Ask the Loveologist: Taking Him Back

My on-again, off-again boyfriend just came back into my life for the third time. I really love him, and believe he loves me, but as soon as things start to get settled between us, his eyes start to stray. He never ends up with the other woman, but it still really hurts me. After the last breakup I promised myself that I wouldn’t take him back. This time he says he wants to get married, that he realizes that I really am the woman he wants to be with. I don’t know if I should or can trust him. Any advice?

The issue of commitment is a complicated one. Many people struggle with their ability to keep their relationship promises. The problem does not usually stem from the partner they are choosing, but rather from the realization that this choice precludes any others. For many people, it isn’t the fact of loving or not loving the partner they choose that drives them away, but rather some unnamed and even unknown fear of being trapped by their own choices that makes them unable to follow through.

The one-foot out the door syndrome has a million faces and shows up not just in personal relationships but also colors people’s career paths as well. The nagging idea that there is someone or something else better than the life they have chosen comes from the gambler brain in all of us. The television game show Deal or No Deal regularly displays this irrational tendency that we have to throw away a sure win for the idea of something bigger and better even if the odds are not in our favor.

What is really unfortunate about keeping one foot out the door is that the chosen relationship never really has an opportunity to succeed. The insecurities from maintaining the lingering doubt about your commitments prevents both people from truly experiencing and growing the relationship. It took me years in my own marriage to get both feet in the door and I was amazed at how much the relationship flourished, just by the act of both people deciding that they are staying.

People take a long time to learn their lessons. How many times we need to make the same mistake and re-learn the truth about our behavior and choices is one of the biggest frailties of being human. I frequently find myself choosing between forgiveness and resentment for deeds that I thought were resolved and not just with my growing children.

Trust is harder to build than break and so no one but you can decide where you want to invest your heart’s efforts. I am the first to say that loving people and taking the risk to be loved is the hardest work we do in our life. Our efforts to love are never wasted even though it may sometimes seem so. I have argued with myself over this question many a time and I am sure there are many who would disagree.

I would advise this: As you balance the gifts and shortcomings of the love you have had with your boyfriend, make sure that you are measuring against the true marker of what you are working to create in your life and not the most recent memory or wound. It is easy to get stuck on the little stuff and entirely overlook the real questions in our life.

Wendy Strgar is a loveologist who writes and lectures on Making Love Sustainable, a green philosophy of relationships which teaches the importance of valuing the renewable resources of love and family. she helps couples tackle the questions and concerns of intimacy and relationships, providing honest answers and innovative advice. Wendy lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband, a psychiatrist, and their four children ages 11-20.


Jacquie A.
Jacquie A.6 years ago

Of course love exists! Even if only for the naive. Love can be very forgiving. One can also fall out of love though. You look back and notice a pattern and think you should have known better before you did the same thing again.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.6 years ago

Love doesn't exist. However, there are idiots who believe that, for example, an alcoholic will stop drinking for them. He keeps drinking and they stick to him and get beaten, just because they are so naive.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.6 years ago

Love doesn't exist. However, there are idiots who believe that, for example, an alcoholic will stop drinking for them. He keeps drinking and they stick to him and get beaten, just because they are so naive.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.6 years ago

An article for masochists. Why on earth take back a guy who has hurt you? Wasn't that enough? I wonder who wants to be hurt over and over again...

Loretta Kent
Loretta K.6 years ago

Something to think about.

Sally M.
Sally M.7 years ago

Taking the risk of sounding too off track by referring to the "nature of the species" anthropology..the findings are there to see that perhaps, just perhaps, women and men were never meant to be together in long term relationships...and marriage is a modern (last 10 thousand years) contraption to ensure the paternity of the child. Men apparently do not like to put all their resources into a child unless they know it's theirs. Hence the exclusivity of the marriage bed... (It took a lot of time and resources that are were not easily found, to help in growing up a child--food, shelter, teaching, safety, etc. ) Women, on the other hand, always know the child is theirs, and might have desired to be with men (not necessarily one person) who displayed the qualities they needed in helping to raise children who were strong and healthy. Once children can run with the tribe, gather food, create shelter, it may be the woman/man chooses another to be with.?? It would be helpful to know what our true instincts really are, it could put marriage into a different light altogether.
Some animals herd up for the winter under the protection of a strong male leader, maybe we did that thousands of years ago?
Why do we insist in marriage anyway? I have never understood the importance of it unless it is to ensure the protection of children and perhaps yourself???
If people are in love, and maintain that love, then great, stay together....if not, go on your way. It could be a lot of this ins

Wendy Strgar
Wendy Strgar7 years ago

I knew this question would bring up a lot of strong feelings and reactions. While past behavior does often predict future behavior, I have also seen people who actually do learn the value of the relationship they're in and build commitments. I would say as much about my own relationship over time.
As ever I appreciate the depth and intensity of the discussion and the people who had the courage to be vulnerable and share their experiences.

Charlene R.
Charlene Rush7 years ago

At the risk of quoting Dr. Phil, may I reiterate: "The best predictor of future behavior, is past behavior."

On this quote, I, completely, agree with him.

People who choose abusers, must ask themselves, WHY. Why do they associate with those that would hurt them, repeatedly? Are we or are we not, worth more than that?

Winter Wheat
Winter Wheat7 years ago

What started out as advice to the lovelorn has devolved into a flame war.

Carol M.
Carol Mulder7 years ago

David Harmon, you are a living dichotomy! You say - using caps - that females "generalize" too much, yet your entire "flame" is generalizing about women's attitudes and behavior. Your final blast against feminists is the most blatant example of YOUR tendency to lump everyone into the same category when it suits your purpose. I'm so glad I'm not the poor woman in YOUR life (see, I can yell, too). You are a true dunce, and a very poor example of a man.