Commitment is more than a word

-- Question for John --

My boyfriend and I have been together for a year. Both of us are very committed to the relationship. We practically live together. I am the more emotional, affectionate, romantic. He is more of a loner, independent and less affectionate. We’ve made it great this far, despite our differences. But I feel our relationship isn’t progressing. He doesn’t speak of our future together. I ask about plans for us, he just says we have a future together.

I’d like to work towards an engagement, but he won’t commit. He says he’s not ready. When I try to discuss this issue further, he gets quiet and doesn’t elaborate beyond yes and no answers. We already act and speak as “we” — yet he won’t take more steps to move towards our future.

What can I do? I cannot help feeling rejected.

-- Answer from John --

Moving through levels of commitment is like a dance. Timing is everything. Many couples do not move forward in perfect synchrony. This does not have to be a sign that something is wrong. You have differing internal clocks. He is simply dancing a bit slower — that’s all.

The personality differences you describe would predict your different clocks in this dance. Just because you dance faster does not mean he isn’t dancing forward. Things are moving forward. It would be sad if your impatience became the cause of big upsets — and that put a halt to your dance.

We suggest you put this topic on the back burner. Don’t fight over a word. Such fights do the real damage. As lines get drawn in the war over words, big fears can loom. One partner may feel anxious and push for relief. Then the other partner feels pressured. You don’t have to go there.

Commitment is not always first put into words. Look at actions. If you are both monogamous, then effectively you have a certain level of real commitment already, regardless of words.

We recommend you make an agreement not to discuss the “C”-word for six months. Check in after six months to see where you each stand. See if you want to renew the agreement, or if it’s time to take a big step.

In the interim, put focus on increasing positive interactions. What draws someone to more commitment is the sense of being accepted. If you put too much pressure on saying the right word, you may also send a message he’s not accepted as he is.

When this happens, partners often close down, as he is doing. To open things up, acceptance is a key. When love also offers acceptance, barriers naturally fall.

We would focus now on deepening your sense of acceptance — and using that key to open the doors to deeper communication. This ultimately could make it far easier for him to open back up and feel certain.

It may be challenging to feel acceptance and not let insecurities take over. It is not true that you cannot help but feel rejected. Now is the time to discover your true inner strengths. We recommend you learn to calm down and soothe your anxieties. Healthy longterm relationships depend on us to develop the inner ability to weather an occasional emotional storm.

We also suggest you cultivate your own appreciation for personal space. By showing an ability to attend to your own needs as an individual, you will further entice him into taking over the helm of “togetherness” — and give him the job of steering your relationship into the port of commitment.

If you’re like us, a few six month periods may pass before you get to the words “I do!” Commit to personal growth during this time and you will only strengthen your love.