Confused in love

Dear Alice,

I wanted to ask you a question that I can’t even answer myself. Well, I have a boyfriend and we’ve been together for seven months now. We both love each other so much and I always make sure he knows that. I do everything for him: cook, clean, wash clothes, practically everything to make him happy. He used to be really loving with me. I mean, he still is, but I feel as if he’s changed in some way. Before, we used to be able to tackle our problems and if we argued, we would sit down and fix the problem. Now, he just ignores it and leaves, and smokes his weed. What’s your advice?

From, Confused in love girl

Dear Confused in love girl,

It's great that you've found a partner where you both have so much love for each other. That being said, every relationship has its ups and downs. It seems as though you're going through a patch right now where you're learning more about each other's communication styles. You may find it useful to sit down with your boyfriend and express these feelings and find out where he is coming from, too. Exploring these issues together may help you come to a resolution to help you communicate your needs effectively and move forward with a plan for addressing conflicts in the future. 

Before you speak with him, you may want to write down your thoughts and feelings. Making a list of all the things you like about the relationship and a list of what you don’t may help you determine what you're willing to live with, what you're willing to continue working on, and what you won’t tolerate. You can clarify the problem by asking yourself questions: What are the things that are bothering you about the relationship? Do you feel as though he loves you less than before? Why? What do you need from him to feel that same level of love that you felt previously? What were the things that gave you trust in your shared communication? Does he have the capacity or ability to give you what you need? Do you have the capacity and ability to give him what he needs? Are both of your expectations reasonable? Thinking through these questions may help guide what you're looking for in the relationship and whether or not both of you can meet these needs. 

When you're ready, you may decide to express to him that you're confused about your relationship and that you need to understand things more clearly. It may be helpful to choose a time together for the discussion about your concerns when you know you’ll both be relaxed. It can also be helpful to agree to have the conversation when neither of you are under the influence of substances. Talking in a place where you won’t be interrupted and silencing electronic devices helps to ensure that you both are devoting your undivided attention to the conversation.

When you speak with him, it may be more productive to avoid accusations of him of ignoring problems or not doing much for you. Statements like these may put him on the defensive, leaving him less likely to express his true feelings. Try to focus on using “I” statements and expressing how you are feeling rather than making assumptions about what he is feeling: “I am confused. I do many things to let you know that I love you, but I am not sure if you still love me like you did before. Has something changed?” When using this language, you're speaking from your experience rather than putting blame on him. 

One way to grow stronger in relationships is to solve the problem together. Could you do the chores together or share the chores? It would free up time for the two of you to spend together, which is an important part of a healthy relationship. If you do mention his substance use, it could be more effective to approach it from a place of curiosity rather than frustration or disappointment.

People have different ways of showing their love and affection. Is it possible that your boyfriend shows his love in other ways that aren't particularly important to you? Your relationship needs deserve to be met, but that also involves communicating what you need in a way he can understand. If you're feeling burnt out, you could try doing less for him and engaging in more acts of self-care, and then seeing how you feel. 

When all is said and done, there could be a number of reasons that he has had a change in behavior, and the simplest way to find out is to talk with him about it. Relationships evolve and what may have worked at one part of the relationship may not work as well later. However, if you find that you aren't having your needs met in the relationship, you may decide that this relationship has run its course and it's time for you to move on. 

Last updated Dec 16, 2022
Originally published May 29, 1998

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