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Dating Advice #28 - Baffled By The Silence

May 8, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Her need to talk has him turned off. What strategic error has she made? And how can she correct it -- before it's too late?!

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I have some questions about communication. I am 37, divorced, have no children, and very much want to have a family. I am dating a man who is 45, and has never been married. Our courtship seemed to be getting serious and we were talking about the future, marriage, buying a house, having children, etc. I thought we were both in similar stages of life and wanted the same things.

However, our courtship has hit a few recent bumps. Our communications styles are very different and we have some different interests and how we choose to spend our leisure time. I have tried to open up opportunities for us to talk to resolve some of the conflicts that have arisen between us. I was careful to ask questions such as, "Is this an okay time to talk?" and to phrase my statements to take responsibility for my own feelings. At first, he said it was "an okay time to talk," but after a few comments he changed his mind and told me he had a right to refuse to talk. He also told me I should learn to control how I react to things.

I have a tendency to want to go very deep and I know that it's not always appropriate. (My last date told me I was "too much work too soon," and too intense about everything.) Because of this, I chose to let things go this time. We book-marked our conversation and he agreed to talk at a later date.

Two weeks later, we still have not resolved anything. We talk on the telephone and see each other, but I feel very uncomfortable. I know that a huge part of being married is communication, but right now it seems we are not communicating well. I would like to tell him how I feel, but I am afraid of alienating him. I have tried to give him space, and am very pleasant when he calls and when we see each other, but it feels superficial. I have feelings I want to express but am holding back.

I have tried to be a little more independent, by not being as easily available as I was before things cooled down between us. I am blessed with a very full and creative life, so this has not been difficult. However, I don't want to just let this man leave my life. I am beginning to feel indifferent toward him, and a little disconnected and estranged. I wonder if our courtship is fading away. We used to make plans together, and this has changed. Am I too panicky?

I appreciate the thoughtful advice I have seen you give others. Now I need some guidance. Thanks so much.

Karen in LA

Dear Karen,

You accurately perceive that this man has anxiety about moving forward, and you responded appropriately by giving him some space when he became uncomfortable during a "heavy" discussion. But at the same time, you've also been enlarging the "emotional space" between you. So the two of you have got to clear the air, or your instincts that this courtship is fading will turn out to be an accurate prediction!

Understand that this man has spent his entire life as a single, and as much as he may want to get married, he also worries about changing the life he has built for himself. It may be difficult for him to acknowledge this fear, let alone understand it.

Some people who cannot articulate their fear of commitment find it difficult to fully interact with others. They either break off before it becomes emotionally intimate, or they sabotage it by doing something that leads the other person to end it.

Other people who fear commitment are able to allow a courtship to blossom and even admit that the person they are dating would make them a wonderful spouse. However, they simply cannot make the "leap of faith" they need to become engaged or married.

Whatever the case, someone who is afraid of the "C" word cannot be pressured into engagement or marriage. However, many of them can be encouraged and guided along the way.

Singles who agree that fear is keeping them from marriage can benefit from the ongoing encouragement of a dating advisor. This "hand-holder" can be a friend, rabbi, family member or even therapist. Frequently, the hand-holder is involved during the entire courtship, because a number of singles need encouragement through every stage of the dating process. Once these singles actually are married, they are able to relax and appreciate their new lives.

The two of you might both benefit from the help of separate dating advisors right now. Particularly, each of you needs some help adapting your communication styles to each other. For example, it seems that your style of communication may unwittingly make this man feel very uncomfortable. Even though you acknowledge your tendency to get a little too intense early in a relationship, you have difficulty controlling this. In addition, you may not have learned to phrase your "comments" in a way that he views as non-confrontational. A dating advisor could advise you about more helpful ways to have discussions. And the advisor can help you learn different communication styles by role-playing sample conversations with you.

This man seems uncomfortable talking about his feelings or discussing things the two of you disagree about. Here, too, a dating advisor can help him express himself constructively, and help him learn how to effectively discuss and resolve disagreements.

These advisors can also give each of you a more balanced perspective. For example, you mentioned your concern about your different interests and different choices about how to spend your leisure time. It's normal for couples to have several different interests, since no two people think exactly alike. This shouldn't be a source of "conflict," although you describe it as such. Two people should respect each other's interests, and they should work at a mutually satisfying agreement about how to apportion their leisure time. Each of you should have a reasonable opportunity to pursue your separate interests, and you both should have enough time to share other activities together.

It's not going to be easy for you to bring up these topics. We suggest that before you do, you find yourself a married friend or relative who will agree to be your advisor, and explore when and how to best initiate this discussion. We hope that it all works out for the best.

Rosie & Sherry

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