the (yeah) good sex make it joyful to live through those times, rather than cause me to question if I have enough ‘meaningful conversation’ with my husband.

    So for that part, yeah, I think you have to come around to being okay with not having everything you want.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had relationships with amazing conversational and sexual chemistry but this feeling I didn’t really know, and never would know, the other person – that maybe they weren’t interested despite all of our deep discussions in my knowing them that way (or anyone doing so – who knows).

    But if you don’t have the conversation, you don’t have the ‘this is the right partner for me just because he is’, and the clear attraction, the comfort of just having him there, then *that* is a problem. You can’t have everything, or rather, having everything can grow exhausting after awhile. But if you don’t have anything but stability, it’s worth exploring that now. A good counselor might be able to help you break down whether you can be satisfied with that or not – and on some level if you want to be satisfied with it, you have to choose to do so. (A good blueprint for this can be found in old Carolyn Hax columns – she gets this concept really well).

    Some people do make that choice, and they are okay with it. You have to ask yourself “what happens when someone who pushes ALL of the right buttons comes along?” If your answer is “leave your husband for him”, then that’s your answer – it’s time to go. Now, not when you have the perfect Romeo waiting for you. Also you have to accept the fact that you may leave and never find Romeo, and may in fact look back and think this was the best relationship you ever had. That can happen (probably not, but it’s not impossible – not everybody gets A Great Love. This sucks but there’s always something not everybody gets. Not everybody gets A Great Career or Gets To Travel or True Financial Security or whatever it is people want to “Get”. Sometimes you just don’t. Happiness has to come from you anyway, not that thing you want.)

    Still, it wouldn’t be fair to stay with him knowing you’d leave if the right person came along, for obvious reasons I hope I don’t have to explain.

    If your answer is “I would stay with my husband because I value the stability, comfort, love and cooperation even though it doesn’t curl my toes sometimes”, then it’s worth it to explore how you can be emotionally happy long-term with staying. People do decide they’d rather have those things than search for a partner who sets off their rockets, and there is nothing wrong with that as long as you are sure.

    So either way, you have to choose and accept the consequences of that choice.

    As someone said above, love CAN be something you create with someone you are otherwise happy with, if that’s what you want love to be. Sometimes it doesn’t work, often it does.

    For what it’s worth I don’t feel either approach is better than the other – every time I had that ‘soulmate and I knew immediately’ feeling, the person ended up being very wrong for me. What I mistook for ‘soulmate!!! DING DING DING!!!” was in fact just really strong lusty chemistry. Not the same thing at all!

    (In fact I find the partners who set off my rockets were always, ultimately, wrong for me – really deeply incompatible in very important ways such as lifestyle expectations, gender role expectations, religion or desire to travel, to name a few. I prefer having all of those things in line and maybe only have one or two rockets set off now and again).

    Whereas with my husband, we had a few years of friendship, right around the time we were figuring out who we were (college), before the attraction really started. Or rather, before it started in both of us (he liked me first). Then we had a few years of pretending it wasn’t there, or fighting because we were friends who really should have been lovers so there was all this jealousy and emotion in the air because we *weren’t* together, then thinking because we were fighting that we shouldn’t be together (when in fact once we got together it all vanished – we hardly ever fight now, and when we do it’s more of a strong discussion than a fight). So you could say I built love with someone based on friendship, then attraction. Yeah, sometimes we have quiet dinners, or we just talk about how our day was, but I look at him and think ‘yes’.

    Or you can decide it will never be enough just to have a good catch who is stable, and let him go – sooner rather than later for both of your sakes.

  4. Oh, honey. You are holding on so tightly the only thing I can think to say is “let go.” You can choose what to let go of. Let go of the relationship that will (most likely) never fulfill your notion of soulmates. Or let go of this definition of soulmates that keeps you discontent in an otherwise solid partnership. Holding on to both of these things must be exhausting. There is risk to both options, and I can’t pretend to understand what would be best for you. I do know it is important to choose and to live fully with your choice; whether that’s to accept your relationship and your partner as they are or to move on.

  5. Here’s my read. You say “The kind of connection where both people “just get it” — and get each other. No words needed. No explanation. No feelings of not being understood. This is missing.” But the thing is, no one gets a relationship where they are always understood. This is an impossibility, and the great tragedy of life, that you go along making connections and no one can ever truly be in your skin, and know where you’re feeling. No relationship is ever going to be without misunderstandings. BUT that being said, you can look for someone who gets you in ways you find important. Understands your love for a particular artist, or can pick you out chocolate you like. Or someone who cares enough to really deeply examine you, and reflect back to you when they find, to show you yourself in all your splendor. That is something you can expect of the world.

    I guess what I’m getting at here is, you say that your husband has no unmet need that is similar to yours. Well, do you need him to have that need, or would it be enough for him to know that YOU have that need, and work on it? What would happen if you talked to him, and said “I have this really deep unmet need, and I’m not even sure what it is fully but I want you to find it with me?” If you can’t imagine having this conversation with him, and would never start it, then yeah, I think you’re right the marriage is something you should leave. If it is a conversation you can have, then that’s an answer too. And the follow up to that is, will you?

    Look, I’m not saying you have to stay with the dude. It sounds to me like you sort of want permission to leave. But maybe you also want permission to stay. Listen to me. Forget everything I just said, and listen to this: You do not need my permission, as a stranger on the internet, to do anything. You do not need my permission to go, you do not need my permission to stay. The power is yours. Not anyone else’s.

    • “What would happen if you talked to him, and said “I have this really deep unmet need, and I’m not even sure what it is fully but I want you to find it with me?” If you can’t imagine having this conversation with him, and would never start it, then yeah, I think you’re right the marriage is something you should leave. If it is a conversation you can have, then that’s an answer too.”

      This is SPOT ON for me. I’ve been married 7 years, together 15 years, and during that time both of us have had a lot of unmet needs for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s something one of us needs from the other, sometimes it’s a work issue or lifestyle or extended family or health. But every time I feel better after talking with my husband about it–that’s how I know our marriage is working.

  6. Leave, end it, break up! Marriage JUST MAKES THINGS HARDER. I was in a happy but not satisfying relationship for far too long. He was GORGEOUS (like women would gawk and my dad joked that he was Daniel Craig because that’s how he looked) but made poor financial and life choices (nothing terrible, but I’m type A enough for that to drive me CRAZY). I stayed because he treated me well, was close to his family, and was a dog person. He was the first person I was with who treated me well, but I had doubts and hesitations. I kept putting off him moving in with me, and at a certain point I realized that wasn’t fair, and either shit or get off the pot, so I got off the pot! I’m SO glad I did because three years later (YES ONLY THREE YEARS) I’m HAPPILY married to the best partner I could have ever dreamed of. And the Ex is also very happily married too! Our first year of marriage has been tough, we’ve suffered job loss, renovations, family drama, and are now dealing with potential infertility, but I wouldn’t change a thing because I want to go through life with him, no hesitations. Not saying we don’t fight or bicker, but when it comes right down to it, I wouldn’t want to even fight or bicker with anyone else. You want someone who through the shit times (that WILL come), you actually want by your side. Your doubts are telling you something, and it is NOT fair to your partner or you to stay if you have them. Cold feet are not a thing if you are right for each other. I had lots of stress around my wedding day, but the ONE thing I was NOT worried about was starting a life together with my partner. It was actually how I comforted myself when I was stressing about everything else “as long as he is there, EVERYTHING ELSE CAN GO WRONG”. Good luck!

  7. I think this is perfectly normal to doubt now and then and that it’s better to acknowledge what you are feeling rather than denying the issue. That being said, do you know the YouTube channel “The School of Life” created by the philosopher Alain de Botton? He has a video called “Alain de Botton on Love” and that really helped me put things in perspective. It is smartly made, funny so you’re not bored but it led me to examine my feelings from another angle.
    Like, the idea that we have to “get our partner without needing to speak” is a very recent idea. It was created in romantic novels where the heroes know each other for 5 days before one of them tragically dies. You can’t build a marriage on that.
    Hope this helps!

  8. You didn’t say how long you’d been married but you were dating for 6 years beforehand (if I read your letter right). And I say: if it’s been 6 years and you’re still having serious doubts, end it. I don’t believe in “soulmates” (or maybe I do, but I don’t think a soulmate would make a good long-term relationship by my definition), but I do know it’s possible to have a relationship where you 99% of the time feel, “Yes, this is the right person, I’m so lucky to be here because he’s awesome and makes me happy, yay!” It doesn’t sound like you’re feeling that. Separate first, maybe, and do some work on yourself to see if you’re just bored or depressed with life in general. But I’m thinking it’s the relationship.

    Like others, I question some of your rhetoric about “just understanding each other”. My husband and I bicker fairly often, and have different opinions about things. We have areas where we came to an understanding, and some areas where that hasn’t happened yet. But underneath it all, is a great upwelling of affection, esteem, and just joy. I don’t hear that in your letter and that’s why I think you should end it.

  9. OP, I’m in the same boat and I’m jumping ship asap. We’ve tried everything, and I’ve just decided it’s too hurtful to both of us to stay together. He doesn’t deserve to be “not enough” for his wife, and I don’t deserve to live the rest of my life in a single “romantic” relationship born of practical housekeeping and stability. What I need is stimulation and connectivity from my partner. That’s my personality and not his. If I have to be single the rest of my life to allow for that component, so be it. Be fearless. Know that staying because you feel like you should is not doing anyone any favors.

    I love my husband, but there are many types of love, and little resentments and shortcomings only snowball and transform love into something less than the honorable thing it inherently is. We are miles apart (emotionally) these days. Life is too short for that. I’ve decided the only right thing to do is be honest about my needs, where my heart is at, and love him as a friend, if we’re lucky enough to escape this without hating each other. Time will tell, but I’m getting the ball rolling this month. Our marriage has been short, our friendship long, and we should have just stayed friends. I hope to be his friend again, but right now I just want more and you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, as they say.

  10. When you talking about someone being a catch, you’re treating the relationship as an achievement. It’s like a competition you won, and he was the prize. That’s not a partnership, that’s not a foundation for a life together. You don’t even mention if you love him. You might say that’s something taken as read, but it’s so obviously missing from your every statement. You can’t love a trophy.

    A friend who recently ended a relationship said Jess Zimmerman’s article, Hunger Makes Me, really helped her recognise what she wanted and why it was important to give herself permission to want.

    A man’s appetite can be hearty, but a woman with an appetite is always voracious: her hunger always overreaches, because it is not supposed to exist. If she wants food, she is a glutton. If she wants sex, she is a slut. If she wants emotional care-taking, she is a high-maintenance bitch or, worse, an “attention whore”: an amalgam of sex-hunger and care-hunger, greedy not only to be fucked and paid but, most unforgivably of all, to be noticed.

    …But attentiveness, consideration, compliments, small and large kindnesses, feeling truly loved, having someone put you first while you put them first because you’re in cahoots to make each other’s lives easier and better: most people do like that, when it’s thoughtful and sincere. It’s here, more than in the big gestures, that romance lives: in being actively caring and thoughtful, in a way that is reciprocal but not transactional.

    So the question is, are you in cahoots to make each other’s lives better? Or are you just comfortably making each other’s lives not-worse.

    • I love the idea of being romantically caring and thoughtful. I was watching Chelsea Handlers episode on marriage and a man says that marriage is putting down the toilet seat for my wife and she puts the toilet seat up for me.

  11. My knee-jerk reaction is: If you aren’t sure whether or not he’s the one, he’s not.

    Of course, all I have is my own experience, where I dated a lot of guys who weren’t the one, sometimes for far too long… Until one day, after having been happily single for about a year, I met someone and knew, absolutely KNEW, within two weeks, that he was the one. We got married a month later and now it’s been almost four years. No regrets. Not for marrying him, and certainly not for not marrying anyone else. Not that any of them were necessarily bad people, or not “catches”… but they weren’t mine.

    The only advice any of us can really give, I think, is to trust yourself. You know if he’s your person. And you know if he’s not.

  12. Note: I’m reading this under the assumption that you are engaged and not married, based on my reading of the question…
    I wish for your sake and H’s that you had remained broken up after the first 3 years. It seems to me that this relationship is going to end eventually and it’s not fair for you to waste H’s time.

    Before I met my husband, I dated a guy. We had all of the big stuff in common — religion, kids, educational background, etc. I didn’t feel that spark. But I thought I should stay with him because he was a good guy and we were compatible. When he broke up with me, I wasn’t sad at all. A month later I met my now husband and I knew immediately that we were going to be together long-term.

    Do both of yourselves a favor and break up. That way you can both find a more satisfying relationship. Constantly feeling lukewarm about your partner is not normal.

  13. “Is this something that happens when you get married?”

    No no no. Definitely not. If it’s not there now, it won’t magically appear once you’re married.
    Save yourself the pain and have the conversation now. It’s not worth the struggle of divorce 🙁 I speak from unfortunately experience.

  14. I’ve only had one relationship (which is going strong 5 years in) so take the following with a grain of salt:
    I think it might be helpful for you to set aside all your thoughts/concerns about your partner for a bit. Pretend you’re single and seeking to embark on a relationship, and evaluate the things that are most important to YOU in a relationship. Try to ignore what you feel like you OUGHT to want (I know it’s easy to feel pressured by societal expectations when it comes to relationships, but ultimately this is an incredibly personal thing), and just focus on your actual wants/needs. Once you determine the one or two things that are absolutely non-negotiable (examples: physical/emotional/intellectual intimacy, shared values/goals/lifestyle preferences), you might be in a better position to determine the things you’re willing to negotiate on. I do think most people in successful long-term relationships have to do at least a little bit of negotiating (we’re all imperfect, after all), but it’s up to the individual to determine what they are willing/able to negotiate on.
    Once you’ve done all this, you might be in a better position to evaluate your current relationship.
    At any rate, it might be a good idea to postpone any wedding plans until after you’ve had time to evaluate your needs and come to a clear decision.

  15. I had similar thoughts after being with my fiance for 7 years. He was supposed to be my soulmate and I had been fantasizing about it since I was in middle school, actually. But there were some missing things and I found myself doing just what you did…”I want a relationship where…” He was also a total “catch”. There was NOTHING wrong with him. He was kind, respectful, intelligent, sweet, self-aware, eager to learn, affectionate, appreciative…I just didn’t really laugh with him and that part of me was dying, only to be revived by other men. And I wanted a magnetic attraction I didn’t feel. I had never been with anyone else and I was intensely curious because deep down I knew he wasn’t it for me. That’s an oversimplification, but that’s the gist. I could have gone through with the wedding. We were engaged for several years at that point. I was afraid of disappointing everyone, devastating my fiance, and leaving behind the person I felt the most safe with. One night he asked me, “why are you with me?” and I said stuff about safety, how I could be myself, and I loved him, but it wasn’t very convincing when I said it aloud. And it wasn’t totally true either. A big piece of myself was unable to come out to play with him and long story short, it ended. It’s been 8 years. I’m not married, but finally, after all this time, I have the romance I dreamt of. It doesn’t look anything like how I thought it would. But it is the best relationship I’ve ever been in and while I still am dealing with some stuff from ending my engagement long ago, I don’t regret it for a second. We would not have been happy. It hurt us both, but ending it before getting married was the courageous and right thing to do for us.

  16. I’m going to take the unpopular stance here and say that soulmates are a thing. I have been with my husband since 2009 and I’ve never once doubted he was my soulmate. I don’t mean he gives me butterflies, I mean he speaks my language in a way no one else can or does. So often he literally reads my thoughts. We are sometimes more like one person than two. All that stuff people think they want. BUT. Here’s the catch. Even that isn’t enough. We’ve been on the rocks before and what I’ve learned is that mindreading doesn’t add up to a hill of beans in the face of trust, mutual respect, and good communication. And those don’t come automagically just because you two souls are entertwined. Humans are idiots, all of us, and it all takes work.

    But by all means, don’t stay just because you think you ought to. That’s unfair to him.

  17. I was with a guy for 4.5 years who I felt the same way about. He loved me and supported me, we had tons of mutual interests, and we got along great. We had a dog together. But I always felt like we were more like best friends or excellent roommates. I tried so hard to feel differently. I spent the last year and half of our relationship trying to convince myself to let go of my nagging doubts and live in the moment. But I couldn’t. We broke up in June, and I broke his heart. I felt terrible about it. I still do. But I don’t regret my decision.

    In the short amount of time since then, I have already met someone that checks all the boxes my previous partner didn’t. Not saying he’s the one (we’ve only been on a few dates), but he gives me that stupid tingly giddy feeling I haven’t felt in years. I know that feeling isn’t sustainable, but the fact that is was so easy for me to transition out of a long term relationship into the dating world again makes my decision feel validated.

    Sometimes you have to do what’s right for you, even if it’s not the right decision for both of you. That sounds selfish, but ultimately, you only have one life to live, and you should do what makes you happy.

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