Researchers report that nearly 40% of unmarried couples that live together will end up separating within five years. Is it living together or something a bit subtler that deconstructs the couple?
One of my clients told me she wanted to move in with her boyfriend. She loved the idea of taking the relationship’s stamina for a test drive, but she had no intention to marry her patient man.
She wanted neither to be hurt, nor approach the risk of being fully known. The risk of marriage and emotional vulnerability were too high. The only vow she was willing to make was one of self-protection.
We had to examine her fear-based ambivalence: I love him and I don’t want to leave him, but I can’t fully give myself to him. In this light, they were stuck.
What’s gone wrong?
1. Her fear-based ambivalence created a palpable sensation of disconnection the boyfriend could feel.
2. Because they never talked about her fear, he falsely interpreted the disconnection as her rejecting him. He used this speculation to feel inadequate, to self-doubt, and to fear abandonment.
3. He began to protect himself, leading the girlfriend to create her own fearful speculations and feel as though he was too cold and unsafe.
4. And back to #1 we go.
They sat in this cycle for years. Which one came first, the chicken or the egg?
Like my client, we sometimes rely on a signed lease more than emotional maturity. For couples with ambivalence, living together fabricates a sensation of safety without the mechanisms of authentic belonging fortifying our attachment.
In my opinion, its not the living together that creates a risk. The risk is in the process of hiding your fears, coming up with damaging speculations, and then trying to soothe yourself alone. A couple that does this will eventually wonder if they are getting ready to tie the knot or fray the rope.
Create an open dialogue around existing ambivalence as you make major decisions, especially living together.
With a healthy dialogue you may find that they aren’t ready to leave you at the drop of hat or that safety isn’t too far fetched.
Consider question like:
I know you love me, but what makes you fearful to talk about a long-lasting commitment?
What have you lived through, or see in me, that creates a hesitancy to let me in fully?
I can imagine that what you have seen in divorce makes you scared to think we can’t do it. Can we talk about this? I’d like to hear your fears.
A healthy dialogue will expose faulty speculations, will allow both of you the opportunity to repair irrational concerns, and it will lead to a wonderfully exquisite emotional maturity.
Give your loving relationship the honesty it needs. Talk about your ambivalence. If together you can create emotional vulnerability, chances are you can both create a beautiful home.
And if you need help, let us know.