Q. I have been with my boyfriend for about two years now and I’ve never been happier. We’ve been friends since high school, have been dating since college, and are in our mid-20s. We have so much in common and are planning on getting engaged soon (he bought a ring!).
However, a few weeks ago he told me that his past with his father has built a wall between him and people he tries to have an emotional connection with. His dad was bipolar and was emotionally abusive to him and his family, and ended up leaving when my boyfriend was a freshman in high school. When I ask him to explain how the “wall” is affecting him and our relationship, he doesn’t say much. He says that he loves me and is in love with me but feels like there’s so much more he can give if only this wall was gone. He said that he has always been worried that others will leave him as well. I feel very loved by him, but now I’m just worried. He also said that he wants/needs this wall to be down before he proposes.
I asked him if he had talked to anyone else about it, like his mom or grandpa, but he hasn’t. I then asked him if he thought it would help to talk to them about it, but he said no. How can I help him bring this wall down? How can I figure out the ways this is affecting our relationship?
Committed and confused,Texas
A. He’s not ready to get married. If you want to be with him, you’re going to forget about the proposal for a while. Can you live with that?
If you can, let him know, and then ask him what he wants to do about the wall. Does he need time alone? Does he need therapy? (That would be more helpful than talking to mom or grandpa.) And could it be that he’s just as worried that he’ll turn into his dad and bail on you?
He can’t give you a quick fix for this, but he should be able to tell you what he intends to do about the problem. If he wants to make this better, he has to have a plan. And he has to explain what that plan means for you.
His own next step is therapy, but he has to be ready. He isn’t.
Why would you marry someone who tells you he has a huge problem but refuses to do anything to fix it? Does that sound like someone you want to work stuff out with for the next few decades?
I think he is getting cold feet and this is his excuse. It is pretty obvious to me.
He has told you he is afraid of abandonment. If you truly love him, you have to respond to that. Be his rock.
Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!
STAUGUSTINEColumn and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.