He cannot commit but cannot break up

-- Question for John --

I have been together for eight months with my boyfriend, and he is all of what I want in a man. I am devoted to him. He says that no one in the world could love him or understand him more than I do. Everything was going smoothly until we had a talk about marriage. He started to fear our commitment but he also cannot break up. It seems that he no longer knows what to do or want.

What can I do to help him? His parents unsuccessful marriage still has a negative effect on him. What can we do? We tried to break up but we both could not stand being apart.

-- Answer from John --

If you are having such big problems over the idea of commitment, then you are probably not ready to have an extended discussion about this concept.

Your chances for a lasting relationship will improve more if you learn how to discuss difficult things without falling apart. This will add more of a solid future to you as a couple than if you simply get him to say the “C”-word.

Commitment is not necessarily first put into words. It is more reliable to look at actions. If you are both being monogamous, then effectively you have a certain level of real commitment already, regardless of the lack of certain words or ceremonies.

At eight months it can be far too early for most people to be ready to discuss marriage and reach a definite conclusion. Getting through various levels of commitment is a dance. Timing is everything.

Often the battle over commitment is really a war over words that turns ugly, and as lines get drawn in the verbal sand, it becomes a full out emotionally-charged dispute.

What this word battle brings up is each partner’s personal sensitivities: insecurity on one side — and a feeling of impending jail on the other. These are not required.

One good way to stop this needless suffering is for the insecure person to learn how to calm themselves down. This is the best way to demonstrate to the other person that being invited to verbalize commitment is different from being sentenced to jail. You truly do want to be soulmates — not cell mates.

The relationship may in fact have full promise for marriage in the future. But if you insist on turning a word into a battleground, you can create enough upset to do in a great relationship. We recommend you learn how to calm down your insecurities and put the battle over words on the back burner for another six months.

And cultivate an appreciation for personal space. This will further alleviate any sense of impending jail time on his part. By showing an ability to attend to your own needs as an individual, you will entice him into taking over the helm of “togetherness” — give him the job of steering your relationship into the port of commitment.

The dance towards commitment is not only about timing. Partners also need to find a good sense of balance so that neither is pushing or pulling the other off their centers. To do this, each person needs to maintain their own center. It’s time to find yours.