Dear Neil: My second husband and I divorced four years ago. But during that four years, we have been on again, off again. We come back together (much to our family’s dismay) for about 45 days. Then things begin to unravel.. I don’t like his attitude, he doesn’t like mine. I don’t know how else to explain it.
We don’t seem to be able to let go. What are we not letting go of? The relationship? The love we once had? We both have other friends and family, so we’re not alone in the world. I want to move on, but 60 days from now I’ll think I want to be with him.
How do I let go and move on? This is wearing me out!
Holding On in Portland, Oregon
Dear Holding On: People can get literally addicted to the melodrama in their relationships. You may have friends and family, but it’s hard to duplicate the passion (and the sexual energy) that results from living in a melodrama/soap opera.
Being in a stable relationship has a familiarity to it. It becomes a habit. And some our habits become bad habits. Ask anyone who has struggled with this, and they will tell you that breaking a bad habit is difficult because it takes tremendous focus and willpower. You may have also inadvertently entered a Better Than Nothing (BTN) relationship. A BTN relationship protects you from having to go out and face the world—and your future—alone. BTN relationships don’t offer you love or a future. They offer refuge and safety, which is why people sometimes choose them.
Of course, it is always possible that the two of you still love each other. But it’s also possible that the two of you are just plain dependent on and addicted to each other.
If you’re going to stay together, find yourselves a good marriage therapist. If you want out, cold turkey this relationship and break the leave/come back/leave cycle once and for all, or it will remain the way it is now. Is that what you want?
Dear Neil: I am responding to your column on Sensitive Men/Nice Guys. My first husband was a very “nice” guy, but he was selfish and controlling. After awhile, a man who won’t work unless it’s exactly what he wants to do, and does nothing to promote happiness, becomes a burden. The “nice guy” was an emotionally remote, insensitive, self-absorbed and unavailable man who couldn’t commit.
I don’t know what “women” want. What I want is to be happy and growing, respected and loved. I’ve found that most men lack self-control and want to control me instead. The desire to control touches almost every aspect of a relationship, from commitment, to work, to fun. The desire to control kills relationships.
If “sensitive” men would like to make women happy, they need to think about being less selfish. If men can learn to give unselfishly with the goal of creating happiness, they would get more in return. “Boring” men are often lazy, selfish and controlling, and they aren’t romantic and fun.
Unfulfilled in Fort Collins, Colorado
Dear Unfulfilled: I’m not sure “nice guys” on the whole are more selfish, emotionally unavailable and controlling, although I trust that has been your experience.
Many women, I suspect, associate “nice guys” with men who are passive, and who don’t take the romantic/sexual lead. Your point about being more giving and less selfish if you want to make a woman happy is a good one. It applies equally, of course, to both genders.