Hi Dr Saltzman,
I have a question for you. My boyfriend and I have been dating 3 years. Recently I learned he had a relationship between his marriage, and dating me that was the emotional highlight of his adult life, but she left him for another man. It was a devastating heartbreak for him. The marriage prior to was bad enough. It was an abusive relationship as the ex-wife is a bi-polar alcoholic. (Does it get any worse?)
The problem we run into as a couple is that between heartbreak and abuse, the man shuts down in the face of any conflict. Any woman is going to have a bad day and lose her temper after a while. When I do he just wants to end the relationship and crawl into a hole. It's like he becomes a different person. He's not like this the rest of the time, and I honestly don't know how to help.
To add insult to injury he complains that since the marriage to the ex-wife, and the emotional relationship w/the ex girlfriend, he can't seem to feel anything for anyone. I wouldn't waste my time except that all the stars have aligned on this one. We're a perfect match until we get to my moments of anxiety combined with his emotional shut down which are rare but always lead to a bad scene. I'm a patient woman willing to treat him like he has a heart of glass. He's a very good man, one I would like to keep.
What should we do? Or he do?
It is a bit hard for me understand how people can be "dating" for three years. I would think that after that much time either you would know each other very well, and be good friends who have accepted each other's foibles, and peculiarities, or else that you would have realized that you are not meant to be together. In other words, I wonder how, after all this time, you are still trying to come to grips with the obvious fact that your boyfriend, wounded by two previous lovers, is not prepared fully to open his heart to you.
Now for three years you have been living with this man's inability to see you as you are, and to dance with your moods and changes, so I wonder if you really are prepared to open your heart. You know, often people choose lovers who are emotionally closed down in order to mask their own ambivalence and reluctance to love fully. I would have to speak with you directly to find out if this is true in your case, but you might like look into it on your own. In other words, it is possible that you are more comfortable with a man who is unable to take the leap into commitment than with someone who really wants to love and be loved. Please take a look at this.
If this relationship is very important to you, then I suggest you and your boyfriend begin to discuss the possibility of some couples therapy together. This therapy would be aimed at helping both of you to become more real and more honest about your feelings for one another and what you intend to do about them.
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