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Are You Long-Term Relationship Material?

Here are the five most important issues to explore.

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

I have spent the last four decades helping people navigate the dating scene to help them find the right relationship partner. In that process, they find out what they have to offer and who, on the other side, is looking for what they offer.

If they are searching for a successful and rewarding long-term relationship, they have come to the realization that the lust and excitement of new love will not automatically mature into a quality relationship if they don’t commit to the time and commitment it takes to make that happen.

Most of the people I’ve dealt with do want to feel ultimately settled in one relationship “home.” They want to find a long-term partner with whom they feel they will become the best people they can be.

But there are others who feel differently. Many have tried making that long-term commitment work but, for whatever reasons, do not find that journey either successful or rewarding enough to keep investing in the process.

Some do have legitimate relationship-avoidance issues. Perhaps they’ve had bad experiences or traumas from the past that make them unable to differentiate commitment from entrapment. They may just so enjoy the magic of new love, that they disconnect when those mystical experiences begin to fade. They find themselves much more motivated and comfortable choosing sequential relationships that are not attached to a future.

Intentionally and comfortably choosing this relationship style is not the norm. Those who choose to interact this way often face judgments from within their social circles, especially as they continue to stay single over time. These criticisms can create self-doubt and insecurity. What if the people who matter to them eventually don’t want them around as they “pair-bond” and begin creating families and futures together?

As the pressure mounts, they routinely begin to hear these kinds of challenges:

  • “You’re such a great guy. When are you going to find the right person and get on with your life?”

  • “You’ve been in so many relationships. Don’t you get tired of starting over again and again?”

  • “Have you ever looked at why all of your relationships start out so great but never last? Maybe you need some good therapy?”

  • “Are you really sure you don’t ever want a family? You might really regret that decision if it gets too late.”

  • “You could be really lonely when you’re older if you don’t settle down soon.”

  • “We love you, man, but we just can’t keep track of all your new dates. Maybe we need 3x5 note cards to keep track?”

They begin to ask themselves why they don’t fit. Why are they so different from their friends? Can’t they just be who they are and not seen as immature or troubled? Why does the path they’ve chosen feel so right to them and so wrong to others?

They come into therapy seeking answers and often fearful of what they might discover. Maybe they truly are frightened of failure or entrapment and have fooled themselves to avoid those feelings.

But, as we do a non-judgmental evaluation, they find comfort and peace in being exactly who they are. They realize that they are neither crazy nor inadequate to prefer quality sequential relationships, and just have to find a way to get their important others to acknowledge and respect their choice.

If you are one of those choosing-to-be-a-sequential relationship partner and feel totally comfortable in who you are, your task is to discover why you are that way and how you will present that realization to others.

Here are the five most important issues to explore:

1). Childhood Influences

Look at your childhood role models. Were you trained to fear long-term relationships because they all seemed so unhappy? Or, perhaps it was just the opposite — the happiest people you may have been exposed to were not in long-term relationships and seemed freer and less burdened.

Or, perhaps you had genuine trauma or loss that has contributed to your lack of trust in love. If, for instance, a treasured caregiver abandoned you when you were small, you may not have wanted to risk that possibility again in your adult relationships.

If there is something from your past that is making you avoid long-term relationships, you’ll need to resolve that conflict so that your choice to stay single is still the right choice.

2). Get Personally Comfortable with Who you Are

To become at ease with choosing a relationship pattern of sequential relationships, you will need to find, within yourself, the authentic answers to the questions and challenges you face both from potential partners and those in your social circle.

To successfully do that, you’ll need to listen for negative phrases that come from within your own thoughts, or from others. Learn to challenge phrases that imply you are immature, self-absorbed, commitment-phobic, or superficial. Find answers within yourself that authentically challenge those negative images.

3). How to Present Who You are to Friends and Family

Once you understand and embrace your own needs and motives, begin creating the way you are going to tell others who you are. When you are at peace with your own choices, you will automatically convey that to others.

Some people are going to be uncomfortable with your choice no matter how well you present it to them. It is sad, but often true, that relationship-desirable single people can be threatening to couples who are in the midst of difficulties.

4). How to Present Who You are to Potential Partners

This is often the hardest part to successfully navigate. Most desirable single people you want to date have his or her own agenda. Some people know that they just do better in long-term commitments, while others feel more alive and freer in sequential relationships, including those that are monogamous while they last.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to find desirable people like you who enjoy loving deeply in the moment without attachments to the future. Younger people are more likely to be willing to explore without attachment to outcome than those who are ready to settle down.

5). When to Share

When it is the right time to let a new potential partner know who you are and why you’ve chosen the path you have.

It’s always best, and more honorable, to do that as soon as possible in any new relationship that looks like both you and them are interested in continuing to get more involved. You’ll want to be prepared for what may follow. Those who are looking for a long-term committed relationship may choose to opt-out before you would wish them to walk away. Those who are willing to take their chances may choose to stay a while anyway. And those who think they can change your mind may take on that challenge.

A Working Example

You’ve met someone you really like and feel those feelings are reciprocated. You’ve gone out on a few dates, and the conversation between you is getting more personal and more exploratory. He or she then asks you what you want out of life in general and relationships in particular.

The time is ripe to share what your personal relationship path is, and what you can authentically give to a relationship being the way you are. You will, of course, create your own narrative, but here is an example:

“Asking me what I want out of a relationship is fair, but it’s always a hard question to answer. Let me be as authentic and honest as I can be. I’ve thought long and hard about relationships, what they cost, what they give, and how they develop. I’ve watched some of my friends go in and out of long-term commitments, always so great at the beginning and then ending in disappointment. I love being with them at the beginning of a new relationship, and I hurt for them as it goes down. I also root for the ones who make it work.
I’ve tried some myself and had both kinds of experiences. It’s not that I don’t respect and admire people who commit to forever. I just know that’s not me. I love to be in love but not for the rest of my life with anyone. I don’t want to feel guilty for not living up to another person’s agenda or hurting anyone.
I’m honest, I don’t cheat, I give everything I can, and I am upfront with everything I feel. I don’t ghost people, or leave a relationship without plenty of time to process with my partners beforehand. And, I never want someone with me who would be better off with someone else. Love is a choice and freedom to leave or stay is part of what makes it work for me.”

If you met someone like you, would you like that kind of up-front honesty? If your answer is “yes,” you are honestly promising what you know you can deliver, and that’s fair. The people who are at the other end of your openness might not want to continue a relationship with you, but they will never feel misled, unfairly seduced, or betrayed.

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