She said, he said: It takes two
Dear Jeff and Lori,
I’ve been dating my boyfriend for just over a year. We have more in common than I’ve had with any other partner and genuinely have a good time together. I see a future with him, and he tells me he loves me. However, we’ve started having more conflicts recently in regard to next steps. His schedule is so busy that I’m often catching time with him later in the evenings and at odd hours on the weekends. I believe that if we move in together it will be easier for both of us and our relationship. He gets frustrated and says he’s been clear from the beginning that he doesn’t want anything more serious than we have now because he needs a lot of time to himself after his divorce last year. It’s so confusing for me. He did say this early on, but we’ve been together for a year, and he says he’s never been happier. I feel like he’s just getting in his own way and wish he would meet with a therapist, but he says he doesn’t need to. How can I help him see the real potential of our relationship more clearly?
Signed, Potential Portent
Lori and Jeff: Ladies, listen up. If a guy says he’s not interested in a serious relationship, take him on his word.
Lori: If you’re attracted to challenges, chases or helping someone discover their full potential, you’re not ready for a relationship. Instead consider getting a puppy and a therapist. The dynamic you’re describing is all too familiar, particularly for women who aren’t fully aware of their own value. You find a guy who is unavailable and the insecure 12-year-old inside of you decides that if she can get him to fully commit, then she can finally prove to herself/yourself that she’s/ you’re really lovable. (All of this is unconscious of course.) So you stick your fingers in your ears, refusing to accept where he is and compromise your own boundaries praying that with enough time and love you can turn him around.
Being a year down the road without a real future together is your own doing. I’m not insensitive to the emotional pain of being in this place, and would wish it for no one. But I’d be doing you a disservice not to help you identify your own accountability in it. And this is where finding a good therapist can be life changing for you. Once you have a stronger handle on your real worth, you’ll start connecting with partners who value you also, and you’ll have enough self-esteem to walk away from anyone who can’t meet your needs.
Jeff: We often talk about how masculine and feminine energies — not related to gender identification or sexual preference — make up who we are as whole, unique individuals. Masculine energy is mission-based, focusing on more accomplishment and achievement, while feminine energy is based more on connection and the relational aspects of life. When we (male, female, nonbinary) are able to move fluidly between these energies, we are more capable of living a whole, fulfilled, purposeful life, both in our missions and connections. Unfortunately, our social conditioning has done a pretty good job of sticking us in one box or the other, with men usually being more familiar and comfortable with the mission side and women with the connection side.
It sounds like your boyfriend may be in more of a mission-based mindset, resisting the deeper connections, like a committed relationship with you. This might be more about his upbringing and his family history than his feelings for you. The bad news is that there is very little you can do to change this mindset. Having been through one unsuccessful marriage, he may also have had his views on committed, long-term relationships reinforced, creating an even stronger mission-based mindset. He will need to decide if and when it’s time for him to do some deeper work to access his more relational self and develop a clearer understanding around why connection might feel so uncomfortable — or what he may be missing out on by not being willing to lean in to the connection with you.
Lori and Jeff: Stop fooling yourself into thinking that you have magical powers to make him want something he either isn’t ready for or is choosing not to prioritize. A relationship only has real potential if both partners authentically decide it is important to put energy and effort into. You’re never going to get there with an unwilling partner even if you’re prepared to do twice the work.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Visit http://www.aspenrelationshipcoaching.com/blog-1 for all previous She Said, He Said columns.
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