In your mind’s eye you can envision the moment when you will become his and he will become yours… forever…You see it clearly. You imagine your partner on bended knee, while you feign surprise and then choke up, as he flashes you “the ring”–YOUR RING—“yes, yes yes, I will marry you!” you exclaim. You already know the style of your wedding dress. You can finally move into a house together, maybe get a dog? Eventually a baby! About the time you begin to imagine decorating your marriage abode reality slithers into your dream to remind that your other may not actually want to marry, let alone marry you. Chastened, you wonder if you will ever find an enduring, read-your-every-thought, emotionally connected love.
Let’s take a step back.
Many cultivate the fantasy that when it is present, true love just takes over and happens. And in that happy state, awkward conversations about what you both want from a long-term relationship are not necessary. The magic of destiny handles the details. Leaning on this fantasy may act as an emollient for not knowing how to realize core, deeply held romantic desires. I describe in my book, Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy, Why Some Women Settle for One-sided Relationships, how it is often those who crave to be loved and cared for the most who find themselves passively wishing and waiting. They do not take the initiative because they are afraid of what they may hear from their partner. They cannot bring themselves to face the potential necessity of ending a relationship on the grounds that it is never going to work. Those caught in this mindset spend too much of their time reading tea leaves and pulling petals from flowers– “He loves me, He loves me not.”
In my practice, working with couples and individuals, I have seen many hang onto doomed relationships far longer than is healthy. The fear of letting go makes it difficult to take a hard look at the true potential of a relationship. And more importantly, passively obsessing about the future means missing valuable opportunities to better learn who your partner is in the present.
Keep these five points in mind to avoid the frustration and heartbreak that comes when loves can’t quite reach air speed.
1. Never be so invested that you can’t imagine leaving. You may be saying to yourself or others, “This HAS to work…I have already introduced him to my family and spent a year getting to know him. How will I ever find another boyfriend/girlfriend? I am getting old…my child bearing years are passing me by”… Appreciate the pressure you are putting on yourself by not recognizing the possibility that this relationship does not have to result in marriage. Also be aware that this mindset makes it hard to accurately assess if your partner is the right long-term match for you. You can always leave, even if it brings you fear and sadness, these feelings will eventually pass. Instead of worrying, spend your time getting to know him/her, observing how you feel in their company and how they respond to what you reveal about yourself.
2. Do not let yourself “fall into things” with your partner. One pattern that may lead to a lingering half-love that never gets off the ground comes when a couple progresses in terms of the external aspects of their life but not in terms of their emotional understanding of one another. If you meet his family because you happened to ‘run into them,’ move in together because your lease ran out and you needed a place to stay, become dog owners because a friend was moving abroad and needed someone to take her pet etc., etc., you never have the opportunity to talk through decisions and firmly decide as a couple. When decisions are not directly made together, it becomes easy for one member of the union to not take the commitment seriously—after all it occurred by happenstance “I never said I wanted you to move in, you needed a place to stay.” Making conscious decisions together also helps couples to discover more about one another and what each wants for the long-term.
3. Do not settle for bait and switch. The sparks of a new love may kindle many warm promises. Then as the months slip by, perhaps into years, and the promises go unfulfilled one or the other feels disappointment swell. Perhaps she feels as if initially he was actively pursuing her and could see marrying her, and now she hears nothing of this. She may begin to wonder if he really believed any of what he said and suggested early on. If you are feeling confused in your relationship or getting mixed signals from your partner, talk to him/her about it in detail. Perhaps he is afraid or overwhelmed by the future. If he can talk about this in an open and straightforward way, you have made progress toward emotional intimacy and toward being know to one another—important ingredients for long-term love.
4. Expect that your partner can (and will) talk about a future with you. If each time you bring up “The Future” you hear crickets, your partner becomes apoplectic, immediately changes the topic, or offers you superficial flattery, proceed with caution. If you see a future with your partner but feel you have little information about what he sees or wants, talk with him about your observations. The first time you have this conversation it may feel a bit awkward, but it should not be excruciatingly painful. Couples who have healthy, committed relationships for the long term typically have emotional intimacy present early on. This means your partner may not be able to say, “you’re the one let’s get married next week” but should be able to say “I am really enjoying getting to know you and can see us being very happy together.” As the relationship progresses over time, emotional intimacy should also gradually progress. Talking about what you each want in the future should become easier, more elaborate and specific. If your partner can’t communicate with you about the future on the level you need, do not turn your efforts to finding ways to make him more comfortable, or to ‘giving it more time.’ If this is your circumstance, consider that your partner may not be what you need.
5. Create a rich life and stay connected to it. It is important to create a world full of more than just your romantic relationships. If you do not invest in other areas of your life, your work, friends, outside interests, you will lose perspective. After a couple of years, it can feel as if you will have nothing if you do not stick with your partner. This makes people vulnerable to holding onto relationships that are not healthy or that have no chance of evolving to the next level of commitment or emotional intimacy.
People change their minds.
They may want to marry someone and then those feelings change—this is human. What is important is to check in with each other periodically about where you are and make room for the idea that feelings may change. Working from the same page in a relationship helps people to feel contented, spontaneous and emotionally intimate with their romantic partners.