Monday, January 11, 2010

The Spark is Gone -- Should You Move On?

Of all my blog posts, none is so popular as “How to Get Over a Crush” (not even the one I did about Erin eSurance, LOL). It’s obvious this problem plagues a good portion of the population.

One of the commenters on the post raised a very good question last week, and I promised to address it with its very own post. Rachele told me about her crush on a work associate and her temptation to leave her long-time boyfriend for the man. The problem? She’s lost the romantic feelings for her boyfriend, even though she knows he loves her. But Rachele is no dummy; she recognizes that she may be chasing a dream that can never be realized.

I’m a fiction writer, not a psychologist, but you can bet I have a few things to say about Rachele’s situation. So at the risk of attracting lovelorn googlers in droves once again, I will share them with you.

Anyone can figure out that a person you don’t know as well as you know your partner can be misleadingly attractive. If s/he has enough traits that appeal to you, your romantic imagination will fill in the blanks with all kinds of irresistible qualities. Your mate, on the other hand, is very much a known quantity. You know all about his/her flaws. You’ve discovered the incompatibilities. The mystery is gone, you can’t help but take each other for granted, and you wonder if you should trade for a new model.

It may actually be possible that the new person has opened your eyes to the shortcomings of your current relationship. You may indeed have settled for less, or gotten involved for the wrong reasons, or truly grown apart. The important thing is mentally to set aside the new guy or gal, eliminate them from the decision-making process, and take a clear-headed look at the pros and cons of what you have.

The litmus test for a good, “keeper” relationship is not “spark.” Feelings of romance, adulation, and raging sexual attraction are wonderful (I should know, I write that stuff), but they are not requirements for long-term love. In fact, familiarity inevitably dims them.

Instead, look at your partner and ask yourself these ten questions:

1. Does s/he make sacrifices for you? Is the relationship one of fair give-and-take?

2. Is s/he honest, loyal, trustworthy, faithful? (That sort of person is not as commonplace as you think.)

3. Is s/he reliable, dependable, there for you even when it’s not pleasant to be so?

4. Does s/he respect you, bolster your self-esteem, treat you well in the presence of others?

5. Does s/he support you in your personal goals and believe in your ability to achieve them?

6. Do you share a similar (or mutually respectful) attitude about important issues like religion, politics, family values, having or not having children?

7. Is it typical, when the challenges of life don’t interfere, for you to enjoy being together doing just about anything?

8. Do you have a reasonable amount in common, shared interests and tastes? And for those you don’t share, do you take an interest just for the sake of the other one?

9. Can you communicate effectively in spite of your personality differences, especially when mutual understanding takes some effort? Are you both willing to put in that effort?

10. Do you have a mutually satisfying physical relationship? (This has nothing to do with any perception of “normal” or “average”; all that matters is that you are both content.)

I have had one marriage that was sorely lacking in nearly all these areas, and one that succeeds in all ten, so I know whereof I speak. My current marriage is not perfect, and yes, there was a rocky time when I was even tempted like Rachele. But enough of the ten areas were strong and healthy that it was worth it to work on those that needed improvement. On the other hand, in my first marriage (which scored about a 1 out of 10), there absolutely wasn’t enough to work with.

In my humble opinion, if you examine your current relationship and find most of these areas to be healthy, you shouldn’t throw over your partner no matter how thrillingly attractive the new person appears to you. You have a solid thing going. It may not always be exciting, vibrant, and exhilarating, but if you switch to the new love-object, in a few years (or even months) he or she will likewise lose that luster.

And the day will come soon enough, believe me, when having a caring, trustworthy, devoted best friend will mean a lot more to you than having a partner in heated romance.

For the latter, I recommend fantasy and fiction. Which brings us back to my real job. :-)