A recent letter triggered me to thinking about how I handle this tough situation. I have been using the all-purpose skill, I'm going to describe here, for over a dozen years, recommending it to my clients. Some use it. Some don’t. Sometimes it makes things “better.” Sometimes it seems to make things “worse!” Life is like that. “Who can tell.” Take a-look.
By writing this, I may become less popular with some readers. The trick is to turn “no decision” into a “clear decision.” I just don’t see any other way out of this situation. Do you? So, take courage.
I am reminded of a study about divorce that was done, oh, 20 years ago. The question was, “After a divorce, how long did people stay single, before they started looking for another partner.” My memory was that these figures came from Australia, which my friends tell me is/was a pretty strongly macho culture. (I might be wrong. This might be one of those “lies in search of the truth.”)
The answer was that the average “woman” waited something like seven years and the average “man” waited something like seven months. And one of the factors seemed to be that the women had children – to raise, live with, and have relationships with; and the men had no one – were alone.
What got me to thinking about this study was the question of “How long should you wait?” Let’s say you are a Clinging guy and your partner is an Avoiding gal. So she leaves you and you learn all about What To Do When He/She Leaves. So you give up pursuing her, you get into therapy, you learn, your practice patience, and you wait. But how long?
I know this is a sexist version of the situation, and so the gentle reader will have to do the translations to “men avoiding women” or to gay couples. I’ll wait and give you time.
But, let me give you another situation that I am real familiar with. A gal has been having a long-term relationship, affair, with a guy who is married. He promises to divorce his wife, but has not made a move. The gal has put her relationship-life on hold waiting for this guy. How long should she wait?
Same situation! Different, but the same. So here’s the tool.
Step One: Determine how long you can wait.
Obviously, if you were dumped on a desert island, you can wait a long time; but, you are not on a desert island. You have a life to live. I am 66 now, as I get older I think about both the “end of life” and “wasting time.” I fear that I see an awful lot of people “wasting time.” It saddens me. So this question of “how long” I frame this way. How long do you choose to wait for this person – your distant and perhaps indecisive partner, to make a decision?
And lets remember what that decision is. It is a decision to start working, slowly or quickly, on learning the skills to get along well together – University of Life stuff. Generally that means finding a therapist, counselor, pastor, someone who “knows how” and who can guide you both.
This is not a decision to “the other.” Nope. It is a decision that says, “I don’t know how to live fully peacefully with this person, and I am gonna learn how to.” The decision has to be “fair” in that both have to be free to make that decision with full integrity.
One factor in setting the time is whether you have children and what are their ages. Remember, you teach them the relationship skills they will use in life and most of this teaching takes place before they are 8–years-old. I would love it if people learned great relationship skills before they gave birth to a kid. Vintage Love parents would be awesome. But we can survive and recover amazingly. Humans are tough. Still it would be nice to be learning relationship skills before your kids hit 3. I have found that going through the University of Life after your kids hit the teenage years has a lot of drawbacks for a lot of people. I did it.
So settle on how long you can wait before starting into the University of Life with a partner. Nail it down. Write it on a wall.
Step Two: Tell your partner.
Of course this can be tricky, so I’ll give you some ideas. If your partner is not making a decision, anything you do may come across like a threat. And so you are going to have to consciously move into “making a threat.” But all of us understand that banks want their money back. Loans are not forever. If you don’t pay for the car, it will be reposessed. We know this. Why not in relationships?
Here’s a way of delivering this message with the minimum threat potential. “Honey, I care about you. I want to have a great and happy life with you. I am working on this teaching myself lots of things. But I find I need a partner to work with, to practice all these skills I am learning. I really, really want it to be you. But I know I cannot force you to work with me. That’s one of the things I have learned. Still I don’t want to wait forever for your decision to join me in this work. I don’t think that would be fair to you, (to the kids), to me.”
“So here’s the deal. I ready to wait quietly for x-length-of-time (3 months). I am not trying to force you, I just want a decision I can live with. So if you have made an appointment with a counselor of your choice and we have seen that person for, oh, 4 sessions, by date-x-length-of-time away, then I am your partner. You have my commitment. If for any reason you decide to not make the appointments or not work with me, that is ok. I will be very sad, but I will be ok with it. I will then proceed to get on with my life, separate clearly from you, and find some other partner to work with. Remember, I gotta learn anyway and I would prefer it to be you.”
“Please don’t respond to this now. Just make your decision and either let me know or don’t. It is your call. Thanks for listening.”
If you look at this lengthy speech it has all the elements: your preference to be with your partner, your respect for them, your achieving a decision even if they do nothing. This is a way to turn “their doing nothing” into “their making a clear decision.”
Step 3: Do it and don’t turn back easily!
If you get to the end of the “warning time,” I suggest you get on with your life. Do what you have to do to give yourself determination. This is tough, but Do It! You are working on the issue of Reliable Membership, so be reliable.
Also remember that finding a new partner Ms. Right or Mr. Right, takes time. If your partner changes their mind and decides to work with you while you are “dating” others, make whatever decision at that point that you think is right. I have frequently met couples who didn’t believe in their partner’s commitment. They had to see it to believe it. I think this is part of what is behind a lot of dangerous extra-marital.