Everyone has fears about making a commitment to another person for life. When we look at the statistics for divorce being at or above 50% and we or our friends and family have had divorces, it is smart to be careful. Weddings are exciting and expensive and divorce is costly to our pocketbooks and to our souls. Most people don’t want to get married with the idea that if they aren’t happy they can always get divorced. Why bother, right?
When I got married to a man who had had a previous 3 year marriage, we said to each other that divorce was not an option. We wanted to make a strong and meaningful commitment to stay together and work things out. He felt had been burned in his marriage and I thought maybe I could help heal his broken trust. 11 years later we divorced. My love and skill set weren’t enough after all.
When I look back at his reticence to start a relationship with me I wish I had listened to him better. I wish I had listened to my father as well since he tried to warn me. Really if I had listened to myself I wouldn’t have gone out on a second date with him, so I wish I had listened to myself most of all. Our first date was so awful and he was so insulting that I didn’t care if I never saw him again. But, apparently, he felt guilty about his behavior and kept pursuing me. In the following years of our relationship he told me and everyone else that I had pursued him out of his disinterested comfortable life! Nice.
So if I had gotten out of it early on I would have been saved a lot of pain and heartache. I got two wonderful children out of it but otherwise I really could have done without that bad experience. I knew everything I needed to know in the first date, certainly the first 3 weeks, that told me that being with him would not be a good thing…but I did it anyway. I was young and just out of graduate school and believed that people could change and that all it would take was for me to love him. I believed he had never really had someone love him and I would be able to heal his past and make him a better man. I found out that good men and women make themselves. No one else can make them into good people but themselves.
So what did I know that I ignored?
* He said he wasn’t looking for a relationship in our first date.
* He said mean things by the third date and he thought it was OK because he was “being honest”.
* He had had a bad first marriage and did not have much insight into what his part was in that marriage failing, even 2-3 years after the divorce.
* The first time we had a big fight and I yelled he didn’t talk to me for 3 days.
* He had a tendency to see himself as a “victim” in every situation he was in. He told many stories of how he was wronged the first night we met at a party but I didn’t take heed.
* He had a very rigid sense of right and wrong, tending to see things as black and white, with no grey.
* He had a troubled relationship with his family and was quite dependent on them.
* He had had a bad first marriage where his first wife had chosen to have an affair as her exit strategy. And he was still struggling with it and hadn’t dated for several years.
* His family told “funny” stories about his childhood about his anxiety and what turned out to be obsessive-compulsive personality traits. His mother cried when she found out I was Jewish.
* When we were talking about moving in together he felt angry at me because he would have to kick his roommates out.
* He wasn’t sure he wanted children and I was sure I did.
And when it came to marriage? I had to tell him I would be moving on before he was willing to agree.
We have the right to expect more from the person we hope to live the rest of our life with. If they can’t show interest and invest energy in the relationship it’s time to stop trying to figure out what THEIR issues are or what YOU could be doing differently and take a good hard look at who and what they are offering to you.
How can you tell when someone is just a tad fearful but really does want to be married versus when they really can’t make a good connection with anyone?
- Do they show interest and enthusiasm about you and being with you? Or is it hard to get their attention and feel like they really want to be there?
- Do they easily make plans for the future with you or are they always balking and feeling resentful about having to have plans?
- Do they admit to their fears and genuinely seem committed to dealing with them so they can be with you or do they blame you or attack your character for wanting more? In other words, do they “own” that that their feelings are theirs?
- Do they set you and your relationship as a priority or do they like to go out with friends and do things without you?
- Do they like you as you are or are they always telling you to change? Do they dangle the carrot of “if only you were more ________, I’d feel better about our future”?
Think about all the relationships you’ve had. Think about what made you feel good and what made you feel bad and set your standards and don’t “settle” for a warm body unless that warm body is good to you and good for you.
If you are not getting the attention and treatment you desire at the beginning of the relationship, or if they start out wonderful but after 4-6 weeks or 8-12 months start to show a different side, you need to really take a good hard look at the truth. You cannot fantasize someone into being what you want them to be, even if you mean to be kind and help them be “a better person”.
Remember that people are who they are and have the right to remain the way they are. We do not have the right to decide to change them if they do not want to change. It is not our responsibility to change them even if they do want to change. They have to do the changing themselves.
Think about what you need to do and change in yourself that you are no longer willing to accept poor treatment from others and move on to someone who likes you the way you are and treats you with respect. No matter what you have done in your past, or what others have told you about yourself, you always have the right to be treated well and do not ever deserve to be treated with disrespect or abused.
Talk to others and get their support and feedback. Get counseling. Join a support group.
Move on. Next?