Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I have been dating a man for almost a year now, and he does not express any affection unless I prompt him. It's extraordinarily difficult for me feel secure, settled and happy without this communication. So now I've closed off the open and giving side of myself.
This man suffers from some depression, difficulty handling stress, and is constantly busy on the "road". I've done some research to try figuring out what is holding him back. I believe he is suffering a deep fear of intimacy stemming from his witnessing sexual abuse as a child, being unprotected by his parents from this, and becoming fiercely independent in response. Furthermore, I think his fears are compounded by some acts of distrust by women he's dated in the past.
We spend quality time together, talking and exploring the world around us. It sure feels like we belong together. I am 30, attractive, smart, outgoing and adventurous, patient and kind, and ready to find the person to spend my life with. But I keep getting mixed messages from him.
I have spoken to him about my concerns on numerous occasions. I've tried approaching it lightly, seriously, in writing, etc. More recently, he admitted that he doesn't feel the "oohs and ahhs that rock his soul." He has become so disappointed with his inability to be the man he wants to be for me, that he seems to be giving up hope.
I am left constantly trying to figure out if we are meant to be married, but he can't feel it because of his own ingrained issues.
Where does that leave me? How much should I be committing to this courtship? Am I just too accommodating?
Right now my life feels on hold. I thought I would take all of this on, and stay with him through it. But isn't my own life too important for all this? Even though I am resisting, it seems that I should move on.
Is there hope at the end of this tunnel? Please advise.
You have raised a number of important issues, but the overall theme is similar. The man you are dating has difficulty expressing his emotions, has periods of depression, finds it difficult to handle stress, has experienced childhood trauma he probably has not come to terms with, and doesn't know where he wants to go with your relationship. He is someone who would greatly benefit from therapy and we do not believe that he will be able to make a commitment until then.
It is difficult for people to admit that they need help and go to a therapist. He could also be terrified about the fact that therapy will probably require him to deal with some very painful experiences that he has suppressed in order to cope with life. We can certainly understand that. However, maintaining the status quo isn't doing either of you any good.
The benefits he will obtain extend far more than his inability to make a commitment. His depression, difficulties with stress, reluctance to take action in many aspects of his life, and difficulty expressing himself will all be impacted by treatment. The quality of the physical relationship he will have in his marriage will also be impacted by therapy, since it is likely that the sexual abuse he witnessed has affected him in this aspect of life, too.
Your role of "analyst" is not helping him, and may be working against him.
You've taken on the role of "analyst." While it may help you understand some of the reasons why things are not moving forward, it isn't helping him to gain motivation. In fact, by being so understanding and patient you may actually be "enabling" him to avoid dealing with key issues. Frankly, we do not think that anything you do can motivate him. He needs to have an epiphany to admit that his life could be a lot better if he confronts his "demons" and gets therapy.
Our advice to you is three-fold. One, stop analyzing your situation. Two, understand that you are not going to be able to influence this man to get the therapy he needs. He has to decide to do so on his own. Until he does, your courtship will not make progress. You will both be in the same limbo in which you find yourself today, until eventually you become so frustrated and angry that you decide to leave. Will that be next week, next month, next year, or three years from now? We can't predict, but we do know that it is going to happen sooner or later.
Our third piece of advice is for you to decide if you want to tread water (and waste more emotional energy and time -- both of which are precious commodities) until you finally decide to leave, or leave now, mourn the loss of this man in your life, and move on. If you decide to break up now, maybe your decision will motivate him to get the help he needs... but it might not, so don't count on it. If he decides to get help and follows through with the therapy, you can decide if your situation is such that you want to start dating again. Of course, by then, your life may have taken a different turn.
We hope this has been helpful, and wish you the best of luck,
Rosie & Sherry