This is in response to Jim’s post about a recent break-up. Read Jim’s post: First comes love, then comes . . .
My response is lengthy but important and reflects my 16 years of experience as a marriage and family therapist as well as a dating coach.
I hate to say this, but the problem of a partner not investing fully is a bigger and more common problem among singles (and, sadly, among marriages) than some may think. There are many who give their all to relationships, but there are others who just simply don’t get that it’s a two-way street. It takes empathy, self-control, and personal responsibility (i.e., an emotionally mature personality) to really make a relationship work.
I speak to several singles groups a month with the purpose of helping singles to engage more fully in dating and to play their roles in a more effective way with the opposite sex, but there are some in the audience who simply can’t or won’t see the validity of what I teach as being critical to the needs of those they date (in marriage they probably won’t listen to their partner).
I have a few suggestions to help you understand your current situation more fully and also help you know what to do from here forward to confront this issue in the future.
1) Review chapters 1 to 6 of Dating Game Secrets for Marrying a Good Man. This will help you assess her emotional maturity. You need to know if she ever had empathy, self-control, and personal responsibility. If not, I’m sorry for your pain and loss, but you’ve actually dodged a bullet. This experience revealed a lot about who you are and what you’re willing to offer in a relationship, but it reveals a lot about her as well. In spite of all your efforts, without her emotionally mature investment it would have been doomed, regardless.
2) I would ask you, Did you express your feelings and needs along the way? Did you say no sometimes (about 15% of the time)? Only by expressing your feelings, rights, needs, and opinions will you truly sort those who have empathy from those who don’t. Everyone makes mistakes, acts tacky from time to time, and fails to acknowledge the other person’s needs, but only those with empathy will hear you when you express frustration about it and then change their behavior. These people appreciate assertiveness because they are willing to look at themselves and their behaviors in relationships, take responsibility, exercise more self-control for the benefit of others, and invest deeply.
A man who loves a woman often struggles in saying no or in expressing contrary feelings or ideas, but if he doesn’t, his partner will lose a certain amount of respect for him because he will seem like a pushover and less strong and confident. Thus, he will be more likely to fall into the too-nice or good-for-now trap. Furthermore, without sacrificing for him, she cannot love him as deeply as she would have or could have loved him (love is deeply connected to sacrifice).
As much as women think they know men, the truth is that men need to communicate their needs clearly or women will sacrifice in all the wrong ways (and usually in ways that make men feel less trusted and respected). To help you make this adjustment, remember—a man who says no 15% of the time is still a man saying yes 85% of the time (which is definitely enough for her to feel safe, secure, loved, valued, and adored but also drawn to your strength and aware of the need to invest in you too).
Saying no can be done in many ways:
by not breaking your plans with friends at the last minute just because she wants to see you (instead, say, “I’d love to see you but I can’t just then. What about tomorrow?)
- by commenting when you feel she isn’t acting with respect and responding to your needs or is dismissing your feelings (i.e., “I’m not okay with the way you’re talking to me. I need you to please change your tone,” “It would mean a lot to me if you met this need, and yet it seems you keep ignoring it,” or “My feelings are just as valid as yours. How would you feel if someone dismissed your feelings like you just dismissed mine?”)
- by taking action when needed (i.e., saying, “I want to continue this conversation—but only when you are ready to talk to me with more respect and hear me out”; then, as you are leaving, by adding, “Let me know when you’re ready.”)
- by getting them to comment on their own behavior and it’s meaning (i.e., asking, “When you frequently put me off to spend time with others, what is the message you want me to take from this? How are you expecting me to react and feel?”)
If these techniques for communicating the validity of your feelings and needs don’t work, then she doesn’t have empathy. If the techniques work and she takes action to change, you probably have the makings for a beautiful relationship (especially if you offer the same to her).
A significant number of those in relationships like to think that they shouldn’t ever have to use such techniques, but that’s just naive. In ALL relationships—even the best ones—we dismiss our partner’s feelings from time to time, act without consideration in the moment, and take the partner for granted in episodes. The important point here is whether or not we consistently, predictably, dependably, and reliably invest, listen, respond, and engage in the relationship. Your partner too may need to say no to some of your requests, but does she really respond and invest when she can?
Now back to your situation. If you discover that she is emotionally mature but you didn’t communicate your needs, perhaps you will want to reevaluate where to go from here and consider the possibility of giving the relationship another chance. However, if you feel she is emotionally immature and that you did communicate your needs but she refused to meet them, we need to talk about how you can avoid “giving the best of you to those who don’t invest in you” in the future—and I have a whole slew of techniques for that.
I hope this helped.
Good luck, and let me know your thoughts,
Jim’s response: Thanks for the feedback. Your response was perfect and thought-provoking. I know a big part of the problem is my poor communication skills. I definitely struggle on that front. I also have a really hard time saying “no” and demanding the respect I feel I deserve. On the other hand, I also feel that despite how awesome she is, she has a lot of emotional issues to take care of, among other things.