Is There Hope for Me and My Ex?
October 8, 2011 Ask Dr. Love Advice Column
Me and my ex boyfriend were together for a very happy 3 and a half years, a couple of months ago he said he wanted to end it as he didn't know who he was a person anymore, he did not know if we could live or function without eachother. We are both 24 years old, I was and still am heart broken however a couple of weeks after he broke it off he invited me over to watch a film and spend time together and said he realised how much I meant to him and maybe we should 'see' eachother so there is less pressure on him. (this means we go on dates together and hang out at his house or mine reguraly) I agreed and it has gone well we get on really well and he texts and calls me even when I don't contact him first. I get sad sometimes because I just wish we could be together properly but I am trying to give him the space he needs to grow and be his own person.
He has also said that he is pretty sure we will end up together but he just needs this space at the moment he said its not about wanting other women or wanting me out of his life he just needs to be himself. I have tried to keep this short so I hope you understand what I have said, do you think there is hope for us two in the furture? as long as I don't put to much pressure on him and try and concentrate on making myself happy?
In Love and Impatient
Oh my! We’re dealing with a guy with “cold feet” syndrome! Here’s what is going on. If you notice your guy said he doesn’t knowing who he is as a person when he’s with you, which is why he broke up—to “find” himself.”
Clearly your guy doesn’t have a strong sense of identity. This weakness develops early in life, generally resulting from having been smothered or controlled by a parent. When that child grows up, he/she will have a fear of intimacyThe causes of fear of intimacy are nearly identical to the fear of commitment. See Fear of Commitment and/or a fear of committing to another person. The fear will often be expressed in words like: I need to find myself; I’m afraid to be taken over; or I don’t know who I am when we’re together.
Now that you understand the problem, let’s discuss what can be done to resolve it.
Contrary to what your ex thinks, space and time apart doesn’t solve the problem. It only gives the person some breathing room, a temporary chance to come up for air. But once you get back together, in the official sense, the fear simply returns.
If you notice, you are still a couple in every way. He’s still exclusive with you and he doesn’t wish to see other women. All he’s really doing is providing the illusion of separateness by saying you’re not together officially.
What your guy needs is to discover that he can preserve his identity even when you are officially a couple.
You have two ways to do this. The first is to talk to him about what’s going on. Tell him that the only real way to develop his identity is to practice doing so IN a relationship. That is, to learn to assert himself with you by saying how he feels, and what he wants and doesn’t want.
If you decide to deal with him head on, by talking with him, then you’ll want to tell him that his not being fully in the relationship is a form of hiding out. It doesn’t solve his problem. It’s like being a dry drunk. The person stops drinking but is still a “drunk,” meaning the problem is still there. If you decide to go this route, and he agrees to let you help him carve out his identity within the relationship, your job is to encourage him to speak up to you, communicate his boundaries, wants and dislikes. This experience will help him to heal the original wound and show him that you aren’t like the parent who took him over. When he experiences again and again that he can assert his identity while still being with you, the problem will be solved for him.
The second option is to not overtly lay the problem on the table and discuss it but rather to let it ride with him. Sometimes a man’s fear of being swallowed whole subsides when a woman gives him his requested space. When he experiences for himself that she will give him room, that being with her doesn’t mean the loss of himself, the man can realize that it’s safe to take the plunge.
I’m not convinced that the letting it ride approach will work in his case since you have already lived together and he was still scared and broke it off. It’s always possible that there was something that you were doing when you lived together that made him feel smothered. Perhaps you were overtly or covertly pressuring him for commitmentFear of commitment is a common source of conflict for couples. Commitmentphobia is often most strongly apparent in romantic life. Generally, commitmentphobic people claim that they are eager to find...(Click for full definition.). This is something that I think you would do well to find out about. You could find out by asking, “When we were living together, did I do or say anything that made you feel like I was pressuring you or taking you over?”
Asking the question will actually begin a cascade of healing because it will show that you don’t intend to smother/control him. (I’m assuming you don’t.) Just the fact of asking this question can help to set him at ease.
If you decide to take the second approach, give yourself an end date—so you aren’t waiting around forever. Then let the scenario play out. Give him the time you allot and see what happens.
As you are giving him his room, it’s important that you do what you said you are already doing--that is taking care of yourself and your own needs. On this point, having a life outside of your life with him can do wonders to move him forward with you. You see, when he discovers you do you not wish to take over his identity and that you do have a life of your own and he isn’t your everything, he should actually feel more comfortable in reuniting officially.
To prove that you have a life and an identity outside of him, make sure to be busy sometimes when he asks to see you. This should actually spark his own fear of losing you, which I suspect will overtake his fear of being committed.
Let me know how you make out.
"If anger and fighting are ruining your dream of a happy marriage, Dr. Turndorf’s conflict resolution program is for you."
-- John Gray,
Author of NY Times #1 bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
"This well-researched book offers a thorough, step-by-step program that provides tools for couples to heal even the most troubled relationships."
-- Dr. John Mack
Pulitzer Prize winning author and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
“This book is mandatory reading for every couple that wants to build lasting love.”
-- John Bradshaw,
Author of NY Times #1 bestseller Homecoming
"Dr. Turndorf is an amazing individual who has wonderful advice to offer men and women of all ages and in all types of relationships. Ignore her counsel at your peril!"
-- Bill Hammond III,
Winner of the Best Historical Fiction Award, 2012
"You are awesome Dr. Jamie. You really are. The best part about you is the way you translate complex psychological stuff into easy to understand and actionable insights."
-- Kajay Williams,
Producer Relationship Advice Cafe
"Let me tell you why you're extremely important now. I really believe your message is there. You're spot on. More and more people should be taking advantage of what you're offering."
-- Michael Dresser,
Syndicated Radio Host
"Good stuff. Great insight. I love your approach. Who doesn't need more healing. I love your idea of using your partner as a healing agent. That's such a great way to see your partner. You give great labels and patterns to look for. I love your method. You make it sound so easy. You have a great website with lots of great information and resources. These are the tools we all need."
-- Dr. Matt Townsend,
Host, The Matt Townsend Show