Vail Relationships column: Creating a wall to protect yourself also keeps you from feeling close
Dear Neil: My two previous marriages ended with me being deceived by both of my exes. This made me create a wall to protect myself. I am now engaged to someone who has lied to me several times, and he once called his ex’s name out while we were intimate, so my wall is up around him.
I have been jealous and overprotective, and I’ve punished him with my jealousy. He is now cheesed off with my mistrust of him, and I don’t know if I should end it because I’m not able to trust him. We’ve been together for two years, but I feel so insecure. Am I to blame?
Jealous in the Midwest
Dear Jealous: Here’s what you told me. You have your wall up and you’re pushing your fiance away with your jealousy and mistrust, and he has lied to you several times. So if you’re asking me, you’re both to blame. You’re both behaving in ways that generate hurt feelings, misgivings and suspicion.
Here’s what you can do if you’d like to repair your side of this relationship. (Your fiance has some repair work to do of his own, but you have no control over his behavior and strong control over what you do.)
You’re going to have to find a way to make your wall more elective and discretionary. Right now, you’re acting as if your wall is essential. But walls — which keep you safe and protected — also keep you isolated and far away. In other words, walls keep you shielded, but they also keep you from feeling close and connected to the man you presumably love and care about.
Instead, try creating some very good boundaries. Clear boundaries communicate that we have limits on behaviors we deem unacceptable — without shutting someone else out. Tell your fiance in very clear terms which behaviors you are not willing to tolerate, and then watch him very closely over time, and see if you can verify whether he is being truthful and honest with you.
If he is, then perhaps he has heard and responded to your need for trustworthiness in the relationship. If he isn’t, then you are at decision time about whether he’s good for you. This way, you’re giving your relationship a fighting chance to succeed.
Dear Neil: I want to be more romantic with my future dates and my new partner if and when I meet her. How many dates do you think I would need to go on with the same lady before I said something romantic like “you look pretty?”
Dear Wondering: The first date, as long as you’re not pushy about it.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. He is the author of the best-selling book “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Creating a Vital Relationship.” Contact him at 303-758-8777, or visit neilrosenthal.com.
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