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Quit or commit?

Published:Monday | January 4, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Sacha Walters, Staff Reporter

Feeling like your relationship is going nowhere fast? Well, that's the plight of many couples who remain for years at a crossroads, unable to make the decision whether to quit or commit.

For Julie, who's been involved with her boyfriend for three years, they reached that crossroads over a year ago.

"This relationship is a long-distance one and I am at the point where I need someone who is physically and emotionally available to me," she said in an online interview.

She admitted that, initially, the relationship was supposed to be a filler until the person she hoped to marry came along. But it grew into much more.

"I can't deny that I love this man dearly and deep down I don't want to lose him. But I can't keep living like this forever," she continued.

Conflicting goals

The major problem for Julie is their conflicting goals.

"I want a child, which is a sore point for him and he isn't going to change his mind," she said. "I now want to get married, he doesn't. These were things we discussed in the beginning of our relationship. We both said that we didn't want more children and didn't want to get married, but now I want those things, " she confessed.

Julie has thought of leaving many times, but she can't bring herself to do it.

"Sometimes it's a fear of the unknown. Scared to try again. Scared of being hurt. With him, I'm sure I'm loved, not being played," she said.

According to Psychologist Dr Sidney McGill, there is no magic number of years when a couple should make such a decision. There are a host of contributing factors.

"To get the relationship progressing towards a lifelong commitment, the undecided partner needs to seek help to identify and explore the reasons for the "stuckness" and together the couple should deal with the fears head on," Dr McGill noted in an email response.

"To deal with the problem, one has to look at the particular couple's unique life experience, living together, as well as their views and feelings about intimacy," he said.

Relationship failures, caused by abusive behaviours, unfaithfulness and disappointments, create doubt in the mind of the partner who feels victimised.

"'Once bitten, twice shy" is a truism that many persons in relationships struggle with. But all relationships carry some level of risk," he said.

Issues like infidelity can stall the relationship because of the emotional investment which was made outside.

"The stalling partner may have recurring thoughts and questions such as: "I don't want to change my social life because of this commitment; I don't want to relive the bad relationship my parents had, or even I had; will he or she change once we get married?" McGill pointed out.

Signs to watch

However, there are signs that a relationship should be given some time before making any big decisions.

"If sex is the primary reason for two persons being together, then the relationship needs to be given more time to progress into a mutual friendship instead of remaining mere sexual partners," he said. "One solution could be to start attending more social events together and finding more opportunities to communicate on an emotional/intimate level such as eating out at nice restaurants, having spiritual practice together. "

Additionally, Dr McGill believes that if a partner is still hurting from a past bad relationship, both partners should seek professional help.

Friends help

If mere talk of marriage is a difficult subject to broach, McGill recommends enlisting the help of a mutual friend or counsellor or attempting to speak with your partner in a caring manner.

"If the stress of waiting for him or her to say 'yes' is too much to bear, then you should work towards becoming financially and emotionally independent just in case he/she chooses to leave some time in the future."

But if all efforts fail, there are signs that, maybe, it's time to move on. Dr McGill explains, "When one person feels unsupported by their partner in a number of key areas such as career path, child-rearing responsibilities, personal development plans, and spiritual practice," these may be signs to move on.

"Another important indicator is when communication is almost non-existent, and sex becomes infrequent and boring," he said.

For now, Julie is still in limbo.

"The love we feel for each other is undeniable. When we're together, the world is at peace. But there's this longing in my heart for something more, something he can't give," she said.

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