Why can’t he say he loves me?

-- Question for John --

I’m involved with a man I’ve known for decades. We met at my first job, fell madly in love with each other but were young, stubborn, jealous and foolish and things just didn’t work out. When we met, his high school sweetheart threatened to kill herself when he started dating me. The pressure was terrible and I broke it off with him and he became angry.

For years, we continued seeing each other on and off because we couldn’t stay away from each other. But situations didn’t allow things to work out and he married the high-school girlfriend. He was obviously unhappy and married her out of a sense of obligation. We continued to see each other occasionally even while he was married.

They were divorced a year ago and we have been seeing each other steadily for 6 months. We get along wonderfully, we are mature now and things are wonderful. This man is the love of my life.

I know he loves me but he hasn’t said it. And when I asked him about his feelings for me he responded with “I’m not ready for you to meet my children. I’m not financially able for a commitment now.” I didn’t ask about any of that, I literally just asked what his feelings were for me.

He has mentioned his fear of me meeting his children before and its obviously a big concern for him. My problem is I don’t know if he’s afraid just because its “me” (it would upset his ex-wife terribly) or if he’s afraid in general of bringing a new female around his children. I think it may be because of who I am and he’s afraid of how his ex-wife will react or may possibly make things difficult regarding his children. I’m afraid he’ll never get over this fear. Its a very touchy subject and I don’t know how to talk to him about this. Do you have any suggestions on how to discuss it with him without upsetting him?

I’m in no rush to meet his children but I know eventually I will obviously want to. Because I want to spend the rest of my life with this man. Do you think his hesitance is because of the history we have or is it common for a man to be hesitant to introduce “daddy’s new girlfriend” to children?

I really love him and we have “storybook” passion for each other, something I’ve never felt with anyone else. I think if we can get through our past, we can get through anything. How can I convince him of this?

He’s not one to discuss feelings, it seems to make him uncomfortable. But why can’t he say he loves me? I also wonder if because of this, he just changed the subject of “feelings” by saying what he did about his children and his finances. To distract me. Or could it be a legitimate fear? How much time should I give him? How long should one wait after a divorce before introducing someone new to their kids? This is all new to me. Help!

-- Answer from John --

Single parents are commonly advised that they do not introduce a new person to the kids until (1) things have thoroughly stabilized and become highly amicable in the co-parenting arrangements between the ex-spouses; and (2) any new person has become so established and stabilized in the single parent’s life that they are clearly headed for marriage. It is clear from what he is telling you that in terms of his external circumstances (finances) and internal emotional state (post divorce), that he has not yet reached a level of stability in the relationship with you yet, probably mostly due to his not reaching a level of inner emotional stability within himself post-divorce and externally with the resulting disruption of his financial stability.

That is all still in process. He is attempting to get there. But he knows in his guts that he isn’t there and he is not able to fully stabilize with you until he has that shift in his guts over his other circumstances. Even at a year after a divorce, I would be surprised if he were emotionally in any other place than that right now. He needs time and space to heal and to deal with this. And don’t downplay the financial aspect. Lots of guys primarily establish a sense of self-worth and stability in the world through the financial aspect of their lives. Disrupt that and they are suddenly dealing with raw survival issues and fears. This does not allow them any headroom for loftier concerns, like true love. All that can come in time, as he continues dealing with his basic issues — and you have nothing to do with that.

Since you two have a long history, and there is deep connection there, I see no reason why things might not progress quite nicely with more time. As long as you stay out of emotionally challenging terrain, I would think your relationship has all the promise of blossoming and growing towards that stability you seek. I cannot tell you a fixed timeline for that. I can only warn you of one clear thing — you can still completely destabilize your relationship with him if your own anxiety turns these into big issues that need to be solved quickly.

So you need to find a separate solution for any anxiety you might have in these circumstances. This is certainly something that will benefit the relationship in years to come, too. All relationships — especially the ones that have the “storybook” quality that makes them so rare, and hence so dramatically important to us — require us to do our own inner emotional work on an ongoing basis. If we lay that on our partners, we are playing with fire. The relationship can get burned to the ground.

A really great relationship requires us to do some inner emotional transformation and self-soothing from time to time. Every so often there is a new challenge and a new reason to grow as an individual. Partners who make it long term have learned how to turn any challenging situation into an opportunity to grow and thereby strengthen their love. Partners who try to analyze each other or change each other are setting the relationship up for increasing suffering and difficulty.