Tag Archives: Neil Rosenthal

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.

What Are the Dreams Within Your Conflicts?

by Neil Rosenthal

Intimate relationships experience a certain number of differences that don’t go away, no matter what.  But a failure to be able to dialogue and compromise on such conflicts can lead a couple to profound feelings of frustration, anger and resentment.

Relationship experts John and Julie Gottman, in their book “Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage” (Crown Publishers) have an exercise to help you understand, verbalize and talk about the dreams imbedded within your conflicts-the individual hopes and aspirations each of you have on a variety of issues.

Look through the following list of dreams, and circle any that are causing tension in your relationship with your intimate partner:  a sense of freedom;  the experience of peace;  unity with nature;  exploring who I am;  adventure;  a spiritual journey;  justice;  honor;  unity with my past;  healing;  knowing my family;  becoming all I can be;  having a sense of power;  dealing with my aging;  exploring a creative side of myself;  becoming more powerful;  getting over past hurts;  becoming more competent;  asking God for forgiveness;  exploring a part of myself I  lost;  getting over a personal hang-up;  having a sense of order;  being able to be productive;  having a place and a time to just “be;”  being able to truly relax;  reflecting on my life;  getting my priorities in order;  finishing something important;  exploring the physical side of myself;  being able to compete and win;  travel;  quiet;  atonement;  building something important;  ending a chapter of my life;  saying goodbye to something;  finding love;  the frequency of lovemaking;  what I need in order to be in the mood for sex;  finances (spending vs. saving);  socializing and spending time with other people;  wanting more romance and passion.

Take one of the issues to talk with your partner about – and invite your partner to do the same with one of his/her issues.  Designate one person as the speaker and the other as the listener.  The speaker tells the listener all about his/her dream.  The listener’s job is to draw the information out of the speaker using questions like these:  What’s important to you about this dream?  What’s the most important part?  Why is this part important?  Is there something from your life history that relates to this dream?  Tell me the feelings you have about this dream.  Are there any feelings you left out?  What do you ideally wish for regarding this dream?  What would be your ideal?  How do you imagine things would be if you got what you wanted?  Do you imagine some fear or disaster if this dream were to not be fulfilled?

When you’re the listener, don’t debate the issue or express your own opinions about your partner’s dream, don’t attempt to use this exercise to try to convince the other that your  position in the conflict is the “right” position.

When the speaker is done, switch roles and explore the other partner’s dream.  Then look for ways that you can be flexible in order to honor the letter and the spirit of  your partner’s dream.  Realize that this is an issue of compromise, and compromise never feels perfect.  The important thing is that each of you feels that your dream is understood, respected and honored if at all possible.

These inner dreams are likely what’s underneath the conflicts between the two of you.  Looking at how you can be empathetic and encouraging toward your partner’s dream – and how she/he can be supportive of yours – will hopefully reduce the conflicts, arguments and distance between the two of you.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships.  He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com

What to do When My Appetite is Much Stronger than His

by Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: I am living with a younger man who is drop dead gorgeous. He takes care of himself, has a beautiful body and looks like he stepped out of GQ. He is 5’ 7” and 29 years old. He brings me flowers and cards for no reason, and he is very affectionate: he cuddles, kisses and touches me often. He also tells me several times a day that he loves me, he helps with cleaning and we cook together. He frequently makes me laugh, and we have lots of fun together, and he says he is happy with me.

I, on the other hand, am average looking on a good day, although I have been told that I look pretty damn good for my age. I’m 43 and 6’ 1”. The problem is he has a very low sex drive, and I am in my sexual prime. I enjoy sex now more than I ever have in my past. I’ve talked to him several times about how I want to make love more often, but he makes no extra effort.

I can’t help but think that if he were with someone younger- firmer – prettier that he would be friskier. He just doesn’t have much interest, and I can’t help but take it personally. The past six months since our relationship has begun have been the best of my life, but I’m at my wits end at the lack of feeling sexually desired. Can you help me?

- Feeling Unfulfilled in Oregon
Dear Oregon: There is no correct number of times a couple in love is supposed to make love. Different people have different appetites – and sometimes libidos can differ wildly between partners. Even in the same individual, sexual appetite can vary dramatically depending on season, level of fatigue, how emotional you feel, how work is going – and on an endless variety of other factors. All that being said, here are some things you might try.

First, ask for his help. Is there anything that would help him be amorous more frequently? If you guys were going to create the perfect setting for love-making, what would he include? What time of day does he most prefer? What conditions or circumstances are most conducive for him?

Second, get assertive and ask him to take care of you, even if he himself isn’t in the mood. If he’s willing to do that when you ask, it just may arouse him as well. But whether it does or doesn’t, presumably you’ll feel happier and less rejected.

Third, you might try reaching over to him early in the morning. That’s when many men easily can feel their wild oats. If you find him receptive, you could always take the lead.

Fourth, trying going away for a weekend together. Sometimes a different location, setting or set of activities helps us to feel more connected and relational. You might also try renting an X-rated movie or buying a new hot lingerie number.

Finally, understand that his libido and your self-esteem are not the same. He is not rejecting you, although it might feel like it. He is presumably being himself-and that means that he has a different appetite than you do. If you let this undercut your self-esteem, you are compounding the problem that very likely isn’t about you at all.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, Colorado, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com

Afraid of Being Alone

Dear Neil: I have been with my partner for three years. In the beginning, our love making was great, but as time went on she stopped giving herself to me on a regular basis. I now get sex once a month, if I’m lucky. It seems related to money, because the more I make, the more she wants to take, and then she is more sexual with me. But I lost my job three months ago, and now she’s angry with me all the time. I have come to realize that I feel so much lighter without her. I truly want to leave, but I’m afraid of being alone. How do I move on?
- Sucked Dry in Miami, FL

Dear Miami:
You move on by deciding your life is better without her than with her, and then by acting upon that decision-by cutting the relationship off-and keeping it cut off. Your task is to heal yourself, to learn whatever lessons this relationship has taught you, and also to take whatever gifts or blessings this relationship has afforded you.

Dear Neil:
My boyfriend and I have been together for about two years. We were living together and we cuddled a lot, but that gradually dwindled away as he accused me of suffocating him, saying that he wanted us to live apart because he wanted “space.” So we broke up. When we got back together again, he told me he loved me and that he shouldn’t have broken us up.

But a couple of weeks later he virtually abandoned me. Now he says he’s not sure whether he loves me, and doesn’t want to talk about how to get closer again or how our relationship might develop in the future. I’ve expressed my unhappiness with the distance between us (he hardly ever touches me outside of bed in an affectionate way on his own accord unless I say something). I’ve asked whether there’s any point in us continuing to be together but he basically refuses to discuss it. I sometimes get told off for expressing my unhappiness at how things are. I want to be in a close, loving, committed, connected relationship, and have asked him to tell me if he doesn’t so that I can move on-but he won’t. What would you advise me?
- Unwanted in New Zealand

Dear New Zealand:
Your boyfriend does not love you-and does not want a closer relationship or a future with you-but he isn’t coming out and directly saying that. It sounds as if he doesn’t want to acknowledge his true motives to you because he is reluctant to lose the sexual relationship he has with you.
So the ball is back in your court. Is the sexual connection enough for you, or do you want more from this relationship? If you want more, cut it off with him and find someone who wants an actual relationship with you, and who will value your feelings, needs, desires and your happiness.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, Colorado, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com