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Problem Solving for Couples: The Essay — 5 Comments

  1. Dear Micky,
    I actually had written a response about the “6-month timeout” and lost it. Well here is my general thinking.
    Sure, you got to work on your stuff about reliable connection, but six months ain't, in my opinion, much work. The work comes from repeately gifting your partner with space, helping them meet their needs for space, forming a partnership in which you routinely monitor and support your partner's needs for quiet. One “six-month-lesson” really doesn't seem to me very useful. 20 2-hour or over-night or one day or even one week timeout – now that seems like real practice.
    A six-month timeout seems to me like a waste. I am 66 years old. Looking back I really notice and grieve about how much time I wasted getting to where I am now. Personally if I were you I would throw out that six-month-timeout and start anew.
    Maximum timeouts I have encouraged people to use were three-week-no-contact, and those were for couples who had trouble doing shorter ones.
    If he wants to take six months off to explore, I would give him a much more productive choice. Mebbe, a warning that if he hasn't made appointments with a relationship therapist for the two of you, and hasn't seriously started in those sessions dealing with the undealt-with-stuff, by the end of two months from today, then you are going to take his inaction as his decision to drop the relationship and you will formally leave and start looking for someone else to live/work with on the rest of your life.
    Might wanna look at my paper on decision making when you have a passive partner.
    I hope I am not being too blunt. Just seems like a waste of a life.
    Best wishes, Al.

  2. Hi Al,
    Thanks so much for the answer. The only part I think you missed is where we've already agreed to take a 6-month “time out” and not see each other while he explores. There's no way for me to act clingy while we're not having any contact, of course, but I'm not sure how we manage to share the journey when we're not seeing or talking to each other.
    What you call reliable membership is probably my biggest issue — trusting that connections aren't going to just vanish. I'm having a really hard time staying balanced in the face of my fear that he simply won't come back on the day we've agreed the “time out” is over. And yes, I know: that's MY stuff to work on…

  3. Thanks so much for the answer. What do you mean grabbing the opportunity to move forward quicker? Do you think 6 months is too long for our “time-out”? I just don't see him healing any faster than that…

  4. Great question and not one I have addressed before. I do have some thoughts – as usual. I think what I have might even be called “good news.” Let’s see if I have it. Both of you have been married before. He is staggering through the Divorce part of the Map of Relationships. You went through that door some 4 years ago. At this point, you’ve been being together for about 6 months. Now what? Up front for you both is the ending of his divorce. But more than that you see him has wanting to do some exploring for a bit, with you fearing potentially being left behind. How’s that!?
    If you were to read my Map of Relationships you would seen an advantage to the place where you both are. While Romantic Love feels really good, and while it doesn’t last, it is a pretty good signal that you are with a person who is close enough to “mr/ms right.” You both have been through relationships before, have intimate knowledge of the wonderful material of your power struggles, and thus could do some planning ahead. A wonderful guarantee is that if he moves from Partner A to you, he definitely will come to face the same troubles with you that he faced before. And so, the “knowns” are mostly in your hands.
    What are these “knowns?” They are the behavioral challenges that you have to learn your way out of, not run away from. For most people who are, what I call, asleep, you two have these problems right up front. You can’t make Romantic Love really last long, but you can more quickly that most, start heading for Vintage Love. Hooray!
    A win for both is that each of you start the learning processes, how to stay an “adult partner” when your partner slips. In your writing I hear the challenge of Master/Slave (manipulation and controlling stuff, “tapping foot, and your impatience), the problem of Reliable Membership (his wanting to explore and your panicky scream and beg, clinging, etc.), and the problem of Safety (his caution and your insecure). I can guess that you need to learn a) patience, b) to stay balanced while he explores, c) boundaries, etc. Sounds as if he needs to learn to a) trust himself first, b) explore himself while keeping you safe and call timeouts when you slip into clinginess, and c) boundaries. What fun!
    Keep plugging. I suggest you grab the opportunity to move forward through Door #1 quicker. Win-win is in Vintage Love and sharing the journey on the way.
    My best wishes. Al

  5. I stumbled across your site while looking for information on how to handle a relationship “time out,” and a ton of it resonated with me — so I figured I would ask for some feedback based on this particular article.
    Here's the problem:
    I'm 40, 4 years out of a long-term relationship, and finally ready to couple up again. He's 37 and in the middle of divorcing someone he married when he was 23. We've been seeing each other for 6 months and we both tell each other that we're deeply in love with each other and really want to be together — but at the same time, he's not ready to be exclusive because he doesn't want to race out of one serious relationship and into another. I understand that because I was there not so very long ago myself, but it makes me incredibly insecure.
    We both think we have something really special, and we don't want to break up. But if we keep going along as we are, we know that I'm going to start getting clingy and resenting him not proving his love by committing to being exclusive, and he's going to start pulling away and resenting me for not giving him time to experience being single for the first time in his life. So after a lot of struggle, we decided that we're “putting things on hold” for 6 months so he can finish and mourn his divorce, make up for the wild oats he didn't sow when he was younger, and experience what it's like to live alone and not answer to anyone but himself without me feeling like I'm standing there tapping my foot, asking him if he's ready to get serious yet, and feeling rejected when he's not. We even circled a date on our calendars and agreed to meet at our favorite restaurant on that night.
    I really want to do this, because I want us to be together because we choose each other. We both have manipulating, controlling partners in our pasts, and we really don't want to do that to each other. But the thing is, it's only been a week and I'm already feeling so sad and impatient and scared that I just want to scream and beg. It's hard for me to just sit with those feelings and trust that we really do love each other and want to do the right thing for each other. Six months feels like a million years, especially since that's as long as we've known each other.
    Is this a Win Win solution, or have we just lost our minds?

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