Q I am a single man who turned 40 this year. I have had relationships that have lasted a few months to a year. I have always wanted to be married but have never found the “one.” I might like someone at first and then lose interest, even if she is pursuing me. I always dream about being in love and having a wonderful relationship. However, I consistently find something wrong with whomever I am dating.

A This is not an easy trap to get out of, but it sounds like you have found a way to attract and meet potential partners. Some people never get this far. Going deeper seems to be the main challenge. Most of us have some ideal about who the right partner might be. This often comes from parental and family expectations. Explore for yourself what you were told or taught regarding the traits your spouse should have. Parents often believe that their children are most special and deserving of an incredible partner. Some parents assume that no one is quite good enough for their child. Is any of that true for you? People will then incorporate those parental and familial expectations when they are seeking a mate.

Even if you meet that “perfect” person, you will soon discover things you don’t like about her. This is when it gets difficult, and you will want to stop dating her. You want to question and ultimately change this pattern. Notice what you are feeling or thinking internally as you want to pull away instead of becoming closer to the woman in question. Most probably you will find fault with her. You may find another woman more attractive. All of a sudden you’ll lose interest or even pick a fight. Beneath these thoughts or judgments, you’ll have some feelings. Notice what they are. Fear may be primary. Intimacy, something we all say we really want, is also terrifying. Why? It brings up all the feelings we had as children when we were close to our parents: being controlled, being left when we needed adults, feeling suffocated, overpowered, or even being abused verbally or physically. Of course, we also have warm memories of being loved by our parents. The uncomfortable feelings and reactions arise without your conscious awareness and automatically lead to thoughts and behaviors that will make you want to get out of the relationship. Most people don’t realize how powerful these forces actually are that keep them from attaining deeper intimacy. Even couples who have been together for many years have various self-protective responses towards their partners. This is not abnormal, but rather common. It simply means that we don’t want to be hurt the way we have been before, when we were quite helpless. However, if self-protection becomes the dominant mode, it leaves us alone, estranged, fearful, and unfulfilled. To love, we must take risks. The first risk is to start becoming honest with yourself about what you are avoiding by repeatedly leaving relationships before entering into deeper commitment. Once you identify some factors, start talking about them with someone you trust. This will make these patterns more visible and therefore easier to change. When you are with a person who has enough of the qualities you like, and you find yourself having those “in love” feelings, take the risk of staying in the relationship longer than you have before. When this becomes uncomfortable, see if you can start sharing those feelings with your new partner. Discussing a range of feelings in an appropriate and kind way with your partner is the start of real intimacy.

 

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com

 

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