“Where did the ‘you-and-me’ go, Terry?”

Joan and her boyfriend of over ten years were discussing why they never seemed to have time to do things together anymore. And it wasn’t a comfortable discussion.

“When you ask me that,” replied Terry, “I want to suddenly remember something—anything!—that I’m supposed to be doing somewhere else. And I dunno know why.” Terry paused.  Then, “Damn. That’s kinda the whole point, isn’t it?” 

“Our nice things can be a convenient shield from each other.”Daniel

The prognosis for irrelationship usually looks pretty bleak by the time a couple is willing to talk together about what seems “off-kilter” between them. In fact, at that point, they probably have serious doubts about whether anything of the connection they once had has survived. The reality, however, is that if at this crisis point they’re willing to talk about how uncomfortable they are, they’re probably still committed enough to each other to work through what’s making them uneasy instead of just walking (or running) away.

If they seriously try to figure out why they’ve been gradually backing away from each other, they usually realize that a point came in which a joint (but unconscious) decision was made to protect themselves against how uneasy they felt as their growing closeness was leaving them nowhere to hide “who I really am” from each other.

“Even though we’ve been together all this time, somehow, it’s felt less and less like we were together,” Joan reflected. “It’s felt more and more empty.”

“Hm. Yeah,  Empty,” Terry responded. I’ve been feeling as if nothing really mattered anymore. But it wasn’t as if I felt that one of us changed; it just seemed like the connection we felt when we first met has gotten clouded over somehow. But I dunno why or how. Nothing happened to make me feel I didn’t like being with you anymore.” 

“The onset of denial is insidious, and once established, we forget we were ever in denial. It takes a lot to shake us out of it.”Grant

Realizing early on where their relationship might be taking them often drives a couple’s push-back into irrelationship instead of allowing themselves to get and enjoy what they really want. They may continue to live together, but steer wide of the vulnerability that’s a normal part of sharing everyday life with someone.

How does this happen? The perks of lives shared—familiarity, a common history, financial and supposed emotional security, and a growing family and social network—can displace the initial excitement of actually growing a life together. Instead, love and intimacy gets lost among those perks.

Joan continued, “One day, I looked around at the life we’d made together—our friends, this house, you playing golf whenever you want, me being able to go shopping with the girls anytime I liked—when suddenly the price I was paying for all this hit me in the face: somehow, I’d lost touch with the guy I had wanted to share this life with in the first place! The ‘you-and-me’ I’d signed on for had disappeared!”

Terry was silent for a moment. Then, taking a deep breath, he said, “Oh boy. I know where this is going. I could tell you I hadn’t a clue any of this was happening, but that’s only because I was deliberately not paying attention. Both of us had become so ‘busy’ that it was easy to come up with excuses for not even having lunch together on a Saturday! Damn. How long has it been since we’ve done that?” 

“It's mind-boggling that irrelationship can do its very worst right in the midst of a life that looks as if it's going so well.”Mark

“Yeah,” Joan replied. Everything about our lives has seemed so ‘nice.’ What could I possibly have to complain about?”

When everything “seems so nice,” learning that those “nice things” have become a stand-in for a sense of shared commitment and love can be a shock.

Fortunately, Joan and Terry had both come to a point where they knew deep down that what looked so good from the outside was a poor substitute for what had thrilled them about each other when they first met. Allowing this to sink in was the vital first step in recovery from irrelationship. The process would prove to be scary and painful. But it also gave them back the joy and excitement of “you-and-me” that they’d been missing for years.

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