A Man Who Can’t Commit?

Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: Me and my partner have been a couple for three years. In that time he has left me and come back eight different times. He came back to me two months ago, telling me he loved me and that he really wanted to make our relationship work. Things were going very well, and then out of the blue he ran off again and now refuses to talk with me. He had a terrible childhood where both of his parents treated him really badly, and he has commitment issues.

I have an 11-year-old son to think about, and this is tearing me apart. Do I walk away–knowing that my lover is out there hurting and alone—or do I wait around for another few years while he decides if he is ready to be with me and let go of his past?    

–  Distraught in the UK

Dear UK: People don’t just let go of their pasts. He would have to actively be working on letting go of his past, most likely with a psychotherapist. And even then, it’s hard to do, and there are no assurances that he would be successful at it. So it is a reasonably safe bet that if he is not actively working on his issues with a trained professional, he’s not going to be more able to commit in the future.

He sounds as if he is afraid of getting close—or of staying close—to anyone, and that pattern is also not likely to change on its own. It means that he may have learned to not trust anyone when he was younger, which is a good strategy for protecting yourself and being safe, but not a good strategy for being in an intimate relationship. Intimate relationships require that we open ourselves up to someone else—and work through conflicts, disagreements, fears and insecurities together. So you waiting around for years in the hope that he will see the light sounds like an awful idea.

Are you worthy of being loved? Are you worthy of feeling secure in a love relationship? Is your son worthy of a stable environment to grow up in? If so, stop buying into this notion that this is the only love you can get. In a healthy love relationship, couple’s can talk about their issues, concerns, fears and insecurities—and make requests about their needs, desires and wishes. So if your boyfriend needed reassurance or tenderness, for instance, he could just ask for it.

But in an unhealthy love relationship, which is what you’re describing, you can’t openly address such subjects, so he acts on his fears without talking about them, and you’re left walking on eggshells around him for fear that if you don’t, he’ll bolt again. Are you willing to live like this (and subject your son to this) indefinitely?

Perhaps you can do better than this. Find somebody who is willing to talk through issues, fears and feelings—instead of just acting on those issues or fears. If you don’t, get used to feeling unstable and insecure in your relationship with him for a very long time.