Is your relationship or marriage just, well, so-so? Maybe you’re not sure if you still love or ever loved your partner? Maybe he or she has many good traits – is kind, or generous, funny, or the sex is great. She’s gorgeous, or he showers you with kindness – but something is missing. Maybe your parents or friends think that he or she is great – that others would give their eye teeth for such a relationship. There’s more at stake if you have children together, but if not, how do you decide what’s the right thing to do?

You tell your friends that you want a soul mate. They say you’re unrealistic. You say the romance is gone. They tell you that’s why Hollywood movies end when couples marry - romance doesn’t last. You want someone to connect with physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. You’re told your expectations are too high, that you’re lucky if you get one, or “He doesn’t hit you or drink. He has a job.” But you’re restless, or feel a vacuum instead of connection.

Take these steps:

1. Make an inventory. Assess your needs and prioritize them. Think of the four above categories and add financial, social, and more. This is very individual. To a feeling-type individual, sharing emotions is number one. Someone else values intellectual conversation, while another, shared interests, a travel companion, or financial stability. This is why no one can tell you what to do.

2. Consider which needs are your responsibility to yourself and not your partner’s. Make sure you’re not blaming your partner for your own unhappiness.

A survey showed that men are happy if their marriage is 50 percent okay, but women are disappointed if it isn’t 80 percent okay. One reason women expect more from their relationships may be because they look to their significant other as a means of personal fulfillment, whereas most men look to their careers to satisfy that that need. Women’s brains more than men’s are wired for relating emotionally and many lack the self-efficacy required to motivate and promote themselves professionally outside (and sometimes within) a structured organization.

3. If you are stressed because of work or depressed for some reason, the relationship will suffer. You may not feel like getting close or be able to enjoy anything. Take responsibility for your own moods. You, not your partner, are responsible for your happiness. Take action.

4. Pay attention to exactly how you feel around your partner. A key question is how you feel about yourself when you’re together. This is more important that how much he or she loves you or how they make you feel. Love and attention will always make you feel better, but that is not the best predictor of long term happiness. Women especially often don’t trust their gut instincts and instead rationalize staying in a unhappy marriage or relationship because the man loves her or is successful. Instead, listen to how your body feels.

5. Have an honest conversation with your partner about what is missing for you. Explain that you’re unhappy because of ______. Be specific about what behavior he or she is doing and how it makes you feel. Then state why it (the missing element) is important for the benefit of the relationship. Describe how this behavior or problem affects your feelings about your partner. Don’t blame, but share your feelings and let the other person know the impact that their behavior has on you and your feelings towards them. Ask for what you want in the relationship. Specifically describe the behaviors you’d like to see. Don’t just say what you don’t want. When you complain, “You didn’t (or worse, never) do X,” you sound like a victim, and the listener will feel criticized and tune out. It’s more powerful and effective to state what you do want. Make it concrete and visual. Don’t expect your mate to read your mind. Some women object and say, “If I have to tell him, it doesn’t mean anything.” I say, “Think again. Isn’t it wonderful that he cares enough to be willing listen to you and make you happy?” Then let your mate know that if he does what you’re asking how you’ll feel. This gives him incentive. Tell him how loving (happy, grateful, impressed) you’ll be when he makes the change you want. Reassure him that you know he can because he’s done so in the past, or treats others this way, or accomplishes goals, or whatever examples fit.

6. You may not be able to define what’s wrong or “what’s missing.” It may be a feeling of connectedness achieved through greater emotional intimacy. That’s not the same as romance, but more honest and deep. It may take a skilled therapist to help you find it together. If you decide the relationship is worth trying to save, consider couples/marriage counseling, before walking away.

Copyright Darlene Lancer 2010

Author's Bio: 

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and life coach with a broad range of experience, working with individuals and couples for more than twenty-four years. Her focus is on helping individuals overcome obstacles to leading fuller lives, and helping couples enhance their communication, intimacy, and passion. She is a speaker, freelance writer, and maintains private practice in Santa Monica, CA.

To learn more about marriage counseling, visit Darlene Lancer's website,, and read about couples therapy and relationships. You can also get a FREE REPORT "From Self-Criticism to Self-Esteem." Tune into with your relationship questions Thursdays 8:30pm PST.