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TherapistJen, LCSW, CPC
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 3436
Experience:  Licensed Clinical Social Worker
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I feel hopelessly stuck in ambivalence over a relationship

Customer Question

I feel hopelessly stuck in ambivalence over a relationship that lasted about 4 1/2 years. I have been struggling with this for 2 years now. About 2 years ago, I realized he was getting ready to propose. At first I was all in, daydreaming about rings and traveling and spending the rest of time with my best friend. Then it felt like I was punched in the gut by every doubt and fear I'd had over the course of our relationship. I asked him to wait to propose, which of course was very difficult for him, and after 9 months of my uncertainty he ended the relationship. We didn't speak for a while, but a few months ago we began talking again and seeing each other romantically, though not exclusively. He has encouraged me to see other people to help figure out what I want, and I've halfheartedly done that just a little bit (though with no romantic contact).
It's taken a while to articulate how I'm feeling. I've seen a couple counselors on and off about it over the last couple years. My concerns mostly relate to my perception of him as a person. We are similar in some ways but very different in others. He tends to respect our differences much more than I do. I perceive him as entitled, sometimes lazy, and selfish. This is related much more to his interactions with the rest of the world than with me (career, especially). He works for an oil company, and I feel like he isn't contributing positively to the world. He has a very negative outlook, especially about other people, and he's struggled with depression in the past. And the way he used to behave with women, though he's largely grown out of it, still bothers me. I'm afraid he would teach our children that they're better than others and that rules don't apply to them. It does not help that my parents have a very bad relationship after 35 years of marriage, and I am scared to death of being miserable in a marriage.
On the other hand, he is the best friend I've ever had, and the chemistry between us feels very special and rare. We share an unusual sense of humor, which is very important to both of us, and there is no one in the world I'd rather spend time with at any given moment. Despite a couple rough patches, we've always gotten along very well in our relationship. He makes me laugh like no one else, and he's very intelligent and clever. He's a critical thinker, and I admire that very much. I still long to see him at the end of each day and share my life with him.
I'm worried that my negative perception of him will cause major problems down the road if we get married and things get difficult. A part of me feel like if I've been this uncertain for this long, it must mean we shouldn't be together. On the other hand, I've read that serious doubts sometimes come from other places. I like the thought of learning to really respect him for who he is without trying to change him, and we've talked about how that can be part of the journey of marriage, but I can't guarantee I'll be able to do that. I'm afraid I'll attribute all of his mistakes in life to what I see as his personality flaws, and I'll end up resenting him the way my mom resents my dad. When I think about building a life with him, I feel joyful about some parts but stressed and unstable about others. Are these feelings insurmountable? I feel like I need to make a decision once and for all soon, because while he technically isn't waiting around for me, it isn't fair to either of us to remain in limbo.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  TherapistJen replied 2 years ago.
Hi and welcome. I'm a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with more than 20 years experience working with individuals and families on a variety of issues.

Thanks for giving a lot of information. I hear your struggle, and I will say that it sounds like you are very hard on him and judgmental. There seesm to be so much good and much more so to outweigh the things you mentions so it begs the you desire happiness with another? Do you think these things will come up with another?
This critical piece in you deserves attention as it seems like it exists just as a way to put up an obstacle to deep and lasting connection. Could it be that your parent's marriage has hurt you to the point of you not really trusting it or wanting it for yourself?

Look at all of the wonderful attributes you wrote about him and of your connection. Nobody will come to you with nothing worrying you...that is not real. I am not suggesting you rush in and marry, but I am suggesting letting yourself be and enjoy him without judgment on traits that you believe are negative ones.

It is okay to be happy and it is okay to not love every single aspect of another..but to throw him all away? Not so sure I agree with that.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Thank you for your response. I do understand that I'm very critical and judgmental of him, and that is the big problem. It wouldn't be fair to him to enter into a marriage while feeling this way. It would be setting us up for failure.

Do you have any suggestions for how I might learn to respect the traits of his that I don't like? After 2 years of struggling, counseling, reading, and numerous conversations, I haven't yet managed to overcome that hurdle.

Beyond this, we have some qualities that are supposed to be typical predictors of divorce. Money might be the biggest. He spends, and I save. If we were to get married, it feels like I would be jumping right into damage control for his life. My dad is a rock: stable, practical, sensible. My ex is impulsive, and he rarely thinks things through. It feels like jumping into a boat with a hole in the bottom.

It's hard to know whether I would feel the same way with someone else. This was my first serious relationship; however, I did have concerns about his character before we ever started dating. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I am very hard on myself. I've wondered in the past if one of the reasons I'm so hard on him is that he's so close to me.

We are both 30 years old. I know that isn't particularly old, but I do want to have kids. I don't want to waste more of his or my time, and judging from the past 2 years, I could pretty easily remain in this limbo for the rest of my life.

Expert:  TherapistJen replied 2 years ago.
I think the critical piece may come from fear...fear of letting yourself be fully present with him or maybe even with someone else.

But separate from this may be that with him the fit isn't right for you long term and that is okay too! I would agree with you that while you feel this way it would not be a great idea to jump into marriage with him.

It may be where you need to fully let go og him and the idea of being together long term and in time you will meet someone else and you will see whether this stuff comes up again. The best way to work on this part of yourself is that each time you hear your voice go off, you dig deeper and find out what kinds of things you may be feeling on a deeper level...fear, insecurity, love, etc.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Is there anything I can do to help determine whether to stay or let go?

Expert:  TherapistJen replied 2 years ago.
It sounds to me like you have made that decision ad I don't see how you will come to terms with the differences between you. It is the wonderful qualities that keep you unsure. So you have already left the relationship so it seems clear that your decision is already there and now you just need to trust that while he has many great things, it is the other red flags that won't allow you to progress.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Thank you. Is there something specific that caused your answer to change from the first to the third message? I am just trying to fully understand. Could I reasonably expect to be able to oversome these negative perceptions of him with enough time and work? I haven't fully given myself to being back in a relationship with him, mostly because I don't want to waste his time. I even thought I might be pregnant back in February, and while I thought that might be jarring enough to bring up how I really feel, one way or the other, it didn't. I went back and forth between feeling trapped and feeling relieved the decision was out of my hands, that my job was now to make the most of this relationship no matter what happened, and even excited about going on this adventure with him. Then trapped again (Oh no, I don't know about him, what have I gotten myself into?).

Expert:  TherapistJen replied 2 years ago.

My answer has evolved as it seems to be that the issues and feelings you have about his particular traits may be hard to live with. I do think that continued work on yourself around this critical piece will be good for you so that this doesn't occur in each relationship.

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