Category Archives: Intimacy

Closing Up Shop on a Relationship

Copy of rosenthalNeil Rosenthal
Marriage and Family Therapist (lic.)

How do you say goodbye to a dream? More specifically, how do you say goodbye to a person who you once viewed as your romantic partner, spouse, lover, or soulmate?
If you are having trouble letting go of your attachment to an ex-partner, your first difficult task is to ask yourself: “If I allow myself to detach, what do I fear?”
So often people hang on well after a relationship has ended because they hope for a reconciliation. They fear if they actually let go of their attachment, the relationship will be gone for good, even if the relationship has, in fact, been dead for years. So your first task is to be willing to stop clinging to the dream and accept reality, so you can focus on your future.
You will then be ready to explore some more difficult, but very helpful, questions. I would recommend you write down your answers (you won’t remember your answers otherwise, and this is a list you may need to return to often). Also, I would recommend you write as many answers as you can to each question, rather than being satisfied with one answer. Truth is complex! Some of these questions came from or were stimulated by Karen Kahn Wilson in her book, Transformational Divorce (New Harbinger Publications).
• When were you at your strongest and best in the relationship?
• When were you at your weakest or most vulnerable?
• What warning signs did you miss?
• What was your role in causing the problems in the relationship or in helping the relationship deteriorate? (Hold yourself accountable for what you said, what you did, and how you handled yourself.)
• What were your ex-partner’s failures or mistakes in the relationship? How did s/he contribute to the problems in the relationship?
• If your ex-partner were being friendly, fair, and completely honest, how would s/he describe you? Answer the following questions as you think your ex would answer them: “What did you like the most about having me as your intimate partner? What do you see as my greatest difficulties or blind spots? How do you think I assisted our relationship in failing? What could I have done differently that would have made the biggest difference? If you could have changed me in some way, what would it have been?”
• How often were you walled off to being close, connected, and vulnerable?
• When did you close off your own heart?
• How would you assess your overall behavior as a mate?
• What would you have done differently in this relationship if you had it to do all over again?
• What feelings and thoughts has the ending of your relationship brought up for you?
• Are there any relationship skills at which you need to get better? What are they?
• What did you gain by being in the relationship? How have you grown? How are you better, wiser, or more enriched because of this relationship? What did you receive in this relationship that you feel grateful for?
• What are you willing to forgive your ex-partner for? What do you want to be forgiven for? What are you willing to forgive yourself for?
To post your comments, visit www.theresident.com or follow us on Twitter @Resident_News.

A Great Couple…Not So Hot Now

Copy of rosenthalNeil Rosenthal
Marriage and Family Therapist (lic.)

Dear Neil: I was a full-time parent for 20 years while my husband traveled extensively, and the last five years of our 30 years together was all about crisis management because my husband was diagnosed with leukemia. He fully recovered—but I was all used up, and felt very spent. So I initiated the divorce.
Now, five years later, I am stuck. It’s like I’m afraid to make big changes, afraid to make a mistake, afraid of the unknown. I’ve spent so many years taking care of other people that I don’t have ideas on how to move on. Any suggestions?
— Afraid of the Unknown

Dear Afraid: It sounds like you have spent your adulthood functioning as a team member with your ex-husband, that you’re intimidated and afraid of functioning on your own and you may have very little experience as to how to do it. You may need to explore the emotions that the ending of your marriage has created.
Perhaps you fear not being able to take care of yourself. Or maybe you are very introverted and shy, and are extremely uncomfortable to go places, do things and interact with other people on your own. It’s possible you may have been a lifelong people-pleaser, hooked on others’ approval, and you haven’t a clue about how to care for and receive approval from yourself.
Then again, you may have very low self-confidence and self-esteem, and therefore you question your ability to handle the curve balls that life inevitably throws at all of us. These may be feelings you’ve always had, but by being part of a couple you were insulated.
Your task is to figure out what’s standing in your way in order to become a more full-functioning, vital, self-confident and independent person. So look at the following emotions very carefully, and explore which ones are in your way: loneliness; depression; anger; guilt; shame; blame; terror; fear; happiness; passion; joy; love. Look very thoroughly at which ones have hold of you, and then explore what you have to do to overcome the power they have over you.
Of course, it’s always possible that you fear risking rejection, or that you don’t feel good enough or lovable enough to explore other options and choices for your life. If so, that would entail working on and improving your self-esteem.
One more thought. Could you be emotionally hanging onto your ex-husband–and therefore you haven’t put closure to that relationship–because you secretly wish for a reconciliation? If so, you haven’t actually detached from him. I will address how in the next issue’s column.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder, Colorado. His syndicated column is in its 21st year of publication, and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303.758.8777, or email him through his website: www.heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.
To post your comments, visit www.theresident.com or follow us on twitter@Resident_News.

Don’t Hope; Fix What’s Wrong

Copy of rosenthalNeil Rosenthal
Marriage and Family Therapist (lic.)
Dear Neil: Everything seems to point to the fact that my 30 year marriage is dead and I should leave my husband. But I keep thinking that something will happen and everything will change.
About 10 years ago, he received a sizable inheritance, and from then on things started to change. He became secretive, controlling and verbally abusive. One time he said: “I’m going to make you so miserable that you’ll have to leave.” Recently he lost his temper and yelled at me to “get out of my house” (it belongs to both of us). Another problem is that he maintains that I am fat. But I am a mountain climber (I trekked to Everest Base Camp last year) and I am in great shape. All the same, he maintains he is not attracted to me, and we have not had intimate relations in many months. Indeed, we hardly ever touch.
Why do I persist in holding onto the dream that something will change and our marriage will be revived?
– Should I Throw in the Towel? in Golden, Colorado

Dear Towel: A relationship can be profoundly unfulfilling but still feel familiar and stable–and still feel like the two of you belong together. Feeling like the two of you belong together can keep a couple trapped in a relationship long after it has grown frigid, unfriendly and unloving. The distance between you and your husband appears to be a long time in the making, and perhaps even more troubling than the sexual distance is the emotional distance between the two of you.
Ever since his inheritance came through 10 years ago, he has been telling you he is not happy in the marriage, and you have either ignored that message or you have not taken effective action on it. So your husband, who clearly has his own issues and apparently isn’t strong enough to leave you, has progressively withdrawn and has become increasingly angry and hostile toward you.
A relationship requires emotionally checking in with each other. It is important–and maybe essential–to ask your spouse such questions as: “How are you feeling about us?” or How am I doing as your wife?” or “Is anything troubling you about me or about our relationship that we need to address?” or “Are you getting your needs met in this relationship, and if not, what would you like different?” These are check-in questions, ways of staying in touch, emotionally speaking. They are vital so a couple can address issues, hurt feelings, frustrations and resentments. Otherwise issues and hurt feelings can grow big very quickly.
Right now, he’s pushing you away and dropping not-so-subtle hints that he’d like you to move out, and you keep hoping and waiting for everything to clear up. But the issues or conflicts are not clearing up on their own, and unless you take the bull by the horns and directly force a dialogue with your husband about the state of your marriage, this scenario is likely to continue in the direction it has been heading.
It is unclear to me whether your relationship has passed the point of no return, but at the minimum, you’re going to have to ask him what’s eating at him, why he has withdrawn and why he has grown more and more angry with you. What does he want you to do differently, stop doing or change, and what has he been so unhappy about? What would he need in order to warm up to you?
Only then will you know if your relationship can weather this challenge. But the time for you to just sit on your hands and passively wait for everything to be better is over. This marriage requires you to speak up, uncover what’s wrong and to attempt to fix it. No amount of hope in the world is going to replace effective action.
You can email Neil Rosenthal with your questions at neil@heartrelationships.com. To access the archive of Neil Rosenthal’s previous articles, go to: www.heartrelationships.com
To post your comments, visit www.theresident.com or follow us on twitter@Resident_News.

Stick Together, Fix What’s Wrong

Copy of rosenthal

 

Neil Rosenthal
Marriage and Family Therapist (lic.)

Dear Neil: Everything seems to point to the fact that my 30-year marriage is dead and I should leave my husband. But I keep thinking that something will happen and everything will change.
It started about 10 years ago, when he received a sizable inheritance. He became secretive, controlling, and verbally abusive. One time he said: “I’m going to make you so miserable that you’ll have to leave.” Recently he lost his temper and yelled at me to “Get out of my house!” (It belongs to both of us.) He maintains that I am fat—but I am a mountain climber (I trekked to Everest Base Camp last year) and I am in great shape. All the same, he maintains he is not attracted to me, and we have not had intimate relations in many months. Indeed, we hardly ever touch.
Why do I persist in holding onto the dream that something will change and our marriage will be revived?
Should I Throw in the Towel? in Golden, Colorado

Dear Towel: A relationship can be profoundly unfulfilling but still feel familiar and stable—and still feel like the two of you belong together. Simply being together can keep a couple trapped in a relationship long after it has grown frigid, unfriendly, and unloving. Perhaps even more troubling than the sexual distance is the emotional distance between the two of you.
Ever since his inheritance, he has been telling you he is not happy in the marriage, and you have either ignored that message or you have not taken effective action. So your husband, who apparently isn’t strong enough to leave you, has progressively withdrawn and has become increasingly angry and hostile.
A relationship requires emotionally checking in with each other. It is important–and maybe essential–to ask your spouse such questions as: “How are you feeling about us?” or How am I doing as your wife?” or “Is anything troubling you about me or about our relationship that we need to address?” Otherwise issues and hurt feelings can grow big very quickly.
Right now, he’s pushing you away and dropping not-so-subtle hints that he’d like you to move out, and you keep hoping and waiting for everything to clear up. Unless you take the bull by the horns, this scenario is likely to continue in the direction it has been heading.
It is unclear to me whether your relationship has passed the point of no return, but at the minimum, you’re going to have to ask him what’s eating at him, why he has withdrawn and why he has grown more and more angry with you. What does he want you to do differently, stop doing or change, and what has he been so unhappy about?
Only then will you know if your relationship can weather this challenge. This marriage requires you to speak up, uncover what’s wrong, and to attempt to fix it. No amount of hope in the world is going to replace effective action.
To post your comments, visit www.theresident.com or follow us on twitter@Resident_News.

Emotional Availability Builds Trust

by Neil Rosenthal

neil rosenthalDear Neil: Regarding your article about how to spot an emotionally unavailable person, I can understand your recommendation to avoid people like myself who have these deep personal flaws. But not one of us who are damaged people want to be where we are. From lousy childhoods to a series of failed relationships, our lack of progress about becoming emotionally more available is quite depressing.
Let’s assume your message is taken to heart by the mentally and spiritually unblemished. What about the rest of us? Many of us lack the resources on multiple levels to become the beautiful souls that professional therapy might promise. Your column is usually easy to nod in smug recognition. I felt this one with a painful recognition. In the future, would you please offer those of us on the other side of the relationship tracks some words that will help us grow toward having a happy relationship?
Despondent in Colorado

Dear Despondent: Deep down, if I feel inadequate and fear that I don’t measure up, then sooner or later I’m going to be afraid that you’ll find out about me, agree that I’m not good enough, and eventually dump me. So if I remain distant from you, aloof, disengaged and I don’t give you a whole lot of my time, it won’t hurt as much when you tell me you’re going to leave me. I have retreated into a web of self-protection and safety so I won’t get too hurt when things don’t work out, because deep down I don’t feel I deserve to be loved.
Such half-hearted attempts at love will keep me safe, but they will sabotage my ability to create a connected, loving and trusting relationship. How close am I going to allow myself to be when I’m secretly trying to be less emotionally invested because I fear you’re going to reject me?
I am also insecure and have low self-esteem. That means I get threatened and/or jealous easily, and I’ll get defensive or angry if I feel you’re putting me down, criticizing me, telling me I’m inadequate in some way, or being disrespectful toward me. This means you can’t actually tell me what you think or feel if it goes against what I want to hear, because if you do, I will make it very emotionally costly for you. And I feel empty enough that most of the time, I’m needing to tend to my own needs, interests and desires, and I may not be able to devote time and effort to your desires and needs.
This description is at the heart of why I am emotionally unavailable. You can see I have a lot of battles I’m fighting, and why I might not be there for you the way you want me to be.
If I were going to become a more emotionally available person, here’s what I will need to do:
First, I have to examine my feelings of not feeling worthy of a close, loving relationship. I would have to challenge my assumption that if you really get to know me, you will eventually reject me, and I would have to discover and embrace why I am lovable, and why I am deserving of your love.
Second, I would have to tune into your feelings and needs, and be very careful that I don’t place my needs and wants above yours. I would need to develop a greater level of empathy and compassion for your feelings, desires, needs and requests.
Third, I would have to act trustworthy, accountable and responsible. I could not afford to permit myself to have a secret life, or someone else on the side, and I would have to offer you complete transparency (access to my computer, phone, text records, and so on) in order to clean up any trust issues that I generated in the past. I would have to keep no secrets at all from you.
Forth, I would have to make time for you. I would have to treat you (and our kids) as top priorities in my life, and I would make myself assessable and available to you the vast majority of the time.
Fifth, I would have to cease being volatile, losing my temper, acting mean-spirited or saying hurtful things to you. I would never again threaten to end the relationship if I didn’t get my way, or use anger in order to get my way.
Sixth, I would commit to letting you in, by sharing my inner dreams, hopes, fears, disappointments and emotions with you. I would quit walling my inner self off from you, and allow myself to be known–warts and all.
Finally, I would become a better listener, gain control over my addictions, commit to being more of a giver than a taker, and cease being so judgmental and critical of you and of myself.
Email Neil Rosenthal through his website: www.heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.

How Important Am I To You?

Neil Rosenthal

Neil Rosenthal

Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: I’ve been married for 37 years. My husband no longer notices me. For Christmas, he bought me a book I’d already read, the same calendar I’d already purchased and a lovely pair of earrings. I had told him about the book and calendar when I read and bought them. Last evening, I put on a nice nightgown and perfume–and he didn’t even say anything–we just had sex. I’ve given up trying to reach him and I don’t know how much more I can take. I’ve asked him to give me one compliment a week, as I don’t think that’s too much to ask. But recently he said he thinks I’m being selfish for asking for that. An example is: “I wish you’d tell me I look nice” and the response is: “You know you look nice so why should I say anything?” I feel invisible, and am concerned that my marriage is over. Could you address this issue?
—Invisible in Denver
Dear Invisible: One of the most common power struggles couples fight about is related to the theme in your two letters. It’s the question: “How important am I to you?”
If I’m important to you, I need for you to show it—through words, being “sweet,” being affectionate, romancing me, treating me as if I am valued and cherished, and being responsive to what I say is important to me. If you will show me how much I matter to you, I will feel blessed to have found you, and I will richly reciprocate as long as I am still invested in our relationship.
But if you ignore my requests, are insensitive to my needs or wishes, if you act like it isn’t necessary to romance me, if you hold back affection or sweetness, if you wait for me to put forth all the effort—then I will feel unwanted, un-nurtured and not valued. It will feel to me that you’ve lost your desire to please me, and I will interpret that as you saying you no longer care how I feel. That feeling will eventually turn into anger or resentment, and at some point, I will respond to you in kind: I will start ignoring your requests and being insensitive to your needs or wants, also.
We are talking about a basic tenet of how intimate relationships function (and malfunction): show me how important I am to you, and do so frequently. To do otherwise is to let our relationship become withdrawn, detached and disengaged, which is what happens to a large percentage of relationships over time. Intimate spouses become intimate strangers. They quit trying to please, quit giving as much, quit feeling lucky for having found someone who can be theirs, quit romancing, quit working at it—until one day the relationship has grown empty, void of friendship or depth, disconnected, passionless.
You’re going to have to tell your man exactly what you need in order to feel like he has skin in the game also—so to speak.
It is not selfish to ask your husband to offer you a sincere and genuine compliment once a day, let alone once a week. If he doesn’t want to, he has grown complacent and remote, and he has quit trying to keep the relationship connected and engaged—or perhaps he just doesn’t think highly of you anymore. That’s when the decision is in your court about exactly how invisible you are willing to be in this marriage.
For the reader who is in a relationship with an ambivalent, passive man who doesn’t make much of an effort to show you he values you, I would recommend that you offer him very specific guidance. Tell him what you need for him to do. Don’t just complain about what he’s not doing, tell him in very clear terms what you need and desire. If he wants the relationship to continue, he will take seriously what you say. If he doesn’t, he is saying that you’re not all that special to him, and that he is not willing to put forth any more effort in order to make the relationship closer.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder, Colorado. You can reach him at 303.758.8777, or email him through his website: www.heartrelationships.com.
To post your comments, visit www.theresident.com or follow us on Twitter @Resident_News.

Intimacy: Why Relationships Turn Celibate

Neil Rosenthal

Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: My wife and I are married 25 years, but we are no longer sexual, and haven’t been for three years. I guess you could say we have a celibate marriage, but I don’t understand why. We were always frisky with each other, but it slowly lessened until there was nothing at all. Why does this happen, and what can I do about it?
—High and Dry in Denver

Dear Denver: Here are the most common reasons marriages turn celibate:
Anger or resentment. Hostile, adversarial or angry energy is likely to turn people off to each other, and as that negative energy builds, people feel hurt and distant from each other, and then they don’t want to be loving and giving. Also, the angrier one person gets, the less sexy the other partner is going to feel and the less s/he may want to give to the other.

At least one person has a low libido, so desire isn’t strong, and there is no sense of urgency or hunger. This may be related to low testosterone (the hormone most closely associated with sex drive) in either partner–male or female, because women have testosterone also, but in considerably lower levels than do men.

Your relationship has grown cold, disconnected or distant, where at least one of you no longer feels very close to the other. As that happens, one of you may adopt the attitude that you’re not going to give in to the other, or that you don’t want to take care of the other.

The relationship isn’t affectionate anymore, and there is very little physical warmth or touch, so sex begins to feel awkward and artificial.

Concerns about appearance. Some people no longer feel attractive, and therefore don’t want to be seen or touched.
The spark is gone. The relationship is no longer romantic, and therefore there isn’t enough erotic build up.

Loss of trust where one person no longer feels safe. A betrayal, an attempted betrayal or a perceived betrayal all can kill desire and make one person withdraw from the other. A betrayal can also solidify the resolve that you no longer want to give yourself to someone who has treated you badly.

Protection from feeling vulnerable. If I don’t open up to you and allow you close to me physically, then perhaps I won’t feel so vulnerable to your judgement, rejection, criticism, withdrawal or anger.

Age has a way of humbling many of us. Our minds may be willing, but our bodies may not cooperate. And as we grow older, we tend to feel tired more of the time–so it can all grow to feel like “too much.”

Repetition over time. The same thing the same way has a way of growing old and boring.

Withholding sex can be a way of punishing someone. It can also be used as a form of leverage in negotiating disagreements, conflicts or issues.

Illness, surgery or medications: all could repress normal libido or make sex less spontaneous.

There are medical conditions that can make sex painful, or block arousal altogether.

Some couples don’t spend enough time together or do enough activities together for the relationship to feel close and romantic. They may be married and they may be faithful to each other, but they have grown too far apart and they have lost the feeling of being friends and companions.

Because of upbringing, religious teachings or rape or incest, some people grow to feel that sex is wrong, bad, dirty or demeaning.

There are some people of faith who decide to follow a spiritual path that encourages abstinence.

It could be that one person hasn’t enjoyed sex, and therefore has no incentive for engaging in it. One way of helping your lover to not enjoy the experience is to be too quick, too focused on your own pleasure or too selfish.

It may take the two of you so much time, energy and exertion that it no longer feels worth the effort.

Rules For Best Wife or Girlfriend

Neil Rosenthal

Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: I was wondering if you have  a Wife 101 column to go with your Husbandry 101 column. What are the equivalent rules for women? —Committed Lady in Australia

Dear Australia:
The following are a list of “rules” for women who are committed to being the best wife or girlfriend they can be. If you do your very best in your relationship day in and day out, you’ll be a happier woman, you’ll reduce the chance that he might cheat, you’ll increase the probability of the two of you staying together, you’ll be a great role model for your children and you will have achieved something that very few have accomplished. Here are some of the rules for women who are in a committed relationship:

Make sure that you communicate positive, kind, supportive, friendly, empathetic and compassionate messages to your man far more than critical, negative, angry, judgmental and unfriendly messages.

Give to your man more than you take. Form the habit of giving, serving, pleasing and nurturing. You cannot take more than you give, or you risk drying up the reservoir of good will.

Be more fun. Find one or two fun things to do every week that the two of you can do together. Kids can join in, but not all the time. A couple needs some alone adult time to simply enjoy each other’s company.

Be physically affectionate every day. Use touch, hugs, kisses, holding hands, caresses, cuddling and comforting. Physical contact will help him feel closer to you, because he’s male—and that’s how men tend to feel close to a woman. Touch is no doubt how the two of you got close in the beginning of your relationship, and touch is what will keep your relationship close, connected and intimate today. Affectionate touch is the aphrodisiac that men crave.

Express your love sexually. When women use the word “romance,” they’re usually referring to love. When men use the word “romance,” they’re often referring to sex.

Listen more, talk less. The heart of whether a man feels valued by you is whether you are responsive to what he says matters the most to him. Therefore, if he says something is important to him, make it important to you also if you possibly can.

Let your man know what he does right. Most of us are superb at letting our partners know what they’ve done wrong.

Ask your man: “Are you getting your needs met in this relationship? If not, what would you like different?”

Tell him what you like and love about him. What character traits does he have that you respect or admire? Is he reliable? Trustworthy? A good father? Is he considerate? Affectionate? Is he fun? Romantic? Good looking? A great dresser? These are the reasons you chose him. Don’t keep it a secret. Tell him—or write it in a love letter and give it to him.

Intimacy: Someone Who Doesn’t Want You?

Neil Rosenthal

Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: I just broke things off with my boyfriend of 3 years because he’s been holding back in our otherwise fantastic relationship. We have had loads of fun together, we fight minimally, never bicker, laugh constantly, we have a wonderful sex life and we have a variety of mutual friends and interests. About a year ago, he first voiced his concern about whether things were progressing the “right” way. I eventually ended things because I felt I couldn’t be in a relationship with someone so unsure about his feelings for me. A month later, he was on my doorstep, professing how much he missed me and that he wanted me back.  

Here we are 8 months later and I’ve had to cut him loose again. He says there is nothing wrong with our relationship, but something is missing for him. He says he loves me and would do anything for me, but doesn’t know why he can’t give all of himself to me. He suspects he isn’t at a place to commit to me, or perhaps anyone. He says that he is struggling with walking away from his youthful “freedom.” He currently lives with his parents, which he says is depressing, and has a job that he is very unhappy with. He’s almost 30. Everyone else thinks we’re perfect for each other–even him–but he just can’t take the plunge.
              

— Rejected in Boston

Dear Boston: Some men simply haven’t had enough experience to know what they want–or what will make them happy long-term. Other men are just attempting to find one woman who they can call their own and who they can have and hold. Still others have the dream of tasting every single piece of chocolate in the entire chocolate factory. It sounds like you want the second choice, and that you’re ready to settle down with one man to call yours.
So find such a man.

It’s possible that your boyfriend doesn’t know why he wants to break up with you, because our real motives and our inner feelings are sometimes hidden from us. It may be that you were far more attached to him than he was to you. It may be that the closeness between the two of you frightened him, that he felt he was growing dependent on you or extremely vulnerable to you, so he decided he needed to push away in order to protect himself from becoming too close or too exposed to you.

But let’s be clear. You want a man who wants you, and you don’t want a man who doesn’t want you. Wanting someone who doesn’t want you back hurts too much–and it really messes with your self-esteem and sense of personal self-worth.
Perhaps the gentleman you’ve been involved with will come back and decide he can’t live without you, but he may not honestly be ready for a long-term commitment, and you don’t want to coerce a man into a commitment if he’s not ready for one—because there’s no assurance that he will stay committed if he isn’t ready and is feeling forced into it.

So what should you do? Let your boyfriend go, and quit hoping he will see the light and come  back to you. Make peace with this relationship ending, grieve the future you thought you were going to have with him, and lick your wounds so you can heal. I’m advising you to let him go, and for you to get strong so you can move on with a clear mind, an open heart and a clean spirit. That way you will be able to be emotionally available for someone else to enter your life when the opportunity arises.

If your boyfriend changes his mind and decides to come back to you again, you’re going to have to deal with him more firmly. Saying he wants you back is one thing, winning you back, reassuring you and helping you to feel safe and secure around him is quite another. If there’s a next time with your boyfriend, you want to be firm in telling him that action is now required of him, not just words.

If he doesn’t come back, or if he remains emotionally held back, go out and find someone who wants you, and who is ready and able to give himself to you.

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.

Reader Asks: “How Do I Overcome Feeling Insecure?”

Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: I have been married for 10 months. I have a wonderful husband who takes great care of me and my son. He is a very nice guy, and I am a very spoiled lady. Sometimes I feel like I have the perfect life with a man who is my best friend.

But I am a bit insecure, and I need a lot more of his attention. I need to be reassured about why he needs me and how much he loves me. Deep inside me I feel an emptiness when I’m not being shown love in the ways I want it–and to the degrees that I want it. But if I try telling him what I need, it ends up in a big argument.

It feels to me that he is not attracted to me because I never feel I’m getting enough affection. Therefore, if I stay with him, I fear that I will never feel complete. Can you help me?

 –Spoiled Lady


Dear Spoiled Lady: You feel you have the perfect life with a wonderful man who takes care of you and your son, but you’re not sure you want to stay with him?

Here are my thoughts about why.

First, you indeed sound insecure, and that is something you can improve over time. Insecurity is nothing more than feeling that you’re not “good enough.” It is about believing that you are incompetent or inadequate, and that you don’t measure up. Most commonly, this comes from childhood, where you likely grew up feeling criticized, judged, disapproved of, rejected or abandoned.

You can assist yourself in feeling more secure and self-confident by doing several things. First, what do you like, love, respect, admire and approve of regarding yourself? Make as large a list as you can. Write down everything. You’re going to want to refer back to this list over and over again. The first step in feeling more self-confident is to carefully and closely examine the arenas in which you genuinely acknowledge and approve of yourself–including your appearance, your skills as a mother, your social skills, career skills, your integrity, your honesty, your empathy or compassion, your style, your behavior, your spirit and so on.

Instead of asking your husband to prop up your sense of self-worth, do it yourself. Then you must take small steps in risking new behaviors, challenging the idea that you’re not good enough. The goal is to build a belief in yourself so you are eventually able to give yourself the acceptance and approval you seek from others.

Second, it’s okay to ask for what you want from your husband, but you may be asking him to be way more affectionate, expressive and verbal than he is comfortable with. Different people have different needs, tolerances and ways they express themselves, and you may be asking him for something that feels like a foreign language to him. If you want him to learn what it is you need and want, you’re going to have to teach him. Then, like every good teacher, don’t call him down for not doing things the way you would have preferred. Instead, praise him when he does it well.

But absolutely you get to ask him for what you want. If you want more affection and/or more attention, learn to ask for it in ways he understands, by teaching him what to say or do that will make you happy. If you want your 10 month marriage to work, and you’re not looking to run away from it, help him get the job description of “husband” down pat.

Third, if you’re chronically unhappy with what you have–and you’re describing that you have things pretty nice–being unhappy with your husband may be a form of self-protection, by not permitting yourself to get terribly close to him. You may wonder why your husband is with you (no doubt he could do better than you), and therefore it would make sense for you to keep a part of your heart out of the relationship, so you won’t be too devastated when he leaves you or tells you you’re not good enough. In this way, you may be using your feelings of insecurity to maintain emotional distance in your marriage, because a closer relationship might be threatening or intimidating to you.

Don’t look at throwing a valuable relationship away over things that can be repaired or finessed. Learn to master your job description of “wife” as well. Teach him what you need, but also learn to gain control over some of your more insecure needs yourself.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder, Colorado. His column is in it’s 20th year of publication, and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at (303)758-8777, or email him through his website: www.heartrelationships.com, but he is not able to respond individually to queries.

How to Strengthen Your Relationship

Neil Rosenthal

by Neil Rosenthal
Over the course of my career as a marriage counselor, I have heard thousands of stories about intimate relationships that have gone wrong.
Love, which takes much less effort in the beginning of a relationship, increasingly requires far more effort, relational skills and stick-to-it-ness as the relationship matures. Because of the almost unlimited number of ways that two people can hurt each other, it is easy to feel less close, less responsive and less connected over time.
If you are going to avoid or overcome that tendency, here are some of the factors that are critical to the success of happy intimate relationships:
If I say something is important to me, make it important to you. If you are unwilling to do this, I won’t feel valued by you–because you are not offering me what I want–but rather what you feel like giving. I will feel loved if you are responsive to what I say matters to me–and I will have a much harder time feeling loved by you if you aren’t acting like my feelings, needs, wants and dreams are important to you.
In nearly every troubled relationship, there’s a good chance that there is too much “me” or “you,” and not enough “us.” “Us” is the place where we are looking at the world binocular rather than monocular, where we see ourselves as a partnership and we’re both looking out for the relationship.
• Being physically affectionate day in and day out. Affectionate touch is the aphrodisiac that keeps the fire burning. It’s the glue that keeps the two of you close, connected and bonded to each other. Ignore this advice at your own peril.
• Happy couples make their intimate relationship a top priority in their lives. They don’t spend their “prime time” consistently preoccupied with other concerns–or too tired to consistently show up emotionally or physically. They take an active interest in the other person and his/her feelings, hopes, hurts, angers and fears, and they offer their emotional presence most of the time.
• Learn to express your hurt, anger, disappointments and frustrations in a more skillful manner. You can speak your peace and still be respectful. You must remove your reactivity, defensiveness, hostility, sarcasm and negativity from the dialogues between the two of you. This is about being emotionally safe in a relationship. That means that I will refrain from threatening the relationship, and refrain from put-downs, belittling or disrespectful behaviors–even in the face of my partner’s insensitivity, withdrawal, anger or bone-headedness. It also means that I won’t take out my negative energy or anger on you.
• Be a good communicator. Most people, who think they are good communicators, in fact talk too much and are terrible listeners. That is poor, not good communication. Good communicators are skilled in handling differences, conflicts and ruffled feathers, and they remove their criticisms and negative judgments when talking with each other. They know there are no winners in a fight between two people who love each other, but there can easily be two losers. Good communicators make sure that both people have a voice in the relationship, and that their partner’s concerns and requests are heard and treated with respect.
• Expressing warmth. Using endearments, affection, sex, romance, cards, phone calls, texts, e-mails, gifts, flowers, compliments, date nights and whispering sweet nothings in your partner’s ear.
• Let your partner know what he does right. You are no doubt excellent at letting him know what he does wrong. Likewise, tell her what you like, love, respect and admire about her every time you think about it.
• Honesty. Saying what you mean, and meaning what you say.
• Assumption of good will. Absence of malice and benefit of doubt.
• Find ways of having fun together. The couple that plays together usually stays together.
• What do you do to communicate to your partner that you cherish him or her? We all want kindness, and we all want someone to spoil us and to treat us as if we’re special.
The bottom line about how to strengthen your relationship: quit looking at how you could have a better partner, and start looking at how you could be a better partner.