Dear Neil: I’m in a three year live-in relationship, and we are at a decision time regarding our future. Either we’re going to commit to each other and get engaged, or it is time for me to pull the plug and move on, because I very much wish to find somebody I can settle down with and marry.
But we are such different people that I’m unsure we will ever be able to live compatibly with each other. We have ongoing friction, and we have been fighting a lot. He complains about us not spending enough time together and of having dissimilar interests. I am unhappy with our different ideas about romance and our conflicting libidos. We have a dispute about how important it is to save for the future. And also, I am unclear if he actually loves me, or how deeply I feel about him.
Could you suggest the best way for me to decide whether I should stay or leave this man?
Unsure in Vail, Colorado
Dear Unsure: A couple consists of two people. If they marry or live with each other, they agree to live as one, but they are not one—they are two separate individuals, with differing interests, values, upbringings, life experiences, preferences and temperaments. So when a couple agrees to live as one, that is easy to imagine and difficult to do. “Which one?” you might ask. Your value system or mine? Your interests or mine? Your family during the holidays or mine? Your libido or mine?
Most couples agree to blend the two. How about if I agree to live in the country the way you want, but will you agree to commit to putting away a certain amount of money every month in a retirement account? If you will be open to what I need for romance and affection, I promise I will carve out an hour every night just for the two of us the way you want. Perhaps the two of us might explore creating new interests together?
But there is another strategy, and it is likely to give you the answer to the question you seek. For a short period of time—let’s say 3 months in your case—be willing to go all out and give your entire heart to your partner. Single-handedly do everything you can to make the relationship work—and work well.
If you give everything you’ve got, you will know whether the relationship is closer, more loving and more compatible. You will know how much he is willing to please you, whether he is willing to accommodate to your needs and requests—and most importantly, you will gain clarity about how you feel about him. There is something about committing yourself 100 percent to someone that forces clarity about whether our feeling are genuine or if we’re just faking it. There is something about giving everything you’ve got that makes it clear about whether you are in a reciprocal relationship, or if you’ve simply found someone who will take without giving back.
If you are willing to do what I’m suggesting, you give yourself the vital opportunity to test out if you’re with someone you can negotiate with and whether he cares how you feel. However, if after doing this you are still unsure how you feel about him or whether he loves you, this is not the right relationship for you.