Dear Neil: My common-law spouse of 10 years packed up and left last month. Then, last night, he came by to pick up his stuff. He was very emotional, said he missed our life together, that he thinks of me every day, misses me and loves me. When I said that we need to work on ourselves and see where our hearts end up, he said: "I don't love you in that way anymore." He said he wants me to find someone that I deserve so that I can have closure. There is a lot of love still between us. Do we have the foundation to make things work again?
- Uncertain in Ontario, Canada
Dear Unsure: It sure doesn't sound like it. A man who says he doesn't "love you in that way anymore" is saying that he has decided that your relationship isn't the right one for him. For whatever reason, he is saying that he would rather live without you than with you. It would appear that he has given the relationship quite a bit of soul-searching to arrive at the place he has. It is therefore unlikely that he will be talked back into a relationship with you.
But I do have a suggestion for you: Read the next letter first.
Dear Neil: I've been dating a guy for the past 6 months. He tells me he loves me but he hardly talks to me or texts me, and we don't see each other often (once a week, if that). He seldom makes plans with me - it's me who is more frequently trying to get his attention. It feels that we don't have much of a chance for a more serious relationship. He has also said that he doesn't know if he will be heads-over-heels for someone again (his ex-wife cheated on him) and that he doesn't know if he will put 100 percent into a relationship again.
I've tried to leave him but wound up missing him so much that I came back. Do you think he might come around if I wait?
- Hurt in Denver
Dear Hurt and Unsure: One of the most painful experiences life gives us is when we fall in love with someone who does not fall back - or who falls out of love and no longer wants a relationship with us. It hurts deeply and it's all the more painful because we are so powerless to do anything about it. The other person has to feel engaged, interested, desirous and committed, and all of those emotions and behaviors are entirely outside of our control.
But that doesn't mean you can't attempt to help your man re-engage. The woman whose common-law spouse left her might pose these questions to him: "What would you need in order to consider coming back? What could I offer you that would change your mind and give our relationship one more chance?" The woman whose boyfriend seems detached and disengaged might ask, "What would you want in order to give our relationship a much greater priority - meaning that we see each other more often, we communicate much more frequently and you are willing to offer me much more time and effort than you do now?"
Listen carefully to the response. If he has an answer that seems genuine and sincere and is doable, would it be something you might consider offering him? If his answer is "There's nothing you can do" or "I'm already giving all I can," he is saying no to a closer relationship with you. If he says "I'm not sure what it is I need," ask him to reflect on it and to call you with an answer. If he doesn't call back, his answer is no.
It may be that your man wants a deeper relationship than the one he's in, and that talking about what kind of a relationship the two of you are trying to create may sound appealing to him. Then it would be a discussion about how to get from here to there.
But a word of caution: You don't want to talk him into anything - he has to want the relationship on his own. And you don't want a man who doesn't want you, because that's going to hurt even more. You'll eventually be rejected anyway. A love relationship has got to be voluntary, and he has to feel there's something wonderful in it for him. A man who has walled himself off because he once got hurt in a relationship, who refuses to give a new woman the best he's got and who rebuffs more communication and engagement makes for very a disappointing and depressing partner.
Don't make the mistake of settling for someone who is lukewarm toward you and is unwilling to give a relationship with you much effort. You want a whole-hearted, not a half-hearted relationship. Don't you?
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 21st year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777 or email him through his website at heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.
Neil Rosenthal will conduct a one-day workshop open to the general public titled "To Love and To Be Loved" on March 2 in Westminster. For more information and registration, email email@example.com.