The question: My common-law partner and I have both had previous marriages. I’ve always wanted to marry again, but he refuses to even speak about the possibility. He pulls away emotionally and physically each time I've asked. Why can’t he get over the past and start fresh with me? I’m ready to be a wife again.
The answer: For all of us, what we value and want in life is shaped significantly by our past experiences. Our history makes us who we are and – right or wrong – has a bearing on the future decisions we make. There’s no area in which this applies more than in our relationships.
Humans are, to the core, social beings. We want, need and thrive from our social connections. Family, friends and intimate relationships are all important, yet distinct elements in the social network that surrounds us.
Of our varied connections, intimate relationships are perhaps the most complex, confusing and crazy-making. These are also the relationships that have the potential to bring us an immense happiness and joy.
Unfortunately, today’s relationships are more complex (for a range of societal reasons) than the relationships of decades ago. People are much more likely to see divorce as an acceptable option to a failing relationship; both men and women are waiting longer to get married; women are willfully not having children; and many choose co-habitation in the absence of legally being married.
I don’t see your biggest issue as being the difference in value you and your partner place on the legal institution of marriage. Many couples are able to come to a mutually acceptable decision to agree to disagree on important relationship points. The bigger issue is the manner in which the two of you are communicating – or not communicating – about these differences.
You make the assumption that his disinterest with marriage is reflective of his inability to get over his past. There is a good chance that this is a faulty interpretation. Have you tried to ask him about his reasons for not wanting to get married? Perhaps his experience was that the legal entity of marriage offered no added value to his past relationship? Perhaps it added financial and logistical complexity that he does not want to deal with again in your current situation? Perhaps he perceived marriage as having a constraining, negative and destructive influence on his relationship?
Conversely, does he understand (and have you been able to fully articulate) the reasons you want to get married again? Do you feel that marriage would offer you a commitment and stability that isn’t currently in your relationship? Ask yourself if there are things he can do or say that would provide you the key elements you think marriage would offer. It could be that the bigger issue is not the difference of opinions on marriage, but other fundamental difficulties in your relationship that need to be solved.
I would encourage you to have an open conversation about your positions on marriage. You both need to truly understand each other’s perspectives and ensure you have the same long-term vision of your relationship for it to work. Remember that getting married is no guarantee that the relationship will be a fulfilling or lasting one – similarity and respect for your individual and joint values and goals are.
Ultimately the issue of marriage may become a deal-breaker for one of you, but try to be open to the idea that you can both have what you want in a relationship in the absence of it. Who knows, open conversation may even result in one of you making a willful shift in your ideals.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network’s Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV’s The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra .
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