-- Question for John --
I’m a 46 year old woman who has been dating a 46 year old man for 6 months on and off. One of the biggest problems I have had with our relationship is he is still seeing his last girlfriend who he dated for two years. In the first two months of seeing me he was still seeing her at least once a week and they called each other every other day or so.
Now, they see and talk to maybe half that time. They ended their “relationship” because they felt they wanted different things — she didn’t want to see him as often as he’d like and she no longer wanted to be sexual with him.
One important factor is that he helped and nursed her for 6 months while she had cancer and went through therapy — he says he thought she was going to die. However, he has commented that he sometimes feels now that she doesn’t “need” him anymore she doesn’t want that “committed type” relationship with him.
So, basically, he sees her on her terms. But, because he says they don’t have sex he feels it’s not a relationship — it’s only me he’s having sex with. I feel he’s having a relationship with two women — One he’s having sex with and the other he’s not. He says he’s totally committed emotionally to me and our relationship — but I wonder how he can fully bond with me if he’s still emotionally attached to his past relationship — which is not really in the past.
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-- Answer from John --
It seems to me that you are seeing pretty clearly what is going on with him. While you cannot really “DO” anything to change his part of the situation, you can go the next step of clarity within yourself, and get clear with yourself what you really want.
Negotiating levels commitment during the first year of a relationship can bring up this kind of thing — either because of a past relationship that isn’t completed, or because of a third party who enters the picture midstream.
At some point on the road to deeper commitment, one partner usually becomes clear that they want a better defined boundary around the sexual “energy” of the couple. It may be a request or a statement of fact. I’ll give you an example. About a dozen years ago, during the six months of my relationship with my now married partner, there were still some other people in the picture.
One of us (I’ll not give away who) said:
“Look, I am coming to the realization of how important it is for me that if our relationship is going to move forward from here, there needs be a clear boundary around our sexual energy, that the next step in this relationship is that it will serve as a clear container for our sexual energies, and that there will be no third party diluting that energy. I am at a point where I see this is what will work for me to go forward in this relationship with you. I’m not saying we need to be exactly in the same place with this right now… I’m not making any threat here… and I’m willing to stay in a holding pattern with you around this for some more time… but I want you to look deeply at this yourself and let me know as soon as you come to terms with it… if you truly want to move forward with me on this basis to the next level of our relationship.”
The message was delivered with rock-solid clarity and confidence. It was not a “needy” kind of emotional plea. It was simply a statement of fact, like saying that the sky is blue and the color of my eyes are brown. It was not delivered with the need for an immediate response… but a request for soul-searching and a later discussion.
The message actually was delivered with no expectations of an outcome. The messenger totally invested in their intentions to bring clarity to the situation and, while hoping their partner would wake up to a new level of clarity along with them, they had zero expectation that this would — or would not — happen.
Anyway, that’s our little story. Hope it helps you.
It obviously worked for us.