-- Question for John --
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?
-- Answer from John --
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.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.
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.