In this week’s 5 minute therapist, Christine talks to Laura who, despite the advice of her friends and family, is finding it hard to move on from her commitment-phobe ex-boyfriend.
Hi, Christine. My name’s Laura. I’m 34 and in love with a man who won’t commit. I see now that he’s never got round to committing to any woman. I’m a doctor, and I admit that for years I put my career first rather than my love life. However, I really wanted to settle down with this guy. But he dumped me because he doesn’t want the serious relationship I want. The thing is I can’t get over him. We still meet and have coffee. I should move on. But it’s hard. Can you help?
Christine: This is awful for you – and I’m sorry. Do you think he’d have been happy to continue the relationship if you hadn’t wanted to settle down?
Laura: I don’t know. I think he’s the type who gets bored after a while.
Christine: Why do you still have coffee with him?
Laura: Probably because he asks me …
Christine: But do you interpret that as meaning that he really loves you and might change his mind about you being together long-term?
Laura: I don’t know … perhaps I do think that.
Christine: How do you feel when you see him?
Laura: I’m glad to begin with, but tearful afterwards.
Christine: That sounds horrid. Why does he like to meet up?
Laura: He wants to be friends.
Christine: But surely you have friends? Do you need him as a friend when really you want him to be your romantic partner?
Laura: I do have friends. And you’re right, I don’t want friendship from him. I want much, much more. I sometimes think that he meets up so he doesn’t feel guilty about dumping me.
Christine: You’re probably right about that. People who do the dumping often like to be friends afterwards, so that they feel better about themselves! But is seeing him good for you?
Laura: It keeps the lines of communication open. And I turn up looking as great as possible and keep hoping that he’ll realise he’s made a mistake.
Christine: Have there been any signs that he thinks he’s made a mistake?
Laura: Absolutely not, I’m afraid.
Christine: How old is he?
Christine: And he’s never committed to any woman?
Christine: Well, it sounds like he’s got a real problem with commitment. And it also sounds like he could end up very lonely and old. Blokes can just about get away with that kind of ‘carefree’ lifestyle in their early 40s but by 50 – unless they’re a rock star or famous actor – they tend to look old and sad. But that’s his problem not yours.
Laura: But it is my problem because I’m sure if he could sort his head out we’d have a marvellous life together.
Christine: But does he think he needs to sort his head out?
Laura: No. He just thinks he’s not the settling-down type.
Christine: What do people who love you think about this? Your parents, siblings, friends…?
Laura: They think he’s a waste of space. In fact, my mum hates him – because of what he’s done to me. Everyone says it’s time I was over him and I must move on.
Christine: And what do you think?
Laura: I suppose they’re right, but I don’t feel ready to give up on him.
Christine: That’s tough on you. And painful. And probably your family and friends are getting irritated that you won’t see the light …
Laura: You could say that!
Christine: As a doctor, you know that when people change their mood and thoughts about something, their behaviour can alter, as a consequence. For example, if someone is determined to give up smoking, then their behaviour changes in that they do quit.
Laura: Yes, I see that all the time.
Christine: But sometimes people aren’t ready to think differently.
Laura: I see that too. It can be a right pain!
Christine: But the fact is that sometimes change can happen when people alter their behaviour even if their heart is not in it. In other words, though change usually happens because the mind decides on it and the change of behaviour follows, sometimes the process works in reverse.
Laura: Really? Can you give me an example?
Christine: Yes. If I have a depressed patient who never leaves the house and just sits around all day, I might know that if she would come out and walk round the park she would feel a bit better. But the patient will invariably tell me that she feels so bad she can’t do it. So, I might say to her: ‘Could you feel any worse?’ And she’ll say ‘No’. At that point, I will suggest that since she’s told me that she couldn’t feel any worse, it might be worth trying the walk anyway. After all, she can’t feel worse – she said so herself – so she might end up feeling the same, or, possibly, even a bit better. Often, on that basis, such a patient will come out for that walk. And nine times out of ten, she’ll feel better. So, her behaviour changes in a small way, and that improves her mood and her thoughts.
Laura: That’s interesting. So, are you saying that if I altered my behaviour my mind might alter too?
Christine: It might.
Laura: I don’t think I can alter much.
Christine: Well, sometimes we have to take baby steps!
Laura: The obvious behaviour change would be for me to stop seeing him for coffee.
Christine: I agree.
Laura: Well I might make the effort to do that, but I’m not ready to stop texting or emailing him.
Christine: Fair enough. So how about making a couple of changes in how you spend your free time? These might have nothing to do with him, but they might cheer you up and stop you thinking about him so much.
Laura: My best friend wants me to join her French class. I could do that.
Christine: Sounds good. Can you manage just one more change?
Laura: I’d like to get fitter. I used to play tennis. I could join a club again.
Christine: Great idea.
Laura: It’s hard to give up on a dream, you know.
Christine: I do know. But if you start altering your routine, and behave slightly differently, it will become easier.
Laura: I’m really going to try. Thanks for your time.
Christine Webber is a former TV news presenter. Since 1995, she has been an award-winning health writer. She is also a psychotherapist with a practice in Harley Street. She holds diplomas in integrative psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy. And she also has numerous coaching qualifications. Christine is the author of 12 self-help and therapy books, including How to Mend a Broken Heart. Find out more at christinewebber.com.
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