For so many couples, this is their million-dollar question.
Hope for their relationship, for their future, hinges on the answer.
Unfortunately, like most complex queries, the answer is a solid: “Sometimes.”
Ugh. So unsatisfying. But honest. (Sorry, but honest is how we roll here.)
“Sometimes”- because relationships are different from one another, just like the people in them.
Sometimes because there are too many variables to generalize across the board.
Here are some of the questions we ask clients to help define this work:
Did there used to be attraction and it faded, or was it never there in the first place?
Has either party ever felt attraction to others outside the relationship?
Is there a substantive relationship of any kind in place and what does it feel like: friendship, affectionate, cruel, politeness, indifference?
Is there zero connection of any kind, or mild, occasional moments or areas of possibility?
Is there actual repulsion, contempt, or disgust or more like apathy or boredom?
What has already been tried by the couple and/ or those trying to help them?
Many romantic movies and novels rely on the plot trope of “at first they couldn’t stand each other, but then, often in the heat of an argument, anger turns to lust and they slowly realize they’re falling for one another.” When Harry Met Sally was a classic film, because the idea of safe platonic turning exciting romantic is so appealing.
Lots of good relationship stories begin with: “For a long time, we were just friends,” or “neither of us was really the other’s ‘type’.” It’s certainly not unheard of for connection to take time. But it’s definitely more difficult to foster that under the pressure of “already committed.”
In my experience, it’s easier to create something from something than something from nothing.
So if there used to be attraction and connection we have something to refer back to and aim for, whereas if there never was, it takes more work to try to generate it.
It’s also easier to create deeper bonding in an existing positive relationship, than in one where there is cruelty, high conflict, or other forms of dysfunction. For example, if there is abusive behavior, or if one party is actively cheating, or suffering from an individual pathology, it’s usually unproductive to work on creating connection until that issue is treated. On the other hand, where there is stability, warmth, compassion, and friendship in place, that can be a potential foundation for building deeper intimacy, with effort, knowledge, and competent guidance. The only way to know for sure in each case, is to try.
[*Some might ask: “Why is this even a question? Why would a person choose to be with someone they’re not attracted to?” There are several answers. One is that they were raised in culture that teaches this as the norm. To those who were raised differently, this might sound foreign or even disturbing. But there are communities where thousands of young people are taught that parents should choose your partner based on pragmatic criteria, and then the love comes afterward the wedding. There is a meeting, called a b’show, sometimes 2-3 of them, for the young parties to technically approve the selection, but generally there is little expectation to veto- certainly not more than a couple of times. There are other communities where the arranged matches lead to more formal dating, called “shidduch dating.” There is a range of styles in this dating system. There is relatively more choice involved here, but it’s also generally set up by others, and relatively brief (in many communities, not more than 1-3 months). The message is to “date with your head”- marry someone who is a good person, with a good reputation, compatible with your background, life values, and plans. Here too, the assumption is often that the real emotional connection and attraction will come after the wedding. Sometimes, with b’shows and shidduchim, it actually does. Those couples marry happily, bond afterwards, and are fortunate. But there are many for whom it doesn’t work that way, and it can leave them feeling lonely, sad, discouraged, questioning, and betrayed. This post is to help those in the second category know it’s not only them, it’s not their fault, and there are options for them.]