Should I Throw in the Towel

Dear Dr. Love: Great site. I'm not really sure how to put this and I know the chances of you picking my question are slim. Perhaps it will help me just to write it down and send it into cyberspace.

I am 23 years old and my boyfriend is 27. We have been dating exclusively for almost 2 years. We live in Michigan. I was close friends with his younger sister in high school, and that 's how we met. When we met, I was 18, and he was living with and engaged to another girl. His family is very Catholic, and they didn't approve of him living with this woman. It caused a lot of problems with his folks.

Well, she ended up being a psycho (for lack of a better word) and trying to kill him, and he moved away to California. When he came back, we started hanging out again, just as friends. We had a lot in common. He was living at home with his folks, saving up money to go to New York City. Our town was really just a stopping-point for him. I was in a screwed-up relationship--on/off for 2 years with a real jerk--and my boyfriend had a girl waiting for him in NYC.

He found out shortly after he got home that this girl was pregnant with his child. He didn't tell anyone except me for months. I was always there for him and I was the only one he talked to about it. One thing led to another, and we started seeing each other as more than friends. I really respected the way he was dealing with the pregnancy, how caring he was with this girl, how supportive, even though he no longer wanted a relationship with her, and I took a lot on trying to help him through it.

She ended up having to terminate her pregnancy. I know how hard that is, but my boyfriend (we were calling each other that by then) said he really didn't want any time alone and he wanted to be with me. Fast forward to now. Everything, for the most part, has been great--I'd say we have about an 85% success rate. We discussed moving in together, but both decided we weren't ready. We're best friends and we have a wonderful time . . . most of the time.

The problem is that he can not tell me he loves me. He says he does, inside, but is afraid of making another mistake. He won't talk to me about his past. He won't talk to me about his fears. I have tried to be patient, God knows, I have tried to be his friend and help him feel comfortable, but it hurts me when I tell him I love him (which I rarely say) and he looks at me like I'm something that lives under a rock.

Lately we have been fighting in a way that is totally unfit for 2 people who have been through so much together--we fight about everything. We're not sure what to do. Should I throw in the towel? I don't want to, but I feel that we have come up against a wall. I just reiterated my committment to him and to working through this rough spot when he and I spoke this morning, but I wonder if I am doing the right thing. I want to suggest therapy, but I don't think he'll go for that. Thank you for your time.

Answer: 

You are in a power struggle with a guy who is shell shocked. Keep in mind that when you say you love him, you are actually making a request. You are looking for him to say he loves you back. In other words, you statement isn't a free gift at all and he feels that and freezes up. I don't know if he's freezing up because he has issues about being controlled. If this is so, then the only way to break this cycle is for you to give him the gift of your loving words and expect nothing back.

When he feels that you aren't manipulating him into feeding you, he will feel like giving back to you naturally. At the same time, when you feel that you need something from him (words of affection or whatever) say straight out that you need rather than trying to manipulate him into giving to you. It is also possible that his freeze up occurs because he's terrified of opening up and getting hurt again. If you take his freeze up personally and get wounded and angry, you are nowhere.

You will need to take your ego out of the equation. His immobilization about saying 'I love you' isn't about you, so don't make it about you. He was burned in the past and he's scared to get burned again. If you go 'psycho' on him when he doesn't respond, he will pull away from you even more. To break the power struggle, you might try making a joke about his inability and/or unwillingness to say that he loves you.

You could say, 'Prepare yourself, I'm about to tell you I love you. ' If you laugh, take the heat off of him, and don't expect any response in return, you will break the power struggle, he will relax, and he will probably come around and tell you that he loves you in his own time.

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