Dear Dr. Norquist:
I have not slept through the night for the last month. All I can think about is where my life is heading and that time is passing by each day. My boyfriend and I are both in our 30s, educated, and successful in our careers. We have been together for more than five years, don’t live together, and are in limbo as far as what we do next. We are both not entirely satisfied with our relationship. We don’t know if we can be happy with each other for a lifetime, even though we love each other very much and want the same things in life. I don’t feel that we have great communication – he does not express his feelings or any emotion very often – and sometimes I feel kind of lonely when I’m with him. I know I want kids and a close family, a lot like the closeness I felt from my family growing up. I just want to feel “at home” inside. I struggle over whether I should start over and try to find someone else and to see if I can be happier or find a better fit. I feel my life is at a crossroads. Can you help me resolve what seems like an impossible conflict?
Dr. Norquist responds:
I can see how you are at crossroads in your life, with major life-altering changes resulting from which road you now choose. Emotional communication styles tend to be consistent. Your boyfriend is not likely to become open and emotionally expressive over time. If you feel lonely now, consider how you might feel in 10, 20 or 30 years.
You say you want to feel “at home” inside. Does this mean that you want to feel a sense of “rightness” regarding marrying your boyfriend or is it something else? Sometimes we think we need to feel at home with someone else, when really what we need to feel is “at home” within ourselves.
As you know, only you and your boyfriend can make this decision. I can, however, suggest several possible contributing factors for you to consider.
In considering your prior relationships, have you had a tendency to be attracted to men with whom you have similar issues? If so, leaving your boyfriend will probably not solve this problem. Not feeling satisfied emotionally in your relationship allows your family to remain the primary source of your emotional satisfaction. Thus, you do not have to separate emotionally from them. From this perspective, being with an emotionally distant man serves a purpose in your life.
On another note, did you have a significant caretaker or other important person in your formative years with whom you always longed for more closeness and yet always felt lonely and disconnected? As adults, we have a tendency to keep looking for that which we did not get, driven by unsatisfied needs from earlier years. Again, if this is a factor in your attraction to your boyfriend, leaving him will not resolve this issue.
You need to decide what is most important to you. I know you are feeling the pressure of the clock ticking regarding your child-bearing years. Try to visualize what your life will be like 10 years from now if you choose to commit to your boyfriend. Is there a way you can satisfy enough of your unmet needs through children, career, family and friends? It is not fair to you or your boyfriend to make this commitment if you think you will feel resentful.
Now visualize the other road; leaving the relationship and forming a new enriching relationship, or possibly still being on your own, 10 years from now. Pay attention to how your visualization of each scenario affects your spirit and your inner sense of vitality. Remember to consider which decision appears to be best for your spirit. I hope this is helpful to you.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at email@example.com, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2009 Chaitanya Counseling Services