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.