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Dear Dating Coach,
I'm a 42 year old male who has been in love only once when I was 19, with a girl 5 years older. She seriously broke my heart. Every relationship I've had since then has ended like this: I'm very attracted at first, then, over time, I become less and less attracted to her physical features. Eventually, I break it off and feel horribly shallow and guilty, vow not to repeat this behavior, and then do it again a year or so later. I've had my share of therapy and I am currently in a relationship. (We even got engaged for a while, but I broke it off for the same old reasons.) We are now back together, but not engaged. Everything about our relationship is solid and loving except for my frequent dissatisfaction with her facial features. She is well aware of my "anxiety" with relationships since we were friends for several years before dating. However, I haven't been totally honest about the "beauty" issue for fear of seriously hurting her self-esteem. Objectively speaking, I believe she is attractive and I'm quite certain the problem really does lie with me. My self-diagnosis is that this is a defense mechanism against ever being hurt again. Being surrounded by artificial beauty in the media and elsewhere here in California doesn't help. Is there any hope? --Hopelessly Shallow or Scared
I have always maintained that no one knows us the way we know ourselves. If you believe the basis for your problem is that it serves as a defense mechanism- then there is probably at least some truth there. Defense mechanisms form as a way to deal with feelings that overwhelm us--however they can lead to dysfunction over time if they become rigid and fixed and are employed every time you encounter a situation that triggers a similar negative feeling. This could certainly be happening here. This could be a case of; "I will leave her before she leaves me;" or "I will find fault with everyone as a way of never becoming too emotionally dependent upon them, and them losing them." If what I am saying truly resonates with you, I recommend you find a solid therapist who has a lot of experience with cognitive-behavioral work. This approach can help you to change your behavior and learn new and more functional ways of dealing with your fears.
Of course, there are other possibilities here as well. You may have deep seated fears around intimacy and commitment. Even though you have had many girlfriends, this does not mean you are truly wanting or ready for a real relationship. If so, do some reading on these topics and familiarize yourself with the behaviors and symptoms associated with these issues. Again, along with a good therapist or coach, you can work towards resolving issues such as these, but this will not happen unless/until you truly want it.
I recommend you consider going "relationshipless" for a while and do some real work on figuring out who you really are and what you want. It's the fair and decent thing for both you and the woman with whom you are currently involved.
(from August 2009)
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
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