She Said, He Said: What’s in the way of you making ‘the’ commitment?
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My girlfriend of three years is dropping some not-so-subtle hints that she’s ready to get engaged. She’s great and I love her, but I’m not ready to make that commitment to her yet. I’m not totally sure why. I’m in my mid 30s and it’s not that I don’t want to settle down, in reality I feel like I’ve already done that with her in this relationship. I’m just not sure how I’m supposed to know if she’s the one I’m meant to be with for the rest of my life. I’m attracted to her, and we have a lot in common, but not everything. I feel like I should just know if she’s the one, and I don’t. What do I do?
Is She The One?
Lori and Jeff: Stories of romance from Shakespeare to Jerry Maguire have messed with our expectations of relationships. The sense of being struck by an undeniable bolt of eternal love just isn’t the reality.
Lori: Marriage is committing to actively choose your partner everyday. To help you decide if you want to make this commitment to your girlfriend, there are really two main areas to explore: you and her. Since you’re ready to settle down, the “you” part of the equation comes down to one central question: Do you feel you can continue to grow into your best self in the context of this relationship? You don’t have to have everything in common, and in fact some different interests are healthy. But you do need support and space to evolve into who you want to be. Our partners are not responsible for making us complete, but they also can’t be a hindrance.
Now for the “her” part of this. You should by now (unless you’ve been long distance) have a solid assessment of who she is. Is she someone you actually like and respect, and is she someone you trust to be there through the tough times? Relationships go through stages and phases. Lust wanes and the connection over time will ebb and flow. There needs to be a foundation of friendship to hold you together when life gets tough. Lastly, could you marry her as she is today? Are you fully accepting of her flaws, or is there any significant aspect of her that you’re waiting for her to change? After three years, if there are parts of her you can’t accept, it’s time to move on.
Jeff: In our coaching practice, it’s more often that women are asking for a deeper level of commitment, while men tend to drag their feet, looking for a sign of certainty that their partner is the “one.” It may be a stronger drive to start a family or the desire for more security, but whatever it is, the dynamic can leave men feeling pressured into having to make a big decision. If you’re not ready to commit, that’s OK but don’t make it about whether or not you think there might be someone better out there. Look in the mirror and ask yourself what’s getting in the way of you making the commitment? What fears might you have? What would you have to change that you might not be ready for? Are you worried you might not be right for her? Questions like these help shift the focus from whether or not she’s the “one” to whether or not you have both feet in the relationship.
Our favorite sex advice columnist Dan Savage says, “The ‘one’ is a lie. At best, our partners are a 0.6 or 0.7 and we just have to round the (expletive) up.” Once you’re able to let go of the idea of a perfect match, you’re free to assess how each of you show up for each other in the relationship. Make a list of five non-negotiable things you need in a marriage (values, goals, finances, kids, spirituality, sexuality, health). Have your girlfriend do the same and if the lists are more similar than different, you know there is something to work with. If not, perhaps it’s time to move on.
Lori and Jeff: “You had me at hello” is just a fantasy. Strong, sustainable relationships take work and require each partner to support growth in the other, while maintaining healthy evolution and learning for themselves. If you and your partner do this for each other, and you truly enjoy spending time together, then round the (bleep) up and commit.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column. For more relationship advice, subscribe to our “Love Matters” podcast on iTunes.