I love Julian, my boyfriend of three years, but lately, itâ€™s hard for me to tell him. I feel exposed and uncomfortable when I do. Itâ€™s like Iâ€™m pulling away from him without wanting to. This is a new feeling.
Also, over the last few months Iâ€™ve felt more and more irritable with him â€” like weâ€™re in competition. I donâ€™t ever want to be wrong or lose an argument or do things his way instead of mine. This is even becoming an issue in our sex life.
Julian seems pretty shut down and defensive, too. I donâ€™t know if heâ€™s reacting to my own pulling away, or weâ€™re just feeding off each other. So, weâ€™re always bickering over nothing and sex has gotten pretty limited. Talking with him about whatâ€™s going on inside me feels too revealing right now.
Iâ€™m not sure whatâ€™s going on. Like I said, I want to be close and a few months ago we were talking seriously about marriage. Now, all of a sudden, I am running into this weird barrier inside me and Julian doesnâ€™t seem much different.
Any advice? Or a helpful perspective?
You are facing the same dilemma that others face in their relationships: While closeness can feel great, especially at the start of a relationship, closeness can also feel dangerous. The closer you get to each other â€” which discussions of marriage can do â€” and the more you care about each other, the more vulnerable you are to being hurt.
But if you try to protect yourself by keeping your partner at a distance, youâ€™ll wind up with a limited relationship. You canâ€™t let your partner really know you unless you are willing to get up close and open your heart to him.
The other big issue you have to contend with is that itâ€™s impossible to have a close relationship when you are competing with each other. However, when two guys are in a relationship, they may find it really hard to avoid competing.
While the urge to compete is absolutely not limited to men, guys do tend more toward competition, especially with each other. So, collaboration with other men may not come easily, but thatâ€™s what gay men have to do in order to succeed in an intimate relationship.
It makes sense that you and Julian are distant and squabbling lately, especially since youâ€™ve put marriage on the table. Though your situation is difficult, there is a big upside: your relationship is pushing you to figure out how to be truly close to another man. If you want to be in a long-term relationship, thatâ€™s something you need to figure out.
If closeness means more to you than playing it safe, if your goal is to be close to Julian more than to be the victor, consider this: Challenge though it is, youâ€™ll have to be vulnerable with him and youâ€™ll have to tolerate the discomfort and uncertainty that come with that. Youâ€™ll also have to learn how to collaborate, which means you canâ€™t always win or be right.
Are you ready to shake things up? Make the first move and discuss your dilemma openly with Julian. Youâ€™ll be stepping out of the competitor position by moving toward him and youâ€™ll be performing a courageous act of intimacy by letting him know whatâ€™s really going on inside of you.
Of course, there are good reasons for all of us to want to protect our hearts and figuring out how to accept vulnerability â€” our own and our partnersâ€™ â€” is tough work.Â Also, it isnâ€™t easy to shift from being a competitor to being a collaborator. For all these reasons, you and Julian may want to find a couples therapist to help you move toward a relationship where you can become loving teammates.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online atÂ personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it toÂ Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.