-- Question for John --
My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for 2 years and both know I want to share the rest of my life with him. He’s the best person I’ve ever known, but his first wife burned him so much on relationships that he is terrified of committing to me. He wants us to stay together and see what happens, but sometimes I feel totally out of control.
I’m 41 and he’s 49, we love each other very much and I know we could have a wonderful life together and he knows I would be good to him and I know he would be good to me, because we are good to each other, but how do I convince him in committing? I know he thinks I’m wonderful and he tells me that all the time, I know he loves me and I love him and I can’t bear the thought of ever being without him. Also, his 19 year old daughter lives with him and is leaving in the summer for college, should I wait until then to bring this up (again) or just keep being patient, being myself, loving him and just wait and see. If nothing else, our relationship has taught me a lot about patience, which I admit I’m not really good with. But I love him so much I can’t imagine my life without him. What do I do?
-- Answer from John --
The issue of commitment is a strange one. Does commitment have to mean marriage? Well, in an ideal world, maybe so. But by the time people are in their 40’s to 50’s there is a lot of baggage, and fear.
I know that often as not, timing is the real issue – and not necessarily commitment. When timing is off – one person pushes for a statement or sign of commitment earlier than the other person – and then they develop an issue around it.
The more one pushes – the more difficult for the other not to react to it by going the other way. It is a polarization that can become “a big deal” – and bring up very upsetting abandonment and entrapment issues. Underlying it all is fear.
I’d step back from making a big issue of it. I would look at how you can de-polarize around this issue. Find out what you can share as a vision around the question of how you want to design your relationship – and the contracts you are willing to make with each other.
For instance, perhaps, you focus on drawing up a yearly, renewable contract. Ask him if he feels that for the next year he can agree to being monogamous with you. Add any other elements that would make the relationship feel safe and “committed” in action – if not in word. And remember, action is always preferable to words alone.
Long term, eventually he may feel safe enough to put to words a more permanent “commitment” and symbolize it with a marriage ceremony. And if it took several years for him to get to that place, and if you two effectively had a relationship that acted committed, then wouldn’t that be what you really want anyway? Think about it.
I have to bring up that he might also benefit from some counseling to try to heal some of the baggage he gathered in previous marriage. I work with a lot of men on just this issue, and I know that he is unnecessarily limiting himself right now.
But, as far as you go, your task is to accept him as he is, baggage and all. And vice versa, of course.