Q: I dated a woman for 16 months, and recently took a hiatus--now six weeks long--at her request. I am at a crossroads as to whether to give up our relationship completely and stop initiating any communications. The alternative would be to maintain some level of infrequent contact, whether I initiate it or not, to see whether she "comes around." We had been extremely close for a long time, almost never had a conflict (certainly none serious or un-resolvable), are very compatible, and really loved each other quite deeply--and--I believe--still do. I was ready to commit to her. However, her pre-relationship baggage caused her to spook and feel "trapped." She explained she needed to "take a break" for a while from the stress and pressures of being in a relationship. She says she was diagnosed during her prior marriage (to an alcoholic) with the "fear of intimacy" syndrome. She has refused to go individually (or with me) for counseling to either work on her fear of intimacy, or our relationship (what's left of it now), or both. She said she dreads exposing herself to the pain of dredging up all those childhood issues again. I am very independent, did not make lots of demands on her to trigger her feeling trapped. I started dating others mainly to distract me, but still after six weeks don't have my heart in it yet.
What should I do? Move on completely? Try to stay in touch even though she is resistant, in the gut believe that she will eventually address these issues and come around? Give her an ultimatum that she go to counseling, or I stop further contact and completely cut all ties? I am at a loss. -- Jeff, 47
Dr. Susan: If she's still at a stage where she's so unnerved by the idea of dealing with her past, and yet she's using her past to keep her from benefitting from what sounds like a great relationship, there is little you can do. Probably nothing, in fact. Some people are so messed up that you can't fix them, especially if they don't want to even try. I hope it won't sound too cold or harsh, but you may have been saved a destructive and unsatisfying marriage by her becoming spooked in time. I don't feel you work out relationship issues with a hiatus in which nothing productive is being done to work on the relationship. How about suggesting (or gently insisting) on counseling before you pull the plug entirely? You could set the ground rules in the first session, that you won't focus on her past, but on your life together. If it turns out her past keeps getting in the way of her present and future, she'll have to recognize that. And then it's her choice if she chooses to live a half-life. Beyond that, staying in touch with someone who is resisting your efforts is a waste of energy.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.