When you describe your ideal relationship, one of the first words that likely comes to mind — after healthy and happy — is “fulfilling.” It’s just another way of saying that the relationship makes you feel satisfied — it complements and enhances your life, meeting your basic needs and bringing you opportunities for growth. And when you're in a relationship but not feeling fulfilled, you’ll likely feel a tangible void, as if your bond with your boo isn’t quite living up to its full potential. The good news is that Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles, says that there are ways to work toward making your relationship feel fulfilling again.
But what does an unfulfilling relationship look like? According to Dr. Brown, here are some signs that you’re in this situation: you don’t feel valued or appreciated, your communication is lacking, the spark has fizzled out, or you’re continually having the same arguments over and over. If you simply feel like your relationship is stagnant and isn’t growing, that’s another common red flag that you feel unfulfilled.
While you may not be able to put your finger on what’s amiss, you’ll definitely know when your relationship is no longer fulfilling you. You may feel a certain longing for the kind of intimacy you and your partner once had, you may not feel excited about your relationship any longer, or you may even find yourself questioning your compatibility.
Once you’ve determined that you’re dissatisfied with your current relationship, Dr. Brown advises taking some time to write out all of your dating "must-haves.” This list could include the kind of verbal communication you desire, the kinds of bonding activities you’d like to participate in with your partner, and even the frequency or type of sex that makes you feel satisfied.
Once you’ve fleshed out your vision for a fulfilling relationship, Dr. Brown recommends asking yourself which areas your relationship is lacking in. He notes that since no relationship is perfect, it’s actually quite normal if certain facets need work — but the majority of your needs should be met.
“Ideally, you are getting at least 80% of what you would like in a relationship,” he tells Elite Daily. “If you aren’t, then it may be time to explore why that is.”
Now that you have a handle on what’s missing, it’s time to launch a conversation with your partner about how you’re feeling.
“In the most non-judgmental way, start what will likely be a series of conversations about how each of you is viewing your relationship,” says Dr. Brown. “It's vital that you not blame your partner but instead, talk about what your basic needs are.”
Rather than discussing your needs in a negative way by saying, “You never do [xyz],” it’s best to frame them in a positive way by saying, “I love when you do [xyz], do you think you could do that more often?” In general, people are less likely to get defensive and more likely to feel motivated to make a change when you ask for something in a way that’s non-accusatory.
After sharing what you need from your SO, Dr. Brown recommends asking them to do the same. Who knows? They may be feeling unfulfilled in some regard as well, and this conversation provides the perfect opportunity for them to shed light on what you could do to make them feel happier or more loved.
While expressing how you feel your relationship is lacking, it can be super helpful to provide specific solutions. For example, if you’re feeling unfulfilled in terms of your physical needs, you might say, “It would be great if you could initiate sex more often, because that makes me feel attractive to you,” or “It would make me so happy if you could make some time to snuggle before work in the morning.”
Once you’ve shared that guidance with your boo, it’s up to them to put in the effort. They may need a reminder or some pointers now and then, but hopefully, once they realize that you’re not fully satisfied, they’ll be eager to make a shift.
“The possibility of making an unfulfilling relationship better is totally dependent upon your level of commitment to each other,” says Dr. Brown. “All of this requires developing trust, vulnerability, courage, self-awareness, awareness of your partner, kindness, and gratitude. If the two of you can develop these specific qualities in your relationship, you will have a very good chance of being in a fulfilling relationship.”
In other words, if your relationship feels less than fulfilling, it’s not too late to turn things around. But first, you’ll need to be clear on what’s missing — and what bae can do to provide it. The bottom line? As long as you and your boo are both equally invested in making the relationship mutually satisfying, anything is possible. How’s that for a healthy dose of hope?