My boyfriend is afraid of marriage

I have been involved in a relationship for close to 3 years. He is divorced from a marriage that lasted 5 years. I love him so much and he feels the same about me. We click on all levels and we have from the start. But he is a afraid of marriage. It’s hard for me to not think of him as the man I am going to spend the rest of my life with. However, he has fears about remarrying.

He says he wants to one day and he is actually in counseling to overcome these issues. I am having a very difficult time with it all. I have distanced myself a bit from him because I am afraid it will never change. Sometimes I am not myself with him and I snap at him for little things. We both understand why and I know I am hurting him and pushing him away. How can I be patient and understanding with him when at times I believe it is that he does not love me enough to make a commitment?

At 3 years into a relationship, you ought to be asking questions about where the relationship is going. It is very good that he is in counseling to deal with his issues. This is a good sign. Right now, aside from getting married, what tangible commitments have been made either through actions or words in the areas of monogamy and/or living together? If he is committed to monogamy, for instance, and living with you, then in a sense his actions may be speaking already that he is committed.

To answer your last question about how to deal with your own mixed feelings in this situation, you can use the situation you are in with him as a stimulus for your own personal growth — and specifically work with and transform the emotional energy within you that currently gets re-routed into the snappiness.

Ideally, you would show up exposing the authentic issues rather than stuffing them and letting them bubble up indirectly and destructively. The authentic issues can be expressed from a place of your own emotional wholeness in a way that can be heard much more clearly, and that will affect him much more deeply, than when you allow them to get redirected as snappy behavior, or even as neediness, for that matter.

Emotional wholeness involves learning to take full ownership of your emotional domain, and learning to actively work with it within yourself, for the purposes of positive transformation. Right now, you are not whole, for example, as illustrated by (1) the part of you which is snappy versus (2) the part of you that wants to be able to be patient and understanding. The question is: How to align these two parts which now appear to have opposite needs?

There is a way, and you can explore it in a variety of ways. Read books. Take workshops. Get counseling. What they all have in common is that you dedicate more of your time and energy around this relationship problem to looking inside yourself instead of outside towards how he is doing.

Based on over 20 years of working with thousands of people to heal their relationships in my couples retreat, I have written a relationship help book you can download now or get in print. It offers step-by-step tools and strategies:

• Learn how to change patterns that damage love.
• Heal and overcome old baggage that holds you back today.
• Improve communication skills to get effective results.
• Work through and soothe difficult or upset feelings.
• Create a powerful shared vision for overcoming problems and building solid trust.

Optimally, you might consider getting some coaching yourself and commit to yourself to make some inner changes that will bring more peace and harmony into your life. Such changes might initially focus on dealing with the emotional difficulties of the current state of this relationship. But ultimately, these changes apply to all aspects of your life, and the personal growth will benefit the entire landscape of your future (whether it ultimately is with this guy, because he finally gets through his obstacles, or with someone else).

It is our finding that love brings up our most important lesson plan, and we discover exactly what we need to learn by the pains and fears we encounter in relationship — especially in those phases where a relationship is not proceeding the way we would wish and hope. At those moments we can truly learn new levels of inner care-taking and develop new heights of inner wisdom and clarity. That is what this problem offers you as a positive opportunity for change, and with a good counselor you can take full advantage of that opportunity.

First of all, thank you very much for the response. I have taken your advice very seriously and I am doing what you suggested. To answer your question regarding his commitment to me. We are definitely monogamous but are not living together. He has one foot in and the other foot out. He is very frustrated and wants to move forward but the fear is keeping him stuck. I am looking at my own issues and working through them. Both of us have our own issues or “baggage” that is affecting the relationship and keeping it stagnant. I am currently reading your book and I want to commend you. It’s a great book. I even bought my boyfriend a copy. The 95% factor makes so much sense.

Anyhow, things seem so difficult for us right now. Is it normal to feel pain and difficulty when couples are doing their inner work? At times we each question why it has to be so hard.

It is normal to feel pain and difficult feelings when couples are in a burst of doing their inner work. This can be especially true when a big clump of inner work is emerging. And that is usually the case when a couple hits their first large-scale snag over something that brings up a particularly bulky bit of baggage. This first big snag usually occurs as couple move from one level of commitment and are standing at the gateway to a deeper commitment. The gateway has big monsters standing there, scaring up all kinds of stuff into consciousness.

When you are facing the gateway, you feel all kinds of things come up. You literally do not know if you will make it as a couple through the gate. This, of course, depends as much on you doing your own inner work as it does on your partner doing theirs. But know that it is vitally important for you to get through the gate, to work with your own inner materials that have emerged into the light of love for self-healing. Seen this way, you can move through the gate with a focus on your soulwork.

It is so hard because the materials have been submerged for a long time — some since childhood no doubt. This is the particular time in your life when they are up bigtime. So it is the big opportunity to heal. Sure, it may have been easier to heal all along the way smaller bits at a time — but who normally dives into this when they are young? Most of us are just more focused on daily life, until the feeling intensity level itself makes working on ourselves more urgent.

I encourage you not to back away from the gateway. Face the monsters and move yourself into wholeness. There’s no sense in delaying this work until later, because in fact it does get harder as you get older. Ultimately things get easier in my experience, because you really do work through in yourself your part of what makes them difficult.

I have written twice and your advice has been helpful. As you may recall my boyfriend of almost 3 years has had some commitment issues. I have decided to work on myself as well. We went to a counseling session last week together. He had been going on his own prior to that (with a different counselor) and he was not getting too much out of it. I don’t think he was seeing a very good counselor. Anyway we were given a choice to participate in a 12 week program with this new guy. My boyfriend didn’t think it was what we needed because it dealt more with communicating with each other. He said the issue was to either “move forward” or “walk away from each other”. He says he loves me and that he is fighting more for this than he did with his marriage. At times he wants more than anything to marry me and have a life together (we do not live together). At other times he gets so scared he wants to run. He says right now maybe we need to take a break so he can figure things out for himself. It has been too hard lately for both of us. I agreed and it really hurts. I am so afraid he will never come back to me. I am hoping he will continue with some type of counseling. He says he will. He also says I am the only person who has ever stirred things up inside of him and this is all he thinks about. I am not sure if he is on the brink of making a commitment and needs to find out if breaking up will give him the answers he needs. I am also wondering if he wants to see if he is happier without me. We have such a great relationship. He would even attest to that. As a man, and someone who deals with these issues on a daily basis, can you give me your take on this. My heart is aching so much right now.

I do understand the heartache and the fears. I agree with your boyfriend that the communication-skills counseling program is not what you need. Unfortunately, only about 10% of counselors are effective at what they do. And probably a much smaller percentage of couples counselors are effective. Most of them think its about teaching communication skills for everything — and it isn’t. You are dealing with emotional issues, not communication issues. It is that “gate of fear” and it is all the traumatic feelings that are connected to it from each of your past histories.

If he is saying take a break, that probably indicates that he is totally overwhelmed by the emotional realm — and the fear level has moved up to the degree that he wants to be in “flight” mode. Perhaps as he calms down a bit, he will be willing to come forward again. But unfortunately it does not appear that he has gotten very good assistance from counseling to stay the course.

It does take alot of courage, stamina, good support from a good counselor, and the ability to have and keep a shared vision as to why the heck you are going through such fear, pain and upset.

In some ways, I get the sense that the two of you have put more emphasis on the direct question of marriage or not — than you have put on the real issue: how to move as an individual towards healing, growth and wholeness. Until you really put the focus on your own healing and growth, it is really difficult to do the actual work that is required.

So maybe he does need a big time out to figure out if he is able and willing to keep moving forward through the darkness that has come up for him in all of this. Ultimately, he will need to figure out his part of the thing for himself. And that is entirely out of your hands. I am never happy to hear that someone needs to drop out like that. I would rather have hoped to hear that he wanted to find someone better to work with, and that he was still willing to see his way through to the other side of this. But we can never know if someone just does not have the inner strength — at the moment at least — to keep going forward. Hopefully he is just stopping to get a breather.

It would be sad for him especially if he quit without resolving whatever is truly at war within himself, and getting the healing and wholeness that is awaiting him if he sees his inner fight through. I know that you are going for it. And if he quits, you will feel alot of pain. But — in the end — at least I know that you were still in there, willing to look at anything inside yourself and willing to face the monsters at the gate. This speaks very highly of you. And I recommend that whatever life brings you — that you stay in counseling and continue to commit to your own healing, growth and wholeness. Even if you have to find it through the tears of heartache.

And know that if he does come back and you cannot get good local help, I’m available for phone sessions…. with either of you as individuals or with the two of you as a couple.

Thank you so much for this. It helps to hear an objective view on it.

I hope we BOTH achieve healing and wholeness out of all of this. I truly believe that is what love does.