By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
I’ve been dating Brian for two years and still feel uncertain about whether he’s the one for me. He’s ready to take the next step and move in together and wants to get married eventually, but I’m just not sure. We both come from divorced families but Brian’s parents are friendly and mine are always feuding – even though they split almost twenty years ago.
We both have good jobs but I make slightly more money because I have moved up the ladder in the company I work for. Brian works hard but doesn’t seem very motivated to take classes or get a masters’ degree which he would need to get a raise as a special education teacher.
Overall, we get along fine but I get jealous when he goes out with his college buddies and stays out late. I guess I’m just not convinced that he will be there for me when I need him. Brian’s never really given me any reason to doubt him but I watched my dad cheat on my mom. Her life was destroyed and after they split up she never let herself fall in love again.
How do I know if Brian is the right one for me? He gave me an ultimatum last week and said he needs to know whether we can make plans to move in together. Please answer me as soon as possible.
Many people seek lasting commitment, often in the form of marriage. This can be a healthy desire if we bring realistic expectations to it. But many adults, especially adult children of divorce, don’t have a healthy template of marriage to follow when it comes to nurturing and sustaining a committed relationship, making it difficult to know where to start.
Perhaps the first step in reevaluating your relationship with Brian is adjusting your expectations. There is no such thing as a perfect partner. You might want to ask yourself this question: Is there something about the way that Brian treats you that makes you a bigger and better person? If the answer is no, ask yourself: Am I settling for less than I deserve in the relationship?
Assuming you aren’t looking for a soul mate without flaws, I recommend you examine the check list that I borrowed from Mira Kirshenbaum’s book “Is He Mr. Right?” One of the central premises of her groundbreaking book is that chemistry is the best way to figure out if someone is right for you. Surprisingly, she’s not just talking about sexual chemistry but also the feeling that you enjoy being around your partner and have fun together.
5 Dimensions of Chemistry according to Mira Kirshenbaum:
- You feel comfortable with each other and it’s easy to get close. In other words, you feel that you can be yourself.
- You feel safe in the relationship. This means that your partner doesn’t have significant mental health issues, can take care of himself, and you feel free to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires openly without fear of rejection. That you can be honest and it’s okay.
- It’s fun to be together. Kirshenbaum writes, “Couples who do have this dimension of chemistry going for them have a shortcut to intimacy and a buffer against the stressful times we all face.”
- You have real affection and passion for each other. This is where sexual chemistry comes in and it should go hand and hand with affection.
- You feel there’s real mutual respect. You accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are. According to Kirshenbaum, if you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left.
Do you fear that if you tie the knot, your marriage will end in divorce like your parents did? If you are worried about the future of your relationship, you are not alone. Many people are postponing marriage, cohabitating, or remaining single. Approximately 50 percent of adults over age eighteen marry; this number is compared to 72% in 1960, according to The Pew Research Center. The medium age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7 years) according to this report.
It’s understandable that you’d have a need for certainty before making a commitment to Brian. After all, over 40% of first marriages end in divorce. According to divorce expert Paul Amato, many adult children of divorce (ACODs) fear relationship failure. They worry that when they open themselves up to other people, they will get hurt, and will lose out on love. Fear of failure can hold ACODs back and prevent them from being their best selves. It limits them by causing anxiety and fostering a pessimistic attitude about the future.
As a daughter of divorce, you may have a fear of commitment due to watching your parents’ marriage crumble. You just can’t see a relationship working out, but you desperately want one. Your craving for a failsafe relationship will always be unsatisfied because such relationships don’t exist. It is important to keep your partnerships in perspective. The truth is that all marriages end through either death or divorce.
If you feel that Brian is the right one for you but you fear commitment, you might want to consider the following: Know that no relationship is conflict free, but you are worthy of having a relationship that makes you happy. If you aren’t there yet, embrace where you are now. What is it that holds you back from achieving a satisfying relationship? And once you have it, what will you do when you get there?
Ways to overcome your fear of commitment:
- Face your fear of commitment and embrace the notion that a lifetime commitment has to be made when there is some degree of uncertainty. If you wait to make a commitment when you are free of doubts, it will never happen.
- Remember that life can be more rewarding when you take risks and make a commitment to a partner who seems to be a good match for you.
- Stop comparing your relationship with your partner to your parents’ marriage. Attempt to see yourself as capable of learning from the past, rather than repeating it.
- Make sure that you have common values with your partner before you make a life-long commitment. If you marry someone with drastically different values, you will face complex issues that could put you more at risk for divorce.
- Don’t make a life-long commitment to a partner who you have dated for less than two years.
- Learn to trust your judgment and be consistent with your commitment. Making a commitment to someone you love and consider your best friend is not an on-again, off-again proposition.
Even in the twenty-first century, when ideas about the nature of commitment have changed, many notions about love remain the same. There are no guarantees with relationships. Some work out and some don’t but approaching relationships with fear or doubt almost guarantees a negative outcome. Relationships, whether they last three months or three decades, can provide their participants with the love, companionship, and intimacy they need at the time.
I’d love to read your comments on this page. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”
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