Dear Jennifer: I have been in a serious relationship for two years now and I love my partner dearly. He says he loves me too but he flirts with other women and I suspect that he has had more than one affair. Yet when we are together he tells me how much he loves me and he wants to be with me. I am hurt and confused with his behavior and don’t know what to do. Does he love me and if he does, why doens’t he act like it?
Jennifer’s Answer: I am sure that he does love you as much as you love him, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is being in love doesn’t mean to him what it does to you. And he has a fear intimacy, so he gets close to you, but not too close. These two situations will continue to bring you heartache unless you are willing to stop expecting him to meet your expectations. You can try to wait for him to change (which is not the best idea) and even if he says he will, that may not be enough for you because unless he releases his fears, you will never feel like he really loves you because for you, it has a different meaning than it does for him. And while he is willing to get close to you, there is a limit and you are already there.
Two partners in a relationship must have the same kinds of expectations of each other, love and intimacy, for the relationship to be stable, committed and fulfilling. For you, when someone says ‘I love you’ it means that you are the only woman for them, they are faithful, committed, the relationship is exclusive, you can trust them to be monogamous, they don’t want to look at other women or flirt with them, and they do things that confirm their desire and intention to be with you. Behavior that indicates they don’t love you is what he is doing, flirting, sleeping around, being untrustworthy and filling you with doubt about his true intentions.
To him, being in love means having feelings of love but that doesn’t include intimacy and connection. He feels comfortable being around other women because he doesn’t love them. Keep in mind, though, it doesn’t mean the same thing to him as it does to you. I’m sure you have noticed a pattern where things are going well, he gets close and then does something to hurt you so you pull away. Closeness, sharing, caring, and fun awaken his fear of intimacy and he needs to create distance. He would be hurt and angry if you left him but he also wouldn’t understand your reason for wanting that. He may even accuse you of overreacting when you are hurt by his behavior because he feels that telling you he loves you should be enough.
You chose this partner and his behavior has strong lessons for you. Why did you choose someone who couldn’t commit or be intimate? What are you fears in this area and are you ready to release them? Do you have fears of abandonment or betrayal which he is helping you address now? When you are ready for a committed, intimate relationship with someone, you will find a partner who has those qualities. Instead of wondering what is wrong with your boyfriend, go within and ask yourself what you are trying to learn through your choice of this partner.
The final choice is up to you, he is being who he is, is that enough for you and does it meet your needs? If not, find someone else but first, complete the lesson being presented to you with him because it will help you ensure that your next partner is someone who shares your expectations about love, intimacy and commitment.