I’ve been dating a woman for six months and am very happy. We seem compatible in many ways. But I’m not ready to marry her and am not sure I ever will be. My girlfriend, who also is divorced, isn’t pushing me but has made it clear she hopes we’ll marry someday. Do I keep dating her and see if I become interested in marriage? Or do I say to myself that I’ll probably never want to marry her if I don’t right now – and break up with her? Thanks. – Joe S., age 39
Let’s zero in on the key things for you to reflect on and consider. Ask yourself these questions and dig deep for the answers. Notice if you feel defensive as you read them—that’s a sign that you are feeling fearful, and that’s a signal that it may be time to stretch yourself emotionally. It’s only in your emotional “stretch zone” that you grow. And if you’re not growing in a relationship, you’re moving backwards.
The first question is this: are you unable to envision marriage because she’s all wrong for you? Or is it because of the fact that you got burned in the past? It’s vital that you understand the distinction and here’s why.
If she’s Ms. Right Now, but not Ms. Right, you are wasting your time and hers. I’ll go a step further and state this: anytime you tie up someone’s heart and time when you know they are not right for you, you are harming them. No one deserves to be strung along. So your moral obligation when you realize you are doing that is to end it. Now.
How do you know she’s not right for you? There are many potential roadblocks but the key ones are these. One, your values are vastly different. That’s probably the most important issue because when your values don’t connect you struggle and the relationship will likely escalate over the years in repeated dramatic scenes that damage everyone in the family.
Two, you don’t really love her. Maybe you love her, or deeply like her, but you don’t feel that sense of “she’s THE ONE; I can’t imagine my life without her.” Could you settle? Could you find some measure of happiness? Maybe, but she will not be uplifted unless you are really and truly devoted to her. As a man, your obligation with a woman is to make sure that you can enhance her life by giving her the emotional security of devotion. By the way, it makes no difference how devoted you are if you are dating someone who is severely troubled – alcohol, drugs, infidelity, emotional problems. But that’s a subject for another article!
Okay, let’s say that you’ve thought through the first question and you’ve decided that she’s all RIGHT for you, and you really love her deeply, and she’s a good person, someone you can count on to be there for you as well. Now the question is why are you hesitating to consider marriage?
Why are you hesitating?
The answer to that is this: past history makes you fearful of marriage. You are letting the devastation of a past bad marriage (or bad relationship, or your parents’ divorce) impact your decision-making today. That’s like witnessing a car accident—or having one—and deciding never to drive again. That’s living life backwards instead of forward.
The natural progression of romantic relationships is toward lifetime commitment; however you define that, marriage being the most common way. Dating is all about choosing the person you want to share your life with. If you’re not progressing toward that goal you are setting yourself and others up for a lot of pain.
If you’re not moving toward marriage, she will eventually get tired of waiting for you to do so and she will move on. Or she will stay but be unhappy. Either way, it will become the dominant issue in your relationship if you don’t deal with it now.
Six months is a short timeframe to be sure about marriage; that’s why you date. Couples who date for at least a year before becoming engaged tend to make a better decision. I recommend these steps:
- Sort out whether or not she’s right for you and if she is, let her know that marriage is on the table, as long as your relationship continues to grow and deepen.
- Let her know that your emotional timetable may be longer than hers, and request her patience while you let the relationship deepen over time.
- Share with her any fears you are trying to overcome and be open emotionally in the discussion. Be willing to respond to her concerns and fears as well.
- Make a solid commitment to her—and request hers to you—that if at any point either of you realizes that this is not the right relationship for you, you will communicate. Promise each other that “stringing along” will not be tolerated.
These steps will build emotional safety and trust, both of which are keys to a growing relationship. Resolving the question of whether or not you’re dating toward marriage is a big step, but it’s not the only one. Once you do that, you must follow up regularly with conversations about what you want out of life, financially, spiritually, children, family, career, and so on. The ongoing pattern of regular, open, honest communication deepens and solidifies trust. That makes it easy and natural to move to the next steps, down the road, of engagement and marriage.
Copyright 2012 by Nina Atwood, All Rights Reserved
Permission granted to www.singledadhouse.com to print this article
November 16, 2012